2020 has been a challenging year for us all. As an international educational charity Reload Greece was affected by the pandemic and it was with a heavy heart that we had to postpone many of our 2020 programmes and events. Like many charities, we were forced to make difficult decisions. Our income and operations have been adversely affected but we are incredibly lucky to have a wonderful community of Reloaders who have helped us survive 2020. We are in positive spirits and we have confidence that we will come back stronger in 2021. Before we head into a new year, with the hope that brings, we are reflecting on 2020 and we would like to share our plans for 2021.
Our year in summary
Our eight year of operation started in the beginning of 2020, when things were still normal, with our Young Entrepreneurs Programme (RG YEP) Matching Event, where 13 talented teams from the UK, Netherlands, Cyprus and Greece were matched with their dedicated mentors. However, as the pandemic took hold across the world, our finalist teams were unable to travel and the RG YEP Final Pitch Event took place virtually. Our first large scale event to be delivered digitally was sold out. The event was a great success with strong, compelling pitches and three innovative teams winning the top awards.
In March 2020, as Europe locked down, we had to take the difficult decision to postpone our London based RG Challenge20 accelerator programme and RG Connect20 conference. As we moved our operations online, we ran a RG webinar series featuring experienced entrepreneurs, investors and experts across a range of sectors. For example, UK & Greek VC investors, Anthony Danon from SpeedInvest, Sotiris Papantonopoulos-Mantopoulos from UniFund and Katerina Kanteraki from Metavallon VC shared how they had responded to the pandemic effects on the startup ecosystem. RG alumni female founders, Athina Polina Dova from Owiwi & Katerina Santikou from Workathlon showcased the creativity they are bringing to their industries. Angela Gerekou, President of the Greek National Tourism Organisation and Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, Director of the eTourism Lab at Bournemouth University, discussed insights on Greek tourism and emerging practices for a resilient and sustainable tourism sector in Greece. International FinTech and Blockchain experts Efi Pylarinou, a Global Fintech & Blockchain advisor and Astyanax Kanakakis, CEO & Co-founder of Norbloc, discussed whether the crisis has made a more compelling case for the wider integration of blockchain in our societies.
Our alumni and the crisis
We have been inspired by the fortitude, tenacity and agility our community has shown during the crisis. It’s been energising to see the key role entrepreneurship has played in helping to create innovative solutions to combat the crisis and how the global community has pulled together to become stronger and more resilient. RG startups have had to react and adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. Even though some of our alumni had to suspend their operations, most of them were able to find new ways of working and managed to meet the impact of the crisis head-on. We were proud to see many RG alumni startups responding by extending their services, offering free access to their platforms or working together to create PPE for medical staff. For example, GIVMED’s services have been in demand more than ever and they have been working tremendously hard to distribute medicines to those most in need. During the pandemic GIVMED also donated 75k gloves, 14k disposable masks and 269 liters of antiseptic, with the support beneficiaries and employees in nursing homes. AidPlex & iCry2Talk joined the ‘COVID-19 Response Greece’, a community of volunteers working together to create face shields for hospitals and medical associations across Greece. Stoferno increased their on-demand delivery platform and expanded their operations to reach vulnerable people who were self-isolating. Owiwi offered free trials and new packages on their platform to help businesses minimise any disruption to the recruitment process and to alleviate the burden of moving to remote operations. It’s been fantastic to see the RG community pull together to help make a positive difference. This is familiar territory for Reload Greece as we were first established as a direct response to the economic crisis in Greece and our work has positively harnessed the power of the diaspora and the global entrepreneurship community working together.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, many RG startups have seen positive developments in 2020. In January 2020, RG YEP17 and RG Challenge18 winning startup Pushme, manufacturer of replaceable batteries and other mobility-related hardware, was acquired by Tier Mobility, the European leader in micro-mobility. In August RG Challenge19 winner Biomimetic, who have developed innovative laser surface texturing of glass, raised 900.000€ seed funding from Big Pi Ventures and they are now working hard to commercially develop their groundbreaking technology. RG Challenge18 winners Better Origin doubled the size of their team, gained funding from the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and deployed their first commercial system on a farm – the world’s first AI powered insect mini-farm! RG Challenge18 alumni Cube RM, a cloud product offering and revenue planning start-up have accelerated their expansion in Europe and established a larger presence in the US. RG Challenge19 startup Pobuca, a CX platform to help brands and retailers grow in the past-paced digital economy, have invested in AI and they are on track to show 35% growth in 2020.
Reload Greece after the crisis
While Reload Greece was, to all intents and purposes, in ‘hibernation’ through much of 2020, the Board have been engaging in a deep reflection on plans for our future and the needs of the Greek economy as it begins to emerge from the COVID crisis.
The Board concluded that as things normalize:
- We will revitalise RG Challenge, our flagship accelerator event. We will increase the focus on bringing in investors, and securing funding for the companies we, and our mentors, help. And we will increase the frequency of RG Challenge to twice per year, using the resulting success stories as key inputs to our educational programmes.
- We will enhance RG Connect, our annual conference, making it the must attend thought leadership event for the Greek Diaspora Community, as well as media and political opinion formers. The next RG Connect will take place in 2021 where we will showcase the next generation of companies to graduate from RG Challenge.
- We intend to increase the effectiveness of our educational work – to become sharper and smarter in reaching young Greek entrepreneurs in the diaspora, potentially expanding our geographic reach to deal with the possible impact of Brexit on the UK based Greek youth diaspora. Focusing our educational activities on where they have most impact may also lead to us delivering more content in Greece.
Since the summer, we have taken the first steps to put this new strategy in place. In the early autumn, the government of Greece announced a major new initiative to promote ‘angel investing’. The government of Greece is being assisted by the European Investment Fund to establish the angel fund. The centrepiece of this is a new EUR 20 million fund designed to invest alongside angel investors in early stage Greek companies. With the enthusiastic support of RG mentors and supporters, we have submitted an innovative and high-quality response to the government’s invitation to bring forward proposals for the fund. We have also shared our ideas with our long-term partners and supporters.
The conclusion is that we are planning now to resume our activities, in line with our new strategy, from the second part of 2021. RG Challenge 21 is open for applications, and RG Connect will take place in the fourth quarter (although whether on-line or in-person remains to be seen). The scope to commence activities in universities and colleges (the 2021/22 YEP and complementary educational and training programmes) will be reviewed in the second quarter.
How you can take part
We are pleased to inform you about our plans for next year, and we would also like to renew our invitation to be part of this next phase of Reload Greece’s journey. We would love to hear from you if you would like to work with us as a mentor, as a volunteer at events or as a member of the RG team.
You can get in touch with us at email@example.com. Alternatively, either Nick Jennett, Chair of RG (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) or Markos Kisseoglou, Acting CEO (e-mail: GM@reloadgreece.com) would be pleased to hear from you.
Finally, as we head towards a new year, we would like to wish you and your families a very happy, prosperous and above all healthy 2021. We look forward to re-starting our programmes and working together to drive innovation and build new ventures with positive impact.