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Reload Greece Generates Innovation Among Diaspora

New Greek TV had the opportunity to interview Reload Greece, the hub of Greek entrepreneurship in London.

The organization began as an initiative by young Greeks, who aim to encourage and inform other innovative and enthusiastic individuals. We spoke to the organization's General Manager Markos Kiosseoglou and Communications Manager Renia Rigopoulou, about the positive impact Reload Greece is having on the nation's economy and society, along with its future aspirations.

Maria Athens: What is the vision behind Reload Greece?

Reload Greece: Proactivity, Empowered Youth, Inclusivity, Solidarity and Globalism define a Reloaded Greece. Over the next three years our vision is to empower the diaspora to connect to Greece by creating and pursuing innovative ideas. We want to ensure that young people, both in Greece and abroad, will develop skills in entrepreneurship and social innovation that will help their communities grow and prosper.

Maria Athens: What specifically is Reload Greece?

Reload Greece: Reload Greece is the Hub of Greek entrepreneurship starting in London, aiming to inspire and educate the diaspora and global community to have an impact on Greece's economy and society through entrepreneurship and social innovation.

Starting as a small group of volunteers, Reload Greece soon evolved into a community that brings together ambitious entrepreneurs, social innovators, civic-minded mentors and venture capitalists, facilitating business connections between Britain and Greece.

As we went along, we discovered a new breed of startup founders, which we now call "connected entrepreneurs". They have a collaborative ethos and build profit and non-profit ventures that are inherently globally oriented, while aiming to have a positive impact on their home countries too. These people are 'Reloaders' and for them borders are nothing but a technicality that technology can surpass.

Maria Athens: What substantial ventures has Reload Greece made in Greece?

Reload Greece: Over the past two years, Reload Greece has brought together young people with a global outlook who think innovatively about enterprises that have a connection to Greece. Reload Greece's 10 events so far were filled to capacity with 900 fellow Reloaders. New entrepreneurial ideas were proposed by 36 of the young people who participated. In turn, they all received feedback from the more than 70 successful entrepreneurs who joined us and shared their experiences in growing businesses and helping their communities improve.

Using Reload Greece's proven methodology, entrepreneurs refined their ideas and 7 promising Reload ventures were presented to investors to solicit funding. To-date, ventures having benefited from Reload Greece's approach have raised combined funding of more than £200,000, and have created 15 jobs in the UK and Greece.

Maria Athens: What are the main goals of Reload Greece & what do you hope to achieve in the near future?

Reload Greece: As mentioned in the beginning, over the next three years Reload Greece's vision is to empower the diaspora to connect to Greece by creating and pursuing innovative ideas. To make this happen, we have created a business plan with a very detailed programme of activities aiming to expand our inspiration offering, educate people about opportunities in Greece, expand the Reload community and develop a rigorous process through which people will be able to take their ideas from inception to execution.

There are four main goals that we want to achieve through this plan: The first goal is to change young people's mindsets by developing role models who will inspire and educate young Reloaders. The second goal is to strengthen the ties within the diaspora and connect it with the talented people who live in Greece in order to create a cross-country collaborative environment, that will enhance the entrepreneurial potential of all parties involved.

The third goal is to build a repository of expertise comprised by experienced members of the diaspora who, despite not being currently involved with the startup ecosystem, have the knowledge, experience and network to help young 'Reloaders' like ourselves realize our dreams. Capitalizing on the above, our ultimate goal is for Reloaders to gain the confidence and the practical tools needed to kick-start their own ventures that will contribute to the Greek startup ecosystem.

Maria Athens: Does Reload Greece encompass only London and Greece, or can anyone participate with an interest in the latter's well being?

Reload Greece: Despite starting in London, we believe that the Greek diaspora around the world can play a crucial role in a broader movement that seeks to put young entrepreneurs with a global mindset at the forefront of Greece's development. Therefore anyone who would like to see real ventures create real jobs and bring about real social change can partake in Reload Greece's activities.

Looking at the numbers of the Greek diaspora, Reload Greece has been only scratching the surface. 900 people who have been through our programme represent only 2.5% of the 40,000 Greeks who live only in London. According to the latest reports, more than 200,000 Greeks have left Greece over the past few years and more than 50% of these people have moved to the UK and Germany. Clearly there is a great potential ahead us for Reload Greece to maximize its impact and reach out to many more young people.

The business plan described on the previous question aims to capitalize on this exact opportunity. Our aspiration is that over the next 5 years a global community of Reloaders will be created. While this sounds quite presumptuous, other Hellenic organizations and individual diaspora members in countries like France, Belgium, Brazil, South Africa, Australia and Canada have expressed an interest to create local Reload Greece hubs.

Maria Athens: Who created this initiative? Who are the founders and who makes up the team?

