Planting and nurturing ‘technology seeds’ for the future

Planting and nurturing ‘technology seeds’ for the future

By Paul Lambis, July 26, 2023, Cyprus Mail

Cyprus Seeds aims to halt the ‘brain drain’ from Cyprus of talented, highly educated and highly skilled young researchers says Paul Lambis

An old proverb teaches that every seed sown takes an incubation period before it flourishes. Of course, the underlying meaning is that everyone should hold on to their hopes and desires with all their heart, and the results will arrive gradually.

Similarly, managing director Maria Markidou Georgiadou recalls one of the most pivotal moments in her organisation’s history, when Cyprus Seeds, a non-profit organisation with the mission of assisting in the commercialisation of innovative academic research, was just a startup initiative in its early stages, with limited support and resources. But it was the team’s dedication and hard work over the years, combined with an exceptional passion and belief in their mission to provide a national pre-acceleration programme to foster academic entrepreneurship in Cyprus, that propelled their organisation to success.

“Since its inception, Cyprus Seeds has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from Greeks and Cypriots in the Diaspora, as well as the Cyprus government, corporations, private individuals, and foundations,” Georgiadou said. “These diverse stakeholders have demonstrated their support through various means, including financial contributions, active participation and advocacy.”

“The programme’s ability to gain support from such a diverse range of entities highlights its reputation and impact within the community.”

Founded in 2019 by George David, the initial supporters of the Cyprus Seeds programme included The Hellenic Initiative, a humanitarian aid and economic development nonprofit organisation established in New York in 2012 by Greeks and Cypriots of the diaspora to support entrepreneurship in Greece and Cyprus, as well as offer crisis relief in Greece. “Among the major supporters of Cyprus Seeds are the AG Leventis Foundation, Eurobank Cyprus, EY Cyprus, and Mohari Hospitality, including many others who have ensured the programme’s continuity.”

So, what exactly is Cyprus Seeds, and why has the project received such enthusiastic support from key stakeholders, positioning it as a crucial catalyst for entrepreneurial development within Cyprus’ academic institutions?

According to Georgiadou, the objective of Cyprus Seeds is to decrease the ‘brain drain’ of talented, highly educated and highly skilled young researchers, as well as to improve the deal flow of Cypriot technology spin-offs, thereby creating a source of jobs and wealth for Cyprus.

“To this end, Cyprus Seeds supports the commercialisation of academic research projects in all Cypriot universities, research institutions, and centres of excellence that have strong IP value and global market potential,” Georgiadou told Cyprus Mail. “The goal is to provide grants, entrepreneurial training, mentoring, and networking opportunities to help research projects transition from the laboratory to the marketplace.”

This level of engagement illustrates Cyprus Seeds’ importance and ability to bridge the gap between academia and entrepreneurship.

Cyprus Seeds was inspired by comparable projects that have been successful in the United States and Europe, particularly the Deshpande Centre for Technological Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, USA.

Although the programme is aimed towards local universities and research institutions, Cyprus Seeds strongly welcomes academics and students from global universities and research centres to be part of the research teams who apply to the programme. “Because innovation is international, having the diaspora involved in the projects we support is an advantage.”

Georgiadou acknowledges the organisation’s value to the diaspora, as the Greek and Cypriot communities abroad have effectively contributed to the initiative’s funding. “It’s their way of giving back the country. This is why we have attracted Cypriots from Switzerland, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Greece who have been donating every year since the beginning,” she explained.

As Georgiadou and her dedicated team continue to nurture their thriving programme, they have faced a few hurdles along the way. Converting high-quality, innovative research from universities and research institutions into commercial products and services, according to Georgiadou, is a significant problem within Cyprus’ innovation ecosystem. “This crucial step is vital for stimulating economic growth and fostering innovation, a process known as academic entrepreneurship.”

“Despite recent progress, Cyprus still ranks below the global average in technology transfers, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2022. This performance is attributed to several factors, including an unfavourable entrepreneurial ecosystem, ineffective management and protection of Intellectual Property (IP), a problematic legal framework for university spin-offs, an underdeveloped industry, a lack of experienced mentors, and the academic community’s persistence for research and publications rather than commercialisation.”

The Cyprus Seeds programme is open to all of the island’s research centres, universities, and academic institutions, with grants ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 euros, “which supports their commercialisation activities”.

“This funding covers various costs such as personnel expenses, travel expenses to meet with potential investors and clients, costs for special equipment and consumables, and expenses related to intellectual property protection.”

The true value of the programme, however, lies in its innovative mentorship and training initiatives, as well as the organisation of networking events that connect teams with potential investors, clients, and collaborators.

Cyprus Seeds also organises networking events in Cyprus, the United States, the United Kingdom and Greece to help academic teams connect with possible investors and clients.

Cyprus Seeds’ recent achievements is becoming the innovation partner of ‘Phaethon’, Cyprus’ new centre of excellence for green and sustainable energy after receiving the highest EU score. “The proposal under the coordination of the University of Cyprus and Professors Christofides and Georghiou, secured a total funding of €15 million, an equal amount of national funding, as well as significant funding from the private sector, for the upgrade of the existing ‘FOSS Research Centre for Sustainable Energy’ of the University of Cyprus,” Georgiadou said.

Morphou-born Georgiadou earned her master’s degree in development economics from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, which she says was her ‘ticket’ to working as a financial analyst for Merrill Lynch in New York. She returned to Cyprus in 1987 to work for the Cyprus Development Bank, but she celebrated her fiftieth birthday by changing careers, working as an evaluator for European initiatives that supported innovative ventures.

“I became passionate about supporting the talented youth of Cyprus and wanted to help build startup companies and introduce innovative solutions to world problems to the market.”

Georgiadou was also recruited by the Bank of Cyprus to develop and operate Cyprus’ first incubator-accelerator programme and was later headhunted by the University of Cyprus to design a national programme to support the commercialisation of innovative research from Cyprus’ universities.

“Cyprus has the potential to become a regional hub for technology. However, we must actively engage the Cypriot Diaspora and attract talented young Cypriots back to Cyprus.”