Bridging Diaspora and Development: The Pursuit of Innovation in Greece and Cyprus
Insights From Michael Printzos and Maria Markidou Georgiadou on Propelling Economic Growth Through Innovation
On the cusp of a new wave of technological and economic growth, there are figures and institutions that are relentlessly working behind the scenes to spur development. One such dynamic force is Michael Printzos of The Hellenic Initiative, an organization dedicated to catalyzing sustainable economic renewal for Greece. With roots in the global Greek diaspora, THI has become an emblem of investment and support, not just charity. Joining Michael is Maria Markidou Georgiadou, Managing Director of Cyprus Seeds, which is a public-private initiative that nurtures academic research with commercial potential in Cyprus. Both of these inspiring figures recently participated in the Reflect Festival in Limassol, and riding on the waves of that event, we decided to delve deeper into their journey.
In this enlightening conversation, Michael shares his reflections on the Reflect Festival, elucidating how it fostered an exchange of inspiration, particularly at the junctures of technology, innovation, and philanthropy. He also sheds light on THI's remarkable achievements and its continued focus on startups as a mechanism for economic growth. Maria, on the other hand, details the indispensable support THI has provided to Cyprus Seeds, emphasizing the initiative's broader mission of stemming brain drain and invigorating Cyprus' innovation ecosystem. As these two leaders converse, they weave a tale of relentless pursuit of a more innovative future for Greece and Cyprus.
I am very pleased to have been a part of the Reflect Festival. Over those days, I found myself deeply engaged in the vibrant interactions and discussions that took place in Cyprus. Being both on and off the stage, and having had the opportunity to engage with such a dynamic audience, was a rare privilege in this part of the world. Kudos to the organizers for accomplishing such a feat in such a short span of time. In essence, I viewed my time at Reflect as a two-way exchange of inspiration. I was inspired by the diverse array of speakers and conversations, and I hope I was able to inspire others when I shared my insights, particularly regarding our work at the intersections of technology, innovation, and philanthropy.
THI is first and foremost a diaspora-based organization. Over the last 11 years THI has been instrumental in mobilizing the Greek diaspora and the philhellenes of the world, igniting positive change for the futures of Greece and Cyprus. Undoubtedly, this unity stands as our most pivotal achievement. This is why our motto is “Oli Mazi”. The synergies achieved have allowed us to extend our support through more than 270 grants, channeling over $20,5 million in direct aid and a manifold of that indirectly. Our strategy is twofold, both short and long term, with an apt analogy: we offer the fish in the short term, while in the long term, we train individuals to fish for themselves. Furthermore, our approach is dual focus. For every dollar invested, 60 cents are committed to fueling economic growth in Greece and Cyprus while the remainder is dedicated to crisis relief. This dual-pronged strategy positions us not only to comprehend the pressing needs during times of turmoil but also to craft effective solutions.
In particular, our engagement with startups is a key component of our ling-term economic development strategy. This endeavor takes into account the available resources and the calculated risks we are willing to undertake but with programs like the Athens Venture Fair, Cyprus Seeds, Venture Garden, Envolve Greece, the Venture Impact Awards, and many others we have proven that startups form an integral part of our vision. We see startups as a mechanism propelling economic growth and job creation. More importantly though, startups also form a bridge that brings together the entrepreneurial spirit of the diaspora with the economic transformation of the homeland. Our work with them is always seen beyond the strict financial metrics as in essence they generate good for the society at large.
As an organization we place a strong emphasis on forging collaborative partnerships with global diaspora initiatives, regardless of their descent, to strengthen our mission. When THI was founded, its visionaries sought inspiration from the enduring success stories of analogous initiatives led by communities such as the Jewish, Irish and Armenian diasporas in the United States. These organizations have honed their organizational expertise over many decades, mastering the art of leveraging their diaspora’s strength and resources for the betterment of their homelands.
THI’s commitment to collaboration extends beyond learning from successful models; it also encompasses supporting and partnering with other Greek diaspora initiatives that share the common vision of fostering positive change in Greece and Cyprus
As an example, a couple of years ago we draw lessons from KKL/JNF regarding its tree planting campaign. Jews both, within and outside Israel, have indeed mastered the art of reforestation having planted over 240 million trees, in Israel, since 1901. We learned a lot from them that enabled us to better engage with our own diaspora members, mobilize resources and execute large-scale environmental initiatives. THI’s commitment to collaboration extends beyond learning from successful models; it also encompasses supporting and partnering with other Greek diaspora initiatives that share the common vision of fostering positive change in Greece and Cyprus. As a secular, non-political organization, THI is dedicated to working with diverse stakeholders who share the same goal of upliftment and development for our nation.
