Funds totaling 3.3 billion euros for investments in new technologies in various European countries and five national development banks that will cooperate with each other, are the key elements of the agreement signed in the presence of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at Zappeion Megaron as part of the initiative “Growing Together “.
As Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pointed out: “we need to look more systematically at cooperation, cross-European cooperation at the level of SMEs. The big multinationals, the French multinationals, they have been present in Greece, I think they know the landscape pretty well. But if we are to talk about a true European common market, it is the SMEs that need to get into closer cooperation. And right under the big multinationals, there are thousands of companies in Greece and in France and the other European countries that are present that need to understand that at the end of the day investing in another European country should be very natural to them. It should not be something very very complicated. At the end of the day, this is our common market. This is our advantage. We need to create scale at the European level”.
National banks and investment institutions from Greece, France, Germany, Finland and Denmark participate in the “Growing Together” initiative, aiming to raise the capacity of European growth capital to finance tech companies based in the EU, within the next 3 to 5 years. It is worth pointing out that this initiative allows businessmen of each country to invest in one of the other countries of the initiative, thus reinforcing the interconnection of the European ecosystem of businesses.
“What I can tell you is that when we took over, the Development Bank was essentially a shell without any real content. And in less than three years, it has established itself as a very important presence in Greece. Also very useful during Covid, where we supported Greek businesses in order to make sure that we protected jobs. But now as we move out of Covid, I think the potential for initiatives, both on the debt side but also on the equity side, are very significant,” pointed out the Prime Minister.
The signing of the cooperation protocol was held during an event coorganized by the Development Bank of France Bpifrance, the Hellenic Development Bank and the Hellenic Development Bank of Investments, under the auspices of the Ministry of Development and Investments. During this event, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis participated in a discussion with the CEO of Bpifrance, Nicolas Dufourcq, on reinforcing entrepreneurship and new investment opportunities in Greece, as well as legislative initiatives that have attracted investors in Greece.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis had met Mr. Dufourcq earlier in Maximos Mansion.
Nicolas Dufourcq: I am Nicolas Dufourcq. I’m the CEO of Bpifrance. So, Bpifrance is a sort of a big HDB (Hellenic Development Bank) for France. We have deployed in 2021 €25 billion for France, in loans, in equity. Basically, we do a lot of consulting and we have a belief which is that in the challenges that are ahead of us, for Greece, for France, the same challenges actually, which are debt growth, inflation, and so forth, entrepreneurs will play a major role, a central role. So the objective of Bpifrance, for France at least, is to double the number of entrepreneurs, because the more we have entrepreneurs, the best we will be. That is at least for sure in that world of uncertainties. And we also think that there are zillions of things we can do in Europe by better connecting the ecosystems of entrepreneurs, SMEs, startup, tech, non-tech across the continent. We think that by connecting the Development Banks, we can achieve that dream. And this is why we have been working with our Greek colleagues in the past two years intensively.
We work with other colleagues in Europe and we have the vision that if we were to have very strong Development Banks across the continent totally working together, we would increase the GDP of Europe. Certainly, I don’t give a quantum. I’m in presence of the European Commission. Thank you to be present today. And we have ten nationalities which are present, through the development banks with us this morning. But what is for sure is that by connecting the countries, we will create value. So thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, to be there. I just wanted maybe to ask you, what is your vision for the development of entrepreneurship in Greece to start with?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, first of all, congratulations on the signing of this important agreement. I do need to point out that it is taking place in a historic venue. This is a venue where 43 years ago, the accession of Greece into the European Economic Community was actually signed. And the initiative to bring together Development Banks from various European countries seems to me to be a very sensible idea. I would also like to congratulate the Hellenic Development Bank and its ecosystem for the great work they have done in very difficult times. From the moment we came into power, it was my firm belief that this government needed to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Greece. We were emerging from a very deep and very painful crisis that also had, as a result – as probably a positive side effect – the changing of attitudes amongst younger Greeks, the belief that entrepreneurship is an appropriate way for young Greeks to pursue. And what we tried to do, very simply, was to liberate all these entrepreneurial forces within the Greek society because we always took note of the fact that Greek entrepreneurs did particularly well outside Greece, but for some reason they were not doing particularly well in Greece.
