Athens Notes

IMG_1909I was in Athens, Greece on the 5th of December to give a keynote speech at the Angel Investment Workshop, organised by StartTech Ventures, which is actually an incubator with a seed financing capacity created by the team who launched the first web start-up in Greece.

Entrepreneurs, would-be-entrepreneurs, angel investors and policy makers were all among the participants. The event was a great success, with a participation of over 100 delegates from Thessaloniki, Athens, and other cities of Greece.

Before coming to Greece, Manos Ioannidis, the Executive Vice President of Balkans Business News published an interview with me on entrepreneurship and angel investment which can be found at :

An Interview on Entrepreneurship with Altuntas – Balkans Business News

I flew Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to Athens via Thessaloniki, a lovely city on the Aegean coast. Because HRH Crown Prince Alexander the ll and HRH Crown Princess Katherine had invited me to a charity event in Thessaloniki on the 3rd of December, Thessaloniki was already on my itinerary. So, it was a really nice series of events that gave me an opportunity to visit both Thessaloniki and Athens on the same trip.

This was my first visit to Greece and I was very excited to have the opportunity to see Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s house in Thessaloniki. The founder of modern Turkey was born in Thessaloniki in 1881. After visiting Thessaloniki, l could clearly understand why Ataturk took his mother to the city of Izmir in Turkey. Both cities, Izmir and Thessaloniki were like twin cities.

If you have visited Thessaloniki, you don’t need to visit Izmir. If you have visited Izmir, then you don’t need to visit Thessaloniki.


3rd of December (Istanbul – Thessaloniki)

l arrived from Istanbul in the afternoon of the 4th of December on Turkish Airlines flight 1881. The flight number of Turkish Airlines is 1881 because Ataturk was born in Thessaloniki in 1881.

The invitation of HRH Crown Prince Alexander the ll and HRH Crown Princess Katherine was in Greek but my friend Manos Ioannidis, the Executive Vice President of Balkans Businesinfo-invitations News and a former textile trader, translated the invitation into English for me:

‘’HRH Crown Prince Alexander the ll and HRH Crown Princess together with President Dr Zissis Boukouvalas and the Board of Directors of Lifeline Hellas have the pleasure to invite you to the Christmas Cocktail Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at Hotel ‘The Met’, Thessaloniki. All proceeds will go to aid Orphanage for Girls ‘Melissa’ and the Association of Friends of Children with Cancer ‘’

IMG_1891It was a 100-minute flight from Istanbul to Thessaloniki. I was in Thessaloniki at 14 30. On the way to the Met Hotel, where I had a reservation, l felt as if l was in Izmir. The road from the airport to downtown made me feel l was driving from Izmir airport to downtown.

The Met was a very nice five-star hotel and maybe one of the best in Thessaloniki.

What is interesting about this hotel is that my professor from Bosphorus University, Prof Cem Alptekin, had stayed on the 23rd  of November in the same hotel, where he had been an invited speaker at a linguistics conference. This was a real coincidence because this was my first visit to Greece and I stayed in the same hotel with a very special person of my life in the same weeks.

I left my belongings in the room and around 15 30 and took a taxi direct to the house of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This house is known by all Turkish elementary school boys and girls as ‘the pink house of Ataturk’. I immediately wanted to see this ‘pink house’ because it was a question of my elementary school days in the exams which l had to answer correctly.While the female taxi driver was taking me to the house, l couldn’t believe my eyes how similar the city was to Izmir, the Turkish city on the Aegean coast.


IMG_1908According to the preliminary results of the 2011 census, the municipality of Thessaloniki today has a population of 322,240, while the Thessaloniki (the contiguous built up area forming the “City of Thessaloniki”) has a population of 790,824;[1] making it the fifth largest and most populated city in the Balkans and the second most populated city that is not a capital, after Istanbul. Furthermore, the Thessaloniki Metropolitan Area extends over an area of 1,455.62 km2 (562.02 sq. mi) and its population in 2011 reached a total of 1,104,460 inhabitants.

Thessaloniki is Greece’s second major economic, industrial, commercial and political centre, and a major transportation hub for the rest of southeastern Europe; its commercial port is also of great importance for Greece and the southeastern European hinterland. The city is renowned for its festivals, events and vibrant cultural life in general,and is considered to be Greece’s cultural capital. Events such as the Thessaloniki and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival are held annually, while the city also hosts the largest bi-annual meeting of the Greek diaspora. In 2014 Thessaloniki will be the European Youth Capital.

Founded in 315 BC by Cassander of Macedon, Thessaloniki’s history spans some 2,300 years. An important metropolis by the Roman period, Thessaloniki was the second largest and wealthiest city of the Byzantine Empire. Thessaloniki is home to numerous notable Byzantine monuments, including the Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as several Roman, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish structures. The city’s main university, Aristotle University, is the largest in Greece and the Balkans.

Thessaloniki is a popular tourist destination in Greece. In 2010, Lonely Planet ranked Thessaloniki as the world’s fifth-best party city worldwide, comparable to other cities such as Dubai and Montreal. For 2013 National Geographic Magazine included Thessaloniki in its top tourist destinations worldwide, while in 2014 Financial Times’ FDI magazine (Foreign Direct Investments) declared Thessaloniki as the best mid-sized European city of the future for human capital and lifestyle.

Ataturk’s House

IMG_1882The house is the birthplace of the founder of modern TurkeyMustafa Kemal Atatürk, whoIMG_1881 was born here in 1881. It is a three-storey house with a courtyard on 24 Apostolou Pavlou Street, next to the Turkish Consulate. Before the capture of Thessaloniki by the Greek Army in 1912, it was known as “Koca Kasım Paşa district, Islahhane Street”. It was built before 1870 and in 1935 the Thessaloniki City Council gave it to the Turkish State, which decided to convert it into a museum dedicated to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

After my visit to Ataturk’s house, l walked around the city and had a cup of coffee at an open-air restaurant. Then l took a taxi back to the hotel and on the way l witnessed a real traffic jam. From 17 30 to 18 30 l was in the spa center of the hotel, where l got refreshed.

Ataturk was born in a 10-square-meter room of this house and died 52 years later in the Dolmabahce Palace on the shores of Bosphorus in Istanbul. One man…Falling of the Ottoman Empire, Rise of a totally new country… This exceptional real life story began in this room…IMG_1879

IMG_7505At 19 00, l was at the basement level of the hotel where the charity event of the Serbian Royal Family would be held. It was an event with a participation of the high society of Thessaloniki and many diplomats from the consulates.

In the cold air of the hall’s garden where smoking was allowed, we had a lovely chat with a retired air force officer who is now a real estate expert. At the reception Manos introduced me to Marko, the honorary consul of Finland to Thessaloniki, and he also followed my speech in the next evening in Athens since he was there to participate the celebrations at the Finnish Embassy to commemorate the independence day of Finland.

It was around 22 00 when l got back to my room for the night.


4th of December (Thessaloniki – Athens)

I got up at 08 00 and went down for breakfast where NATO officers were also having theirs. After breakfast l took a taxi to go to a bus tour from in front of the White Tower. It was a 2-Euro city tour and I waited for the bus until 09 00. Waiting for the bus in the morning was a little bit cold.

The city tour included many Ottoman-Turkish hammams, mosques, