There have been several steps to strengthen research activity, and its interface with the business world in Greece. However, much more is required such as the creation of an institutional framework that will allow research staff and teachers to engage in entrepreneurship in a transparent manner. That was the key conclusion of this year’s Hellenic Innovation Forum held 20 June at the Divani Caravel Hotel. The conference’s main theme was the linking of the academic and research community with the business world and was co-organised by Ethos Events, portal.banks.gr, National Hellenic Research Foundation. The National Documentation Centre (EKT) organised a side event ‘Research and entrepreneurship: Learning from the adventurous – success stories’.
One positive factor, noted at the conference, is that students have begun to turn to entrepreneurship, and there are several cases of innovative enterprises from research groups and academic research institutions.
In his opening address, the former Deputy Minister for Research and Innovation Mr. Costas Fotakis said:
‘Our goal is to develop and implement a growth model for the country based on the Knowledge Economy. Knowledge and innovation resulting from scientific research that supports healthy innovative entrepreneurship. For the first time in the history of the country, the Knowledge Economy is part of the strategy plan for growth and is proceeding one step at a time in a systematic and structured manner. Commitment to this goal is evident from the increased expenditure on research. In 2017, in crisis- conditions, expenditure exceeded 2 billion euro for the first time ever, with a significant increase in public expenditure. Private investments in research and development also rose steadily and are now equal to those of public investment.’
Mr. Jorn Gjelstad, Norwegian Ambassador to Greece, talked about the Norwegian model of university and business co-operation, which, like the Greek Business Innovation Programme, promotes partnerships between businesses and universities.As he said: ‘Innovation can transform the economy. At the heart of this change is manpower.’
Mr. John Bratakos, CEO, DD SYNERGY, Vice President, Athens Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Secretary for Production Sectors Nea Democratia, referred to the need for consultation between public and private sectors and a genuine willingness to finance research and innovation.
He pointed out that: ‘In Greece, achieving digital convergence has not been a priority (on the index of digital skills, Greece is almost constantly at the bottom). Investment in innovation in Greece is unsatisfactory. The background is not at all attractive, while funds of 1.5 billion. euro for innovation in 2014-2017 has not yet been invested.’
Dr. Vasilis Grigoriou, Director & Scientific Board President National Hellenic Research remarked, 'We have a long way to go, but progress has been made.' He stressed that the country's human resources are at a very good level, but 'we lack the confidence to take the necessary steps to go to the next level'. Referring to the importance of co-operation between science and the market, he said: 'Research centres produce high-level knowledge, which with proper funding and in a more mature environment can deliver very good results in the coming years.'
The Director of the National Documentation Centre, Dr Evi Sachini, used statistics and indicators to present an overview of business growth and the contribution of business to total R&D expenditure, noting that the private sector has increased its participation in the R&D intensity indicator. She said that research and development activities of companies aimed at improving or further developing existing products and services, and developing new products and processes have been on the rise in recent years.
Dr George Xirogiannis, Director for Industry, Growth, Infrastructure and Regional Policy Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), noted that Greece has a very low rating in digital maturity, showing a significant disparity with the EU average. He said: 'The investment made is moving in the wrong direction. There is a lack of culture and support incentives from the state.'
Angeliki Kalligiannaki, Principal Banker, European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD), Athens Resident Office, said: 'Over the last decade, expenditure on R & D has doubled, however, high-tech products are a very small percentage of our exports. That is precisely where Greek enterprises can focus', and she then referred to the financing provided by the EBRD in support of such efforts.'
In his speech, entitled 'Respecting big differences to solve hard problems: Universities and private sector companies as valued partners!', keynote speaker, Mr. Stephen Seiler, Vice Rector for Research and Innovation at the University of Agder in Norway, emphasised the need for the convergence of the university community, the private sector and governments and suggested ways in which to achieve this. He presented examples of the way in which Norwegian universities utilise business innovations developed in research laboratories in co-operation with the country's major organisations.
In his presentation entitled 'Change the way you do business: Digital Transformation, Live,' Mr. Theodore Granis, International Product Specialist of SoftOne,' referred to the needs and requirements of the new generation of customers who are constantly online, presenting the operational software SoftOne and stressing that 'With the right programme, Greek companies can succeed abroad.'
Other invited speakers shared their thoughts, experiences and case studies of successful business evolving from research with the audience. Vagelis Papakonstantinou, Attorney at Law, Professor at the Faculty of Law, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, pointed out in his talk 'Greek Universities and Entrepreneurship: A constantly tense relationship', that Greek research centres and universities constitute islands of excellence: '..there are now links between the market and research in Greece, which can be improved by changing perspective'.
During the panel on 'Issues between research community and the business world,' Ms. Maggie Athanasiadis, Senior Advisor, Industry, Growth, Infrastructure and Regional Policy, Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), said that, 'the fourth industrial revolution is not a turn-key solution but requires research and development.' Ms. Catherine Pramatari, Partner, Uni.Fund, Associate Professor, Athens University of Economics, said that this relationship should be 'win win', while Prof. George Ioannou, Director of the Laboratory of Management Science of the Athens University of Economics, reported the experience of the Department of Management Science and Technology, noting that universities should lead to jobs. But, as Prof. Haris Lambropoulos, Assistant Professor, University of Patras | ACCI BoD Member & President of the UHC Institute pointed out there is a culture difference between the academic and business community ,' The right balance must be found so that these best practices can be transferred to small businesses too.' But, as Prof. Haris Lambropoulos, Assistant Professor, University of Patras | ACCI BoD Member & President of the UHC Institute pointed out there is a culture difference between the academic and business community ,' The right balance must be found so that these best practices can be transferred to small businesses too.'
The National Documentation Centre (EKT) has supported all the Hellenic Innovation Forums to date, including the 2019 Forum. At the EKT stand, there was a presentation of its activities in promoting research, innovation and their interconnectivity with entrepreneurship, as well as the new programme Bridges Awards, designed to showcase and reward co-operation between Greeks around the world.