Greece is an attractive destination for investments. The CEO of Enterprise Greece, Georgios Filiopoulos, in an interview at CEOWORLD magazine, specifies how the company – under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – contributes to the influx of foreign investors and to the shift of Greek companies toward export-oriented activities in markets abroad.
Greece welcomed an impressive 72.3% increase in Foreign Direct Investment in 2021. At the same time, new investment projects with a total worth of almost 8 billion euros are reviewed for induction into Greece’s Strategic Investments program. Also, the Hellenic International Business Angels Summit (Hellenic International Business Angels Summit) , which will be hosted in Athens on June 23-24, will further develop Greece’s startup ecosystem and present networking opportunities with business angels investors.
What difficulties did you encounter due to Covid-19 and the lockdowns in terms of providing your services to exporters and interested investors for Greece and how did you overcome them?
Georgios Filiopoulos: It was definitely a challenge, especially since a lot of our pre-COVID support and outreach work centered around in-person events like trade fairs and roadshows. The immediate step was to have everyone work from home, with very little time to prepare. I have to say that I was impressed by how well the whole team adjusted and quickly developed new strategies for engaging with our stakeholders.
We developed a number of digital tools to continue our work, and these will remain in our toolbox going forward, even as we are able to resume in-person events. We have found online seminars to connect exporters with specific markets, digital B2B meetings, as well as digital outreach to investors particularly effective.
We were also helped by the digital initiatives at the state level. The silver lining of a crisis is often that it forces us to be agile and innovative. A good example from the debt crisis is the startup ecosystem, now maturing, that sprung up in Greece. In turn, the COVID crisis functioned as a catalyst for Greece’s rapid implementation of e-government services. The rollout of these services in just a few months greatly facilitated our efforts in various ways, and will have a positive impact, both for businesses and citizens, for many years to come.
Which Greek export products have great potential for the coming years?
Georgios Filiopoulos: A vast range of Greek export sectors have great potential at the moment, among them beauty products, building materials, maritime equipment, but I would say that three sectors lead the pack: food products, pharmaceuticals and tech.
Food exports from Greece have set successive records over the last decade. Even in 2020, when international trade contracted, our food exports grew. Greek food exports have benefitted from a rising wave of consumer awareness about the health benefits of Mediterranean diet, an awareness that became even more acute during the pandemic. The success of Greek foods is, in turn, attracting foreign investment in production facilities, which will continue to upgrade and expand production to meet the growing demand.
The Greek pharmaceutical sector received increased attention during the COVID crisis. Already an established export sector, we saw FDI in Greek pharmaceuticals triple in 2020. We have also had significant investment in pharmaceutical R&D, most notably by Pfizer establishing hubs here for research. Several factors converge to position the Greek pharmaceutical industry well: A highly educated work force with particular strength in STEM fields; excellent logistics infrastructure; and attractive cost structure.
And tech is emerging as a robust growth sector in Greece. Over the last decade, the Greek start-up ecosystem has emerged as a flourishing hub of innovation, while we have also seen several successful tech spin-offs from Greek universities. Greek start-ups are active in various fields including deeptech, fintech, agritech and not surprisingly, given the strength of the Greek life sciences sector, in health-related applications.
And we are also seeing innovation and tech solutions becoming increasingly prominent in established companies. Greek Sunlight Systems, which makes batteries for storing green energy, has recently expanded to the US, and advanced technologies are being developed in a number of fields from defense products to maritime products and building materials.
Tell us about the international forum you are organizing in Greece this summer? Which speakers will be hosted?
Georgios Filiopoulos: On June 23-24, we will be hosting in Athens, the Hellenic International Business Angels Summit, one of our most important initiatives this year and which underscores Greece’s emergence as a hub for technology and innovation.
Europe in general, and Greece in particular, represent the new frontier in tech startups. Last year, startup funding for European tech companies surpassed $100 billion for the first time, triple the amount raised in 2020. Here in Greece, the first Greek unicorn, Vivawallet, emerged just recently, while leading tech multinationals – such as Microsoft, Amazon, NTT Data – are all investing in the country.
Capitalizing on this momentum, the forum will be an opportunity to develop Greece’s startup ecosystem further. And we are honored to be hosting some world class speakers including Marcia Dawood, Chairwoman of the Angel Capital Association in the U.S.; Simone Brummelhuis, Europe’s Female Business Angel of the Year; and Janne Jormalainan, President of EBAN, Europe’s umbrella association for angel investors.
At this stage, how many investment projects are in progress with financing from foreign investors and what is the total budget? In which sectors do they concern?
Georgios Filiopoulos: Greece welcomed an impressive 72.3% increase in Foreign Direct Investment last year, setting a new record and highlighting the country’s attractiveness to foreign investors. According to provisional data from the Bank of Greece, net inflows of FDI to Greece totaled €4.85 billion in 2021, compared with €2.81 billion in 2020. This was the highest net inflow of FDI since 2002 and was also 8.1% higher than in 2019 − the year before the onset of the coronavirus − which was also a record year.
Currently, Enterprise Greece is reviewing 20 major investment projects worth a combined €7.92 billion for induction into Greece’s Strategic Investments program. The projects are concentrated in the areas of manufacturing, technology and innovation, renewable energy sources, real estate, and tourism.
In recent years, from which countries has Greece mainly attracted investments? What about the USA market?
Georgios Filiopoulos: Over the last 10 years, Switzerland, Cyprus and Germany were the main sources of investment activity in Greece, followed by France and the Netherlands. In recent years, FDI inflows from China, including Hong Kong, have increased significantly, while Luxembourg, Canada, the U.S., and the UK are also among the top 10 countries of origin.
In the last few years, U.S. companies have been noticeably stepping up their investments in Greece. We’ve seen a clearly rising trend of U.S. businesses investing in areas like technology, hospitality, the food and beverage sector, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and real estate. For business reasons, many U.S. investments come via third countries, like the UK or Luxembourg, so the rankings probably understate the level of U.S. investment. However, it is clear that the U.S. is, and will remain, a key source of foreign investment in Greece.
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