On Mentoring and Accelerating Greek Startups

Mar 15 • ARTICLES, NEWS/BLOG • 3700 Views • No Comments on On Mentoring and Accelerating Greek Startups

The first mention of the term “mentor” in literature was about three thousand years ago. In the Odyssey, Mentor, was the name of a trusted friend of Ulysses who was placed in charge of his son’s, Telemachus, training, and of his palace, at a moment of crisis, when Odysseus left for the Trojan War. The word Mentor evolved to mean trusted advisor, friend, teacher and wise person. “Mentoring is a fundamental form of human development where one person invests time, energy and personal know-how in assisting the growth and ability of another person [1]. Today, more than ever, aspiring Greek technology entrepreneurs need active support, practical help and advice from experienced mentors who have a clear view of the international trends and market and what it takes to reach them successfully.

Caught in the middle of Greece’s broken economy and social turmoil, young tech entrepreneurs, like their counterparts in other sectors of the economy, try to rise through the cracks and succeed in what they doing following a long period of stagnation and deep recession. In Greece, voices supporting that entrepreneurship can play a vital role in Greek economy, are increasing. Startup accelerator programs, such as the MITEF Greece Startup Competition, in countries where the startup ecosystems are relatively “young” and building up, are a trial-by-fire opportunity that provide a springboard for emerging tech startups. These programs offer a variety of high quality education resources, and draw an influential audience of tech insiders, investors, media, startups, and mentors. Accelerator programs and competitions link up-and-coming entrepreneurs with an international network of resources and provide expert advice through mentoring. Matching both prospective and experienced entrepreneurs with skilled mentors is pivotal, as they start from concept development and continue through team formation, incorporation, initial operations, continuous refining of products and services, identification of markets, business organization or funding.

The main role of a mentor is to guide, provide practical advice and support the mentee, enhance the strengths and spot the weaknesses of the team. “It is important to share from one’s experience, ideas that can move the start -up forward, to provide critical and candid feedback, in a constructive sense, to introduce as appropriate, potential new team members, customers, partners, advisory board members, etc.” remarks Alec Karys, CEO at Genesis Inc., who has over 25 years of experience as a start-up adviser, coach, angel investor and currently mentor at the MITEF Greece Startup Competition.

MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016: Panel of Mentors

MITEF Greece Startup Competition is providing hands-on educational activities that generate actionable knowledge and networking opportunities to help promising startups improve their businesses and successfully compete into the global market. “Our effort at MITEF Greece Startup Competition is to pair right. Very early on we ask our 25 semifinalist teams to state and also prioritize their needs. Then we make every effort possible to match them with the right mentors, from a significant pool of international and accomplished CEOs, CTOs, CFOs, investors, marketers and the like. For me this was a streamlined process from day one. To sum up my experience with my teams the last two years in one phrase: successful startups are always the result of competent and driven teams. It all comes down to the execution. And my teams are executing”, highlights Charalampos Papadopoulos, Economic Diplomat & Business developer for tech startups and mentor coordinator for the MITEF Greece Startup Competition for the years 2015 and 2016.

According to Manolis Stefanakis, Principal at Sustainable Strategies International and mentor, a successful mentoring process focuses on building stronger entrepreneurs and developing the human capital, more than the venture itself. To do so you need a highly qualified and committed group of successful business people that are motivated to “give back” as volunteer mentors and find the experience compelling and rewarding. “It is important to deal with creative people with a lot of ambition to promote their ideas in a structured, entrepreneurial way that absorb and try  to get the maximum of the ideas and support given by the mentors”, agrees mentor Emily Filippou-Klopfer, C-Level Executive in Financial Services.

A good mentor is worth his or her weight in gold. He lends his wealth of experience, brings a range of diverse insights and gives valuable information about what works and what fails. All these can be just as important as funding in the early stages of starting up in business.

Furthermore, with so much hyped discussions about industry disruptions, mentoring provides the valuable insight of an industry expert, which helps in navigating the risks and opportunities facing a tech startup. “Mentoring is not about teaching, it’s about understanding the strengths and the weaknesses and offering the best possible advice and support for the mentees to grow and develop. My personal experience has shown that good mentoring relationships can last a lifetime”, highlights Myladie Stoumbou, Director, Cloud Productivity Sales, Germany & CEE at Microsoft and active mentor of MITEF Greece Startup Competition. When it comes to choosing a mentor, industry experience and gravitas count great deal.

The 25 semifinalists, that participated in last year’s competition were selected by an international judging panel from a pool of applications, and participated in a 3 month period of intensive mentoring with their assigned local and international mentors while attending free workshops. Their insights provide useful information about mentoring…

"Most of our mentors were personally involved with the key company activities such as interaction with investors, key accounts, potential partners and other contacts in order to outsource services that could further up our startup goals", discusses Alex Maniatopoulos, CEO of the 1st Prize winner of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016, Yodiwo.
Aigli Korfiati, Product Development & Support Manager of the 2nd Prize winner of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016, InSyBio Ltd., highlights the great value her mentors provided in "target market identification, market segmentation and especially product/market fit".
Some mentors have added value through their willingness to share their failures as well as their successes. "Our mentors’ life experiences, apart from business insights, were of a great value, giving us extra motivation and a lot of inspiration", concluded George Eleftheriou, Co-founder & CEO of 3rd Prize winner of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016, Sentio Solutions.
"As our team had a lack of experience in pitching events, the pitch event in public was a booster to practice even more our pitch, to handle our stress and to become more extrovert" says Anna Chlioura, Co-founder & Marketing Manager at Elektronio, one of the 25 semifinalist teams of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016.
"The change in the pitch done after the session was really great. Linda in a short time managed to transform our pitching deck and the impact was really significant", noticed Constantine Komodromos, Co Founder & CEO at VesselBot, one of the 10 finalists of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016.
The sooner you acquire a mentor the less time and energy you waste especially during team formation when building a multi-skill set team in order to properly armor the company”, remarks Theodoros Edipidis, Business Development Director of one of the 10 finalist teams of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016Contadd.
Mentoring can have long-term impact, according to Lazaros Petrides, Co-founder & Director of one the 10 finalist teams of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016, EventReception "when trying to educate and inform conservative markets during turbulent times".
"Finding the right mentor at the right moment can be extremely helpful in order to leverage your community network and work towards establishing new partnerships" outlines Savvas Argyropoulos, Founder & CEO of StreamOwl, one of the 10 finalist teams of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016.
"The perfect pitch workshop was a revelation. We believe this workshop was the core benefit of the whole MITEF Greece program and it should remain at the heart of the process", Michael Korkaris, CEO at Work it, one of the 25 semifinalists of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016.
"The best stage in which you need more the mentor is the one that you feel less comfortable as a team" remarks Alexandros Papandreou, Founder & CEO at Learning Out of the Box P.C., that was selected among the 25 semifinalists of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016.
"The support has been truly instrumental. As a matter of fact through the discussions with the mentors we pivoted and completely changed our business model, by identifying the limitations of our capabilities and the lack of potential growth from an investor point of view that opened our eyes to look for alternatives", describes Nikolas Fotilas, Founder of Rooms-2-let, one of the 25 semifinalists of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016.
"Linda was just perfect!" explains George Pilpilidis, CEO at hopwave and semifinalist of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016. "Even when having experience in pitching, Linda was there to raise the bar. The Perfect Pitch and the one-to-one coaching sessions totally changed the way we perceive investors and the way we present our company".
"It was quality time – meaning key issues and potential problems were addressed. Having this type of workshop behind you definitely boosts your confidence", commented Aleck Alexopoulos, Founder of ErgoSensePro and semifinalist of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016.
It was all about "compressing the big scheme into concrete levels of understanding and putting brick to brick the entire building into perspective" points out Vassilios Kallitsis, Founder of Your Moods and semifinalist of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016
"The Pitch Night Event was the first time we had a complete presentation of our product. We are certain that those experiences make us stronger and more capable to achieve our goals", explained Lefteris Sigalas, Co-founder of DURASTEELNET, one of the 25 semifinalists of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016.
"First of all, we had the opportunity to present in front of investors and experienced managers who gave us feedback regarding our services, our product and of course our pitch presentation. But the most important was, that at the end we had some very interesting face-to-face conversations which lead to important meetings and potential collaborations", marks Sotiris Kokkinos, Co-founder/CEO of FEAC Engineering P.C., one of the 25 semifinalists of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2016.
Their assigned mentors helped Anastasia Hadjichristofi, Founder of one of the 25 semifinalists of MITEF Greece Statrup Compeititon 2016, ECOverified to understand that "there are alternative paths and that we don’t necessarily need to carry on bootstrapping or trying to raise VC money in order to quickly take the idea to market and scale up. During the past three months ECOverified has applied for a place in Silicon Valley and has filled in an application for Stavros Niarchos Foundation".


During this period of extensive mentorship and workshops participants have the opportunity to improve their pitch by attending a unique workshop and receive one-to-one coaching on how to improve their pitch deck and skills. The Perfect Pitch workshop, presented by Linda Plano, the founder of Plano & Simple, provides pitch and business coaching for entrepreneurs.

Though the thought of bringing your idea in front of a group industry experts and investors can be daunting, the benefits proved to be worthwhile during the MITEF Greece Pitch Night event.

So, should you enter your startup into an accelerator? The answer is yes! You need to start dreaming, discovering, meeting, inspiring and sharing. When starting your business in a difficult macroeconomic environment, you need an extra “push” from people that have the experience and willingness to support and mentor you towards your goal. “I also had the good fortune for people to help me as I developed my career and now I’m paying them back by doing what I can to help others. Aside from that, I learn about new products, I meet interesting people, and I have the personal pleasure of exchanging ideas with today’s newest leaders before they are widely recognized as such” explains Anita Peil that has more than 30 years of experience in Integration of Strategy and Operations.

Mentors  were absolute beginners too at some point in their lives, so they understand better than anyone how important it is to have someone to help you go further, faster. Sometimes we forget that entrepreneurship is a long journey that involves unexpected surprises, challenges, setbacks, and rewards… but as any good journey is as much about the process as the destination. And as for Ulysses the return in Ithaca was the ultimate goal, he and his trusted companions did not hurry the journey and came home wiser. Remember: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” Plutarch

[1] Shea, Gordon F. (1997) Mentoring (Rev. Ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications

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