Reload Greece: Reload Greece started as an initiative by five young Greeks who live, study and work in London. The painful transition that Greece is undergoing (currently, of every 2 of our friends 1 is unemployed) challenged us to consider what is required to achieve social and economic progress Initially the team's aspiration was to inspire and educate other passionate and innovative people to launch game-changing ventures related to Greece through a conference named "Innovating our way out of the Crisis". Yet, the 230 enthusiastic young people who filled the Hellenic Centre in London on the 22nd of September 2012, created a movement and demanded a follow-up.

Responding to this need, an Executive Board was recruited in July 2013 consisting of three senior representatives from higher education, business, and financial sectors. The London Business School then funded a Research Assistant post to support Reload Greece and continues to give support and office space. In November 2013 the board appointed the first full-time employee to the post of General Manager responsible for the design and implementation of the aforementioned long-term plan for which the team is currently fundraising.

Other than the one full time employee, the team is now comprised by more than 30 young Greek volunteers who live in the UK and further afield. Being committed to the Reload cause, they spend their spare time from their studies or work helping Reload Greece go to the next level. They all do so because, like most of the Reloaders, they share economic, cultural, or social ties to the Hellenic world and the privilege of youth commands them to look to the future with optimism. Being outside of the country, Reload Greece gives us a way to connect to Greece and offer a tangible solution to our peers on how take matters on their own hands.

Maria Athens: How does your entrepreneurial team raise funds?

Reload Greece: Reload Greece has achieved an amazing amount with very limited funding, resources, much goodwill and volunteer commitment. So far, we have been heavily dependent on in-kind donations (value exceeds £30,000), and have managed to cover the organization's basic expenses from the support of specific private individuals, foundations and corporate sponsors.

Special mention should be made to the Samroukas Foudation, The Hellenic Initiative and airtickets.gr who have sponsored Reload Greece events, and of course London Executives and Raythos who believe in our cause and want to see us thrive. Last year we also launched a fundraising campaign which was supported by more than 165 individuals helping us raise £14,000 and these are the funds with which the organization is still going.

As for the fundraising process of our future plan, this started in December 2014 by securing £17,000 from a Foundation and a private donor who prefer to remain unnamed. There are also a number of commitments in place from other private donors, sponsors and foundations reaching close to £50,000. We want to be up and running, with a full-time team by early Spring and the short term goal is to raise an extra £50,000 by then. To make this happen a list of naming opportunities has been developed and at the same time a major fundraising event is being organized for mid-March.

Maria Athens: Who specifically in Greece benefits from your efforts?

Reload Greece: In 2014, we hosted the first 5-day Reloader Camp in Nafplio, Greece. Through an intensive programme of workshops, 25 participants learnt about entrepreneurial opportunities available in Greece and had the opportunity to form teams and develop their ideas with the support of trainers and mentors. Top ideas were awarded €3,000, Google credits and a business school scholarship, through partnerships with Google Greece and ALBA Business School.

The variety of backgrounds of Reloaders attending facilitated the connections of people with an international thinking living abroad with local talent in Greece. Capitalizing on this success, our aim is to organize this camp on an annual basis. Going one step further we aspires to create a web-based repository, where each Reloader will be able to document his idea and solicit feedback.

This platform will promote the exchange of mentalities and encourage cross country collaborations since people from all over the world will be able to sign up and post their ideas. By doing so, we want to connect people with innovative, connected model ideas who live in the UK with young talented individuals in Greece who can help them make their ideas a reality. Of course we hope that this can go the other way around. Young people living abroad will be able find an interesting project taking place in Greece and contribute towards its first proof of concept.

Maria Athens: Can you describe the "Reload Greece Experience"?

Reload Greece: Reload Greece is a rich source of creative energy. The liveliness, dynamism and enthusiasm of all the Reloaders is what characterises the Reload Greece experience and this is the reason we are still going as a team.

Reloaders come at Reload Greece events eager to learn from the success stories of other young entrepreneurs who have succeeded. They are looking to get the tools they need in order to connect to Greece and have an impact. To facilitate this, as part of the Reload Greece experience, Reloaders are invited to share ideas or give feedback to the ideas of others. Amazingly more than 70% of attendees have given concrete suggestions to their peers about how to prepare the strategy and business plan and develop a well-structured presentation.

Also, 9 out of 10 attendees have reported an increase in enthusiasm about Greece and 6 out of 10 left determined and willing to take action. Above all, Reload Greece is creating a community of entrepreneurs and social Innovators who are willing and able to help each other to connect to their home.

Maria Athens: What is required to become involved?

Reload Greece: One of the key Reload Greece principles is Inclusivity and therefore there are no criteria or any type of application process to get involved. In fact, over the next few years, we want to ensure that more and more young people will have the chance to partake in our activities. The creation of local hubs and the web based repository described above, both part of our future plan, are a move towards this direction.

Anyone who needs some inspiration or guidance, anyone who would like to see real ventures create real jobs and bring about real social change can partake in Reload Greece's activities. Everyone is welcome to become a Reloader.