Five researchers turned entrepreneurs share their success stories

The EKT event at the Hellenic Innovation Forum 2019 presented an image of a country with highly capable scientific and research personnel that dare to envision and create the future.

The event ‘Research and entrepreneurship: Learning from the adventurous - Success Stories’, held by the National Documentation Centre (EKT) as part of the Hellenic Innovation Forum 2019, was a great success. Zoe Cournia, Katie Milioni, Stella Taka, Ilias Nasiopoulos and George Skretas presented their journeys from academia and research to business, inspiring the audience and stimulating discussion.

The event opened with a presentation by George Megas, Innovation Consultant at EKT, who highlighted the networking and funding opportunities for innovative businesses available through EKT’s Innovation and Networking Unit, and the services offered by Enterprise Europe Network and EIT Health. He also referred to Horizon 2020 and the European Innovation Council.

Thanasis Charemis talked about the history of Technology Parks. From the first Park at Stanford in 1951 to the contemporary modern parks in the USA, Europe and Asia. The EKT Innovation and Networking Unit consultant presented the three stages of the infrastructure’s development, noting special features of each region and the main benefits offered: more effective networking, stronger links between universities and the labour market, and facilitating the creation of growth and jobs.

Inspiration from life

Zoe Cournia, Researcher at Biomedical Research Foundation Academy of Athens and founder of the Ingredio startup, was the first speaker on the panel of five researcher-entrepreneurs. When  presenting her story, she revealed that, while still at Junior School, she asked herself  whether she wanted to be 'a painter or a chemist' when she grew up. Her journey from Athens to Heidelburg and later to Yale confirmed that her choice of science was well-founded.

When talking about her move into entrepreneurship, she spoke enthusiastically about the support she had from EKT. 'If you have an idea or you have started to implement the idea, EKT will support your action. I used EKT infrastructure and received funding, ensuring participation in competitions; I was always kept updated.' What she learned from the application being put on the market was that, when you identify and face a real problem in society, then it is possible to have an effective result, since 'a product must meet a need'.  

A new mission

Katie Milioni recounted her journey to the establishment of the MyHabeats company which helps people who need to change eating habits and lifestyle. Starting with her grandfather, who believed in his granddaughter and supported her decision to go to Strasbourg, she spoke of the mission undertaken to save lives with her research into new drugs.

After years working in the pharmaceutical industry, she met new partners who helped to develop the idea. This was probably the crucial moment. Then, the project began to conduct research in collaboration with hospitals and clinics in Athens and Prague. Two awards from EIT Health were a decisive help. The next step was to participate in a large incubator in Sweden looking at the market in the country. “I do not know if we are adventurous”, she said, but she feels patients participating in trials of new drugs are very brave.  

In the Greek way

Stella Taka, co-founder and CEO StArtBio, had little idea of what she wanted to be when she grew up. Through the microscope, she saw things that cannot be seen with the naked eye. A biologist at the University of Patras and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Athens in Allergology, she highlighted the difficulties faced by any young researcher such as liquidity, forced mobility due to lack of resources, etc.

While she was on the verge of leaving the country, she was able to launch the company, with the aid of NSRF programme for startups, mentoring entrepreneurship. “We had no idea what incubator meant then”, she said about the time she joined the Piraeus Bank egg programme. Successfully promoting the idea at an international conference, she achieved recognition. The highest point was her recognition by the Greek Allergy Society. The step had been taken.

Faith in purpose 

Elias Nasiopoulos talked of faith in purpose and optimism. The founder of the GIVE company, hosted in the Technological Park ‘Lefkippos’, spoke about his passion for mechanical engineering, the years of his studies, and his dream to launch an electric scooter vehicle in Greece. The journey began with an international competition for students, the ‘Formula student’, in which he took part with a group of fellow students.

He spent eight years in England for his undergraduate and PhD studies, then he transitioned into the labor market. Returning to Greece, he found support from the THEA incubator and is now ready to proceed to his next project. He finished his presentation with these words: 'The world we live in is designed by people who are not smarter than us. The only way to predict the future is to plan it ourselves'.

The moment of success

George Skretas decided to become a chemical engineer in the third year of High School. After attending the National Metsovio Polythechnic, he did postgraduate and doctorate studies in the United States and returned with a European scholarship in Greece at the beginning of the crisis. Today, he works as a researcher at the National Hellenic Research Foundation. After years of research on  proteins and bacteria, he decided to establish a biotechnology company ResQ Biotech.

The idea for the company came to him while in America. The words of a colleague who encouraged him were: 'When you start something you consider important, you should be able to visualise the moment of success. Have you thought what might happen if everything goes like clockwork?'

Upon completion of the presentations, the speakers talked with the audience. The overall feeling was that all five were excellent, directly sharing their personal experiences and presenting an image of a country with endless possibilities, with highly capable scientific and research personnel who manage to find a way of overcoming difficulties and obstacles. Let us, too, learn to dare to envision and create the future.