New Greek Incubators.

Last May, I visited Athens, Greece to conduct research on the Greek entrepreneurial ecosystem. During this visit, I’ve focused specifically in new Business Incubators that emerged in the city in the past four years.

Business Incubators are organizations that help entrepreneurs to develop ideas, launching companies, and attract investments by providing shared office space, business training, and networking opportunities. The five incubators I’ve visited are all unique in that they address different needs and types of entrepreneurs representing a unique example of a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem amidst the worst economic downturn within the European Union in decades.


The Incubators
THEA is a public business incubator sponsored by the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Municipality of Athens, and the prefecture of Attica. All companies are assigned a mentor and enjoy the vast local and regional network of its sponsors.

The Egg is a corporate social responsibility initiative of Eurobank, a major Greek bank. All companies go through a fixed 12 month program which trains entrepreneurs in business basics, helps them to develop their business models, and exposes them to potential investors. About 70 companies have been awarded tenancy at The Egg.

IQbility is a private corporate investment fund. Owned and managed by Quest Holdings, a leading IT group in Greece, it has supported so far 8 companies with angel investments. Using its unique position and network, IQbility incubates exclusively IT enabled companies.

EkinisiLabs is a educational program for university based research teams. During six months, teams learn business basics and get the chance to pitch their ideas to potential investors. The focus in on technology commercialization and so far 150 teams went through its training programs.

Orange Grove is a private co-working space and business support program owned by the Dutch Embassy in Greece. All companies sharing the space go through a training bootcamp and are assigned mentors to help develop their ideas and businesses. Sponsors and expertise are brought in from Holland and many teams are encouraged to develop international contacts with Dutch universities and multinational companies. More than 150 entrepreneurs are affiliated with Orange Grove.

This research project is co-authored with Michalis Mitsopoulos (Senior Economist at SEV – Hellenic Federation of Entreprises). Future research includes surveying all tenants to understand the mechanisms of business support delivery.

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A Summer of Engagement with Entrepreneurship



This summer we’ve had two terrific opportunities to engage with different aspects of the entrepreneurial community. In late July Professor Arnold Chang and some of his students visited us from Kookmin University in Seoul, South Korea. They came to study UB’s entrepreneurship programs and how those might be adapted to the South Korean context. We felt privileged that UB was selected for study, along with NYU, CUNY, Columbia, and UNC-Chapel Hill, and are very much looking forward to closer collaboration between our programs.





Last week a group of faculty and staff, led by Dean Murray Dalziel, spent some time with UB alum Demian Costa, who runs Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Ventures. Sagamore is redeveloping the Port Covington section of Baltimore, including a new UnderArmour headquarters, the City Garage incubator focused on the maker community, and a distillery that aims to take on Jack Daniels! We are hoping to collaborate much more closely with the UnderArmour ecosystem in the years ahead–it’s great to have such energetic and community-minded entrepreneurs in Baltimore.





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The Mosaic of African Entrepreneurship



Professor David Lingelbach returned recently from Senegal in West Africa. Unlike other countries in the region plagued by disease, terrorism, and authoritarian government, Senegal is relatively stable, peaceful, and democratic.

Like other sub-Saharan African economies, Senegal has much higher levels of entrepreneurship than in the United States, Europe, or Japan. According to one recent study, an average of 28% of the labor force in Africa is in the process of starting or has just started a new business.

Traveling across Senegal, Professor Lingelbach found that entrepreneurship was the norm in economic activity, not the exception. The following are seven vignettes of entrepreneurship that illustrate how this phenomenon is both similar to and different than observed elsewhere in the world:

Peanut boy



This young man was selling his peanuts under a highway bridge in the Ouakam neighborhood in Dakar, Senegal’s capital and largest city. Peanuts are one of Senegal’s largest agricultural exports. He sells one bag for approximately 4 cents. Many of these young street vendors are also talibé (students) of Islamic maribout (teachers). Some are subject to abuse, including forced labor such as street begging.