Michael Printzos: Cyprus Seeds, as the inaugural program backed by THI in Cyprus, held tremendous promise and potential. When we funded this program, we saw several compelling factors that convinced us all , of its significance and potential impact. We recognized back then that Cyprus had a burgeoning talent pool of innovative thinkers and aspiring entrepreneurs and could also attract more from the wider region. In other words, by supporting a program like Cyprus Seeds we were aiming to bring more innovation to the island, further expand the local economy’s diversification, create jobs and transfer knowledge. All these elements coupled together with a thriving Cypriot diaspora who has also been backing this project since the very beginning, has turned Cyprus Seeds into one of THI’s strategic investments in the economic development area.
Maria Markidou Georgiadou: The Hellenic Initiative has been supporting Cyprus Seeds since 2019, the very first year of operation of our program. The funding we get from THI is extremely vital for the Program as it complements the funds we attract from the Cyprus Government and from the private donors, which we give to the selected projects in every cycle, in the form of a grant. The more funding we attract every year, the more projects we support. I would like to also emphasize that the support we get from THI is more than just funding; in particular, THI connects both Cyprus Seeds as well as our projects with the US market, which is extremely valuable for our growth. Moreover, it connects us with its network of experienced evaluators and entrepreneurs and gives our Cypriot innovation teams opportunities to participate in startup competitions organized by THI in Greece.
Cyprus Seeds' vision is to slow down the brain drain of talented, highly educated, highly skilled young researchers as well as to increase the deal flow of Cypriot technology spin-offs, creating a source of jobs and wealth for Cyprus. To this end, Cyprus Seeds supports the commercialization of academic research projects, with strong IP value, and global market potential, from all Cypriot universities, research institutions and Centres of Excellence.
Cyprus Seeds' future plans are to support the creation of a pipeline of deep-tech startups from scientific research
In less than 5 years of operation, Cyprus Seeds brought to the market two spin-offs from the University of Cyprus and supported the conclusion of one Licensing Agreement from the Institute of Neurology and Genetics. To name but a few more of Cyprus Seeds' achievements:
38 scientists have been employed in the projects supported by Cyprus Seeds;
8 projects filed for patents, in the US and globally, with Cyprus Seeds funding;
The entrepreneurial spirit in academia has been enhanced.
Cyprus Seeds' future plans are to support the creation of a pipeline of deep tech startups from scientific research, out of the Universities and Research Centres of Cyprus, aiming to attract investors to Cyprus, create employment opportunities and attract back to the island the talented youth.
I truly believe that Cyprus has the potential to become a regional tech hub. We have amazing talent in our universities and research centres. What is missing in academia is the entrepreneurial mindset which is critical to growing the innovation ecosystem. Attracting back to Cyprus the young talented graduating Cypriot PhD students and Cypriot post-docs and engaging the Cypriot Diaspora more actively will accelerate this prospect. Similarly, to The Hellenic Initiative, through which the Greeks of the Diaspora are supporting entrepreneurship in Greece, we can mobilize Cypriots from the Diaspora to mentor, network and invest in Cypriot tech startups that spin out of our universities and Centers of Excellence and have the potential to solve world problems. This way, Cyprus will, one day, be on the World map of innovation!
What: The Hellenic Initiative, Cyprus Seeds
Where: New York-Athens, Nicosia
More Info: thehellenicinitiative.org, cyprusseeds.com
Who: Michael Printzos brings over two decades of hands-on experience in R&D commercialization, innovation consulting, and nonprofit management, having collaborated with numerous companies and organizations across the USA, UK, Germany, Singapore, and Greece. Currently serving as the Greece, Country Head at The Hellenic Initiative, he has been overseeing THI's philanthropic endeavors since its inception, managing over $20,5M in direct aid and in support of Greece's future through direct philanthropy and economic revitalization efforts. He is also the co-founder of an Oxford-based company specializing in medical imaging software. Actively engaged in the community, Michael serves as a committee member of the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce and holds the distinction of being an alumnus of the International Visitors Leadership Program of the US Department of State. In 2015 Michael was elected as one of the "40under40 European Young Leaders" representing Greece. Michael is a holder of an MEng in Engineering Science from Oxford University.