Living in Greece and watching the birth of a long-awaited technological revolution is fascinating in and of itself. Who would have thought that five years forward from the time I moved here from the Silicon Valley and all its money-chasing, fund-this, fund-that obsessions that I would find myself amongst some of the most vocal advocates of creating funding streams that mirror the Valley?
Well, that is exactly what I've found myself doing: I am sounding a clarion call, writing blogs, calling Greece to the attention of venture capitalists and supporting events that promote entrepreneurship -- all in an effort to join the voices in slowing the humanitarian disaster that has resulted from the financial meltdown.
Great! The rescue is on. Since mid 2012, funding has been steadily pouring into the Greek entrepreneurial community; President Clinton pledged his support to the Hellenic Initiative and the understanding of what it means to create a startup eco-system has firmly taken root amongst the under forty crowd. But, hold on. Now that it is a safe bet that investors are here to stay (not to mention, the tourism industry will be wearing shades again this year round), I am beginning to hear the same ole Silicon Valley rhetoric that helped me decide to pack up and leave there in the first place: "We are looking for 'young' university students, PhDs, MBAs and primarily tech-based startups..." Here we go again...
Back in 1996, just before heading to the Silicon Valley from the 128 Corridor, I had the grand opportunity to catch up with the beautifully radiant mother of five, Debbi Fields, the renowned creator of Ms Fields' Cookies. Her story of investors passing her by or not taking her seriously was heartbreaking, yet it was meant to serve as a heads-up message to me, a "girl-power" of sorts on the inside story: the Valley's dirty little secret-holding the history of a millionaire-a-day, but how many of them were women?
Though I must say, I had a positive experience pitching a multi-media advertising concept to top executives of major corporations; my experience with VCs was much less savory. Instead of even listening to my concept (that could have given Yahoo! an advertising edge), they, instead, were more concerned with my age, my lack of an MBA & PhD, my three children and my resemblance to Oprah Winfrey -- whom they even suggested I contact!
So here I am in Greece, in the throes of a nearly 30 percent unemployment rate. This data does not include the old women in the subways who ask me what are they to do now that their life pensions have been siphoned-away by retrospective taxes after thirty years of working. Nor does it include the other little old ladies who tap into their entrepreneurial spirit and the gumption that leads Greeks to become some of the wealthiest people in the United States. It is this latter group for which I will make my final clarion call, because at age 46, I have arrived -- these women are now my peers! This group, ranging from 45-65, consists of an ever-growing invisible population of amazing entrepreneurs and according to a United Nations report, it will not be getting any smaller in the coming years. Yet they are rarely acknowledged or funded for their potential.
Let's face it, if the tongue-in-cheek commentary that floats about Greece carries any weight, Greek mothers are the cause of the current financial crisis -- with such a potentially powerful ability to collapse a continent, I'd think investors would see the value of these middle-aged moms. They are, after all, the same mothers who raised some of the world's greatest billionaires!
That said, if I had to pitch to Oprah, this is what I do know for sure: we are sitting atop the next Harry Potter heptalogy or more, from a mother who is using the ethnographic value of the acorn to re-employ the island of Kea to a fashionista mobile app'ing mom and a 67 and 46 year-old mother-daughter team who have a traditional Greek topping franchise concept in their pockets. Maybe, VCs missed part of the elementary school message that suggests, "Don't judge a book by its cover." Age might just be a number, but investing in those numbers might draw a return of larger proportions and just might help to move a country forward and ultimately the globe.