Moudou is one of the thousands of independent sept-place (seven seat) shared taxi drivers that are an integral part of Senegal’s transport system. The government has made limited investment in public transport, so sept-place drivers operate on fixed or semi-fixed routes without a schedule: they depart when the car is full.

Moudou has begun establishing a niche by focusing on Dakar’s foreign community. He charges $133 to make the round trip journey from Dakar to St. Louis (five hours each way). Along the way, he and other drivers rely on one another to borrow parts if their vehicles break down, which is common.




Almost every neighborhood in Dakar has a tailor, who transforms brilliantly colored fabric (originally locally made, but increasingly imported from China) into custom-made clothing for both women and men. Doudou and his son operate their shop in the Mermoz neighborhood, which is relatively affluent by Senegalese standards. Still, their prices are very, very reasonable. Five pieces (two dresses, two shirts, and one pants) cost $30, and Doudou often delivers his work with 1-2 days after the initial order. Customers bring their fabric to Doudou, which they purchase in the local markets. While Doudou does not have a web presence to advertise his services, his son is active on social media, friending customers on Facebook wherever possible.

Senegal has a potential competitive advantage in fashion-related industries. However, many local entrepreneurs find it difficult to scale into international markets. One frequently heard reason: owners are reluctant to give up control in exchange for access to capital or partnership with others that bring complementary human resources.




In 2003 a Frenchman sold his apartment in Paris, split the proceeds with his children, and moved to St. Louis, Senegal’s first capital and the oldest French settlement in Africa. There he bought a dilapidated house from a Moroccan family for €100,000, invested another €250,000 in repairs and renovations, and launched Senegal’s first world-class guesthouse. Guests (mainly foreigners) pay €99/night for one of Yves’ four rooms.

While business has been strong recently, the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea has severely reduced foreign tourist arrivals in Senegal. Local competition is relatively strong, and Yves and his wife are now about to open a restaurant in response. Like many tourism-related businesses, Yves’ business is very seasonal: the St. Louis International Jazz Festival brings visitors from around the world, but only lasts for a week or so. Yves and other local tourism entrepreneurs are exploring ways to boost business, including introducing air service from the Canary Islands (two hours away by airplane).

Private equity



Down this quiet side street in Dakar can be found the headquarters of two private equity funds. Private equity funds provide expansion or buyout capital to established, cash-flow positive businesses. These funds are an increasingly powerful presence in the global capital markets.

One of these funds invests exclusively in African companies and has now fully invested its first fund. It is seeking to raise a second, even larger fund to continue its efforts. While the investments that such funds make can be very lucrative, they are also quite risky. One of the biggest risks: selling their investments in the local capital markets.

Some private equity investors would like to invest in younger companies in Senegal. However, there are very few growth-oriented new ventures there. Why? Rigid labor laws make it difficult for new ventures to hire and fire employees. The policy environment does not generally support startup activity.  Supporting organizations, such as incubators and angel investors, are hard to find and, when they exist, not as impressive as they could be.



Markets are ubiquitous across sub-Saharan Africa and many other developing and emerging economies. Bargaining is friendly but fierce, competing products are placed side by side, and (at least in this market) the emphasis is on freshness and quality.

We still know relatively little about whether such unfettered free enterprise leads to economic development. Subsistence: yes. Employment for marginalized populations: often. Growth: not so much. Yet, as scholars in the critical tradition remind us, maybe growth and development are not what these entrepreneurs are seeking. One recent study found that women entrepreneurs in rural Senegal were more interested in repaying their loans to micro-lenders than they were in the survival of their business. Preserving relationships was more important than business. Such an orientation was very much on display in Senegalese markets. Often, traders are more interested in their relationships with each other than they are in meeting customer needs.




Canaletto could have painted the scene. Senegal is an Atlantic country and has an active fishing industry. Most of the industry players operate single pirogues, long narrow boats with a small crew. The work is hard and dangerous, even though the local fish—thiof and lotte—are plentiful at present. Competition from illegal international fishing within Senegal’s 12 mile fishing zone has led to recent armed confrontations between the Senegalese navy and Russian trawlers.


Some photos courtesy of Jenny Lingelbach (all rights reserved).

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