The Microsoft Innovation Center in Athens was opened by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates during his recent visit to Greece. The Innovation Center, one of the many already operating in Europe (Germany, Denmark, Croatia, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Latvia, Romania, Italy and Finland), was anticipated in the bill for collaboration between the Greek State and Microsoft, which was voted by the Greek Parliament on 18/1/2008. This ratifies the collaboration agreement between Greece and Microsoft which was signed in 2006 by Bill Gates and the Minister for Finance and Economy, Giorgos Alogoskoufis.
The Innovation Center is housed at 103 Vasilissis Sofias Avenue, and has around 20 members of staff. Its purpose is to support Greek software companies, aiming at innovation and competitiveness, and to work together with the academic foundations of the 7th Programme Framework for European Union Research. The Center will also provide opportunities for citizens to upgrade to digital technologies. More specifically, ten Social Centres for Technology Training will be established in the area, targeted at citizens with particularly low incomes.
For small and medium-sized businesses, Microsoft plans to create an "internetwork gateway" which will provide assistance in acquiring knowledge and obtaining subsidies from European Union programmes. The Center will also collaborate with the government to test e-government services. The Innovation Center is supported by the New Economy Development Fund (TANEO), which participates as an associate in the juridical scheme.
It is worth noting that the agreement between the Greek Government and Microsoft ensures preferential financial terms for the Greek State to acquire software, as well as giving a 20% discount on retail prices, proportional to the level of supply.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis attended the inaugural ceremony and, in his speech, he stressed that the Innovation Center is supported by the principle of an "anthropocentric economy" of knowledge and innovation. According to Mr Karamanlis, the Innovation Center "is the operational centre of a significant institutional cooperation to stimulate innovation in Greece through total evaluation of the potential of modern technology. From the very beginning, the sphere of action for this collaboration is broad; it relates to the public sector, to businesses (small and large) to education and to young people." The Prime Minister also talked about the "organic growth" of the State-Microsoft partnership within the context of a strategy for the digital age.
G. Alogoskoufis, Minister for Finance and Economy, emphasised that: "The Microsoft Innovation Center, which we are inaugurating today, is an important factor in realising the agreement between the company and the Greek State as part of the Government's digital strategy. This Center is expected to develop into an integrated Software Development Center, which will help entrepreneurship and support talented Greek students through its collaboration with the Higher Education Institutions of the country."
Amongst other things, Bill Gates mentioned that: "In the current global knowledge economy, technology and innovation are basic parameters of growth. In 2006, the year that the Greek government first implemented its digital strategy, Greece was considered to be the fastest growing country in the world in the field of broadband growth, according to the data available from international organisations. At Microsoft we give particular emphasis to the development of innovation at a local level, taking into consideration the essential factor of the economic progress of each country. Within this context, the establishment of this Innovation Center aims to contribute to creating new opportunities for everyone which, in turn, will help strengthen Greek competitiveness on a global level".
During his visit to Athens, the Microsoft Chairman also met with Evripidis Stylianidis, Minister of Education, as well as the leader of the opposition party, George Papandreou, and gave a speech at the Athens Concert Hall, Megaro Moussikis. The speech was entitled "The World of Tomorrow: The Microsoft Vision for the Future of Technology." In addition, Bill Gates was a keynote speaker at an event organised by the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) on "Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Modern World."
However, it should be noted that the signing of the agreement between the State and Microsoft has provoked a great deal of scepticism in research and academic circles that support the spread of free software, due to its lower cost, but also for reasons of strengthening competitiveness and combating monopolisation.
Source: Microsoft, Hellenic Ministry of Finance and Economy