So we did obvious things. Strengthening the financing arm of the state. We lowered taxes, significantly, taxes on capital, taxes on dividends, taxes on labor. We simplified regulation and we made sure that the various cogs in the entrepreneurial ecosystem cooperated in a more constructive way. And what is very interesting is that we have our first very impressive success stories. Greece has numerous unicorns already, and these are success stories which will further inspire new entrepreneurs to pursue a similar path. We’ve also started teaching entrepreneurship in schools, which is considered to be particularly important. We have fantastic public private initiatives such as the Junior Achievement Competition, which fosters this entrepreneurial spirit at a much younger age. And overall, I am very confident that this entrepreneurial ecosystem is really going to take off. And our goal is that at some point in the not-so-distant future, technology should contribute 10% of Greek GDP. And this is perfectly doable. If you look at sectors such as big data, such as clean tech, such as fintech, lots of very interesting things are happening and foreign investors are taking notice of what is happening in Greece. And Greek companies are beginning to attract significant capital.
So people are actually voting with their feet. They believe in this Greek growth story. And at the end of the day, our main goal was always to foster sustainable growth. Sustainable growth needs to be led and needs to be driven through private investment. And in spite of all the difficulties that we had to deal with, including the most recent war in Ukraine, we remain committed to the goal of creating sustainable growth in Greece in those sectors where we can be competitive.
Nicolas Dufourcq: Absolutely. And I must say we’re all extremely impressed by what’s happening here in the capital inflows which is a consequence of the rising reputation of the ecosystem of Greece, that’s for sure. Now, the question for us in France through BPI, and I suppose it’s the same in Greece and other countries, is how to accelerate that to be apart with the reality of the challenges that we have ahead of us. So I must say that the development banks are generating multiplier effects on the market, which are extremely important. So maybe you could tell us how you see the future of the public intervention in Greece to accelerate the movement in the country.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I’m sure you’ll have a chance in the panels that will follow to discuss in more detail what we’re doing on that front. What I can tell you is that when we took over, the Development Bank was essentially a shell without any real content. And in less than three years, it has established itself as a very important presence in Greece. Also very useful during Covid, where we supported Greek businesses in order to make sure that we protected jobs. But now as we move out of Covid , I think the potential for initiatives, both on the debt side but also on the equity side, are very significant. And for me, this is also a very interesting personal story, because some of you may know that I started my career in Greek business in private equity and venture capital in the late 90s, the early 2000s at the National Bank of Greece. We set up the first technology fund at the time, the first incubator. Maybe we were ahead of our time when we took these initiatives, but certainly now there is more need for innovative financial instruments. There is more need for venture capital and private equity in Greece.
I’m happy that many of the people I was working with at the time, they’ve stayed in the field. And now we do have a vibrant venture capital and private equity seen in Greece. But we also need more growth capital. We don’t just need venture capital. We’ve made it more attractive for angel investors to invest at a very early stage in Greek startup companies. But I also do believe that there is a lot of potential for mid-cap Greek companies to attract equity capital and to sort of make the next step forward. These are companies that have been able to survive and thrive during very difficult times. I think they’ve really given the term resilience a new definition. They are present in various different sectors of the Greek economy, and they’re looking to grow. And if you look at the big trends, one of them, I think, is going to be the consideration of supply chains and sort of the concept of strategic autonomy. And this whole idea of reshoring Greece is strategically positioned to take advantage of these trends. And as also many European or French companies will be looking to strengthen their supply chains closer to home.
And as they start looking less at Asia and more at Europe, I really encourage you to take a very close look at what is happening in Greece. And also when we look at new sectors where we can add value. Look at the renewable sector, for example. We want to contribute more to the value chain of renewables. We will be publishing, for example, in the next month, our new legal framework for offshore wind. Can we imagine a cluster of offshore wind infrastructure, for example, in Greece, rather in other countries? All these are ideas which I think are worth pursuing. But at the end of the day, what I do want to point out for those of you who are thinking of investing in Greece, this is not just about a stable and reform-oriented government. This is not just about a country that has natural comparative advantages such as the sun or the wind. It’s also about a country that has tremendous human capital. And this is particularly important for me. If you look especially at the tech sector, I think what many foreign companies saw in Greece was the quality of our engineers, still relatively cheap by European standards, extremely hard working.
Every single company that has invested in Greece has only good things to say about the human capital of the country. And the other dimension which you should not forget is that Greece “lost” 500.000 young people who left during the crisis. These are extremely talented young risk takers who left Greece. And for the first time, they’re looking to return to Greece. So in this global competition for human capital, we have an advantage that we have Greeks who are outside Greece, who want to return to Greece now. And I think this puts us in a relatively good position. But at the end of the day, for us, the real goal is to make sure that we stay the course. We deal with lots of crises, the recent one being particularly challenging when it comes to energy prices. But at the same time, every crisis is an opportunity. And when we look at what’s happening with energy now, of course, in the short term, we will support households and businesses to absorb as much as we can from the increase in price but at the end of the day, the concept of the green transition becomes more important not only from a climate point of view, but also from a geopolitical point of view.
We need more energy independence. In two days, I will be going to Western Macedonia -which was the area where we traditionally extracted lignite – to inaugurate the biggest photovoltaic plant currently in operation in Greece. So every crisis presents opportunities. And my encouragement, especially to foreign investors, is to take a good look at what is happening in Greece because you will find, I think, extremely interesting opportunities and I think also qualified people on the finance side, but also at the level of the government to support you in terms of exploring what is happening in the Greek market.
Nicolas Dufourcq: I can tell you that in the portfolio of BPI, we have equity shares in 1000 companies in France. So there are a lot of them which are interested in Greece at all levels. Some very big listed French multinationals are working on Greek projects. And we have Greek originating entrepreneurs, whο have been working with us for long, but also SMEs and also startups and also funds you have here in the assembly, funds which have decided to start operations in Greece. So I think that’s very good news. I would say that Greek entrepreneurs are always welcome in France. Last year we had a big event, like every year in October, we gathered more than 50,000 entrepreneurs in a stadium in Paris – and you’re mostly welcome, Mr. Prime Minister, by the way, it is next October 6, – and we had a delegation of Greek entrepreneurs that came with you. They were mostly welcome. So there is a lot to do and I’m really convinced that we need to improve the possibilities of cross-country business. I would say of course relationships, but business. To the point that we should have the ambition to have Franco-Greek-German, Franco-German-Danish-Greek funds with multinational teams, people who are working together, sharing different cultures with a portfolio which is spread across all the countries.
So that may be a good moment because we are running out of time to resay that today we’re announcing the agreement that we have signed with HDBI (Hellenic Development Bank of Investments), with TAC (Investments), with X Fund, with KW (Investment Funds) and Bpifrance to deploy €3.3 billion of gross capital across the continent. Collaborating on the deal flow, sharing the due diligencies and again, that’s the main word of today: accelerating the stance and the process of instructing the deals to the most benefit of the entrepreneurs.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: If I can add one final point. I think you’re right to point out that we need to look more systematically at cooperation, cross-European cooperation at the level of SMEs. The big multinationals, the French multinationals, they have been present in Greece, I think they know the landscape pretty well. But if we are to talk about a true European common market, it is the SMEs that need to get into closer cooperation. And right under the big multinationals, there are thousands of companies in Greece and in France and the other European countries that are present that need to understand that at the end of the day investing in another European country should be very natural to them. It should not be something very very complicated. At the end of the day, this is our common market. This is our advantage. We need to create scale at the European level. We’re not there yet. If you look at all the stats when it comes to the big tech companies, it is worrisome. But scale is going to start by cooperation at the smaller level. That’s where the new global players will emerge.
Nicolas Dufourcq: It’s a new “epoque” (era). That’s what Michael said two days ago by which Europe before everybody wanted to go to China, to Brazil, to India, far away, as far away as possible. And now we’re rediscovering the neighbors. We want to do business with you guys. You want to do business with us. And this is the future for Europe. That’s what we want: “Growing together”. Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you.