Heraclitus once said, “the only constant in life is change.” Change affects us all either in a positive or negative way. In business we try to manage and anticipate change. Leaders use disruption to create new products and start-ups. Start-ups are innovative companies that frequently develop new markets and superior products
Some prominent examples of start-ups include Bolt, Uber, Skype, Dropbox, Airbnb, Amazon, and Google. These companies were founded by business pioneers and individuals who were viewed as out of the ordinary. Simply put, pioneers are individuals that see things differently.
When Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s ‘Think Different’ in 1997, he famously said, ‘Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.’
“They do not like following the rules, and they do not care about the way things are. The only thing you cannot do is ignore them because they change things; you can argue with them, laud them, or denigrate them. While some may view them as ‘crazy,’ we view them as geniuses because it is those who are insane enough to believe they can change the world who really succeed in doing so.”
For the past ten years, I have been writing for and reporting on the Cyprus digital start-up industry, meeting several business founders and CEOs who are focused on changing the digital landscape of the island. I would like to draw attention to a few individuals who, in my opinion, are pioneers, paving the road forward and making Cyprus a better place through their investments in entrepreneurship and technology.
Emilios Markou and Alexis Pantazis
Co-founders, Hellas Direct
Emilios Markou and Alexis Pantazis, the co-founders of Hellas Direct, are two successful businessmen who are changing the way one thinks about insurance. As co-CEOs of one of the most promising tech companies, they have raised more than sixty million euros in funding and are building the ‘Amazon’ of the insurance sector. Their goal is to simplify people’s lives by providing an entirely online insurance solution. They also want to create comprehensive solutions for the mobility ecosystem.
Prior to Hellas Direct, Alexis Pantazis was an executive director at Goldman Sachs where he led principal investing and new strategic initiatives for the firm in the European investment management field. Emilios worked as a director for Barclays Capital’s European financial institutions structuring group. Prior to that, he oversaw several initiatives for the company’s European insurance department while serving as an executive director in the Goldman Sachs investment banking division. Former McKinsey & Company strategy consultant Emilios provided advice to a variety of European, American, and Asian customers on a wide range of strategic challenges pertaining to banking, insurance, energy, and transportation.
Although they both had extensive experience before founding Hellas Direct, what distinguishes them is the innovative way they run their company and the confidence they place in their workforce. Experience is crucial. However, innovation is impossible without innovative thinking and action. You can learn what creative thinking entails by watching their marketing strategies. For instance, during the Black Friday campaign in Greece, they built 100 school crossings to ensure that kids could go to and from school safely. One hundred crossings outside of schools are being “transformed” into safe crossings for automobiles and pedestrians thanks to road markings, illuminated signs, and infrastructure renovations. By bragging about their fantastic teams on LinkedIn, both leaders have credited their teams with their success.
Additionally, by hosting Cypriot entrepreneurs in their offices, coaching them, and facilitating high-level networking for them, they have helped those businesses get off the ground. To motivate young people, they also participate in university events as judges or lecturers for start-ups.
Dr Marianna Prokopi-Demetriades
Clinical Associate Professor in Research Oncology
Women in Cyprus have also made technological advances, one of these pioneers being Dr Marianna Prokopi-Demetriades. I first met Dr Marianna Prokopi-Demetriades at a start-up event, and was impressed by her concise, to-the-point opinions about her work on Cyprus’ technology ecosystem.
Biotech entrepreneur and pioneer Dr Prokopi-Demetriades is a Clinical Associate Professor in Research Oncology at the Medical School of the European University of Cyprus as well as a senior scientist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering at the Cyprus University of Technology. She is also a co-founder of three certified innovative biotech companies.
Dr Prokopi-Demetriades’ businesses have had a substantial impact on the world biotech market. RSL Revolutionary Labs concentrates on creating cutting-edge dermaceuticals for the treatment and healing of skin side effects in cancer patients. To create 3D-artificial organs and tissues, Promed Bioscience – her second company – creates medicinal biomaterials based on 3D-atelocollagen. Theramir, the third business, creates next-generation personalised cancer treatments and diagnostic tools based on nanotechnology and microRNAs.
In recent years, Dr Prokopi-Demetriades has won several awards, both locally and internationally for her pioneering work. Together with her team, they are attempting to develop brand-new, cutting-edge medications to combat cancer. She regularly volunteers as a mentor for young entrepreneurs and is a global ambassador for Cyprus for the WomenTech Network. One of her passions is trying to bridge the gender gap in the science and innovation space.
Xenia Miscouridou is a down-to-earth tech scientist, who was recently named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe in the field of research and healthcare. She was a data scientist for the Google Maps team at Google, Zurich, working as part of their cross-product drive to deploy machine learning techniques for more effective data analysis, aiming at overall product enhancement.
In an interview with Forbes, Miscouridou said, “This international recognition is not just a sign of my personal accomplishment in the scientific sector, but also a representation of Cyprus and of women globally.” She also added that she did not see artificial intelligence as a threat, “but rather as a tool for human creativity.”
Her goals outside of research include encouraging women and helping new researchers accomplish their dreams, as well as advancing and positively influencing the culture of the global research community.
Entrepreneur, investor and author
Entrepreneur, investor, and author Marina Hatsopoulos was a founding member of Z Corporation, a pioneer in 3D printing that operated out of MIT from 1994 until its sale in 2005.
In addition to holding positions on the National Board of Research and Innovation for Cyprus, the MIT Corporation Visiting Committee for the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the advisory boards of MIT Enterprise Forum Greece, and the EGG incubator for Eurobank, Hatsopoulos has held positions on various corporate boards.
Her highly inspirational TedX talk, ‘From the Ashes of Crisis Arises Opportunity,’ makes the point that the best way to create jobs is to create start-ups, which give Greeks in Greece the chance for socioeconomic mobility and social impact, as well as to entice the half-million educated Greeks who left during the crisis to return.
“Driving or managing change demands an innovative culture and mentality, where people have an entrepreneurial perspective,” Marina stated in a recent article. “You want to hire individuals with complementary talents, interests, and experience because diverse viewpoints result in the best outcomes. Give your staff the freedom to make arguments. Young individuals are a fantastic source of original thinking, innovative solutions to issues, and familiarity with cutting-edge trends, technologies, and business tools.”
The adjustments that arise along the way can be one of the largest obstacles for developing businesses, especially for those that get mired in the ‘this is how we have always done it’ mentality. Technology has undoubtedly changed commerce for the better, and those who have adapted by embracing the most recent technological advances are more likely to surpass their more conventionally minded rivals by a wide margin.
Dr Panayiotis Philimis
Founded and CEO, CyRIC
Dr Panayiotis Philimis is another prominent player in the start-up and innovation sectors. He founded CyRIC and serves as its CEO. The only Business Innovation Centre (EU-BIC) of Cyprus, CyRIC is a member of a prestigious global network of high-level professionals who provide top-notch innovative services with high quality standards to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cyprus and the surrounding area. CyRIC is the only EU-BIC of Cyprus. One of the important figures on our island, Philimis, is actively promoting innovation in Cyprus through his pioneering actions.
Dr Panayiotis Philimis has 25 years of multisectoral experience in the design and development of disruptive high-tech products. He acquired this experience through his management and participation in several research and industry-innovative projects with budgets exceeding 100 million euros and through the achievement of more than 30 million euros in international tech product sales. Over the past ten years, he has invested in more than fifteen deep tech start-ups and founded one of the island’s first incubators. His comprehensive understanding of construction hardware and ability to develop cutting-edge products for international markets identify him.
By offering research, innovation, technology transfer, investment, and funding services to several start-ups, innovative SMEs, inventors, entrepreneurs, and researchers, CyRIC has played a crucial role in fostering the local ecosystem. CyRIC’s R&D Centre is now working on disruptive technology products such as wearables, UAV/UGVs, IoT solutions, and AI solutions. Through his speeches and one-on-one mentorship, Dr Philimis constantly seeks to motivate the next generation to forge a brighter future. Capsule Skateboards, one of their start-ups, developed an unbreakable skateboard using a patented new revolutionary material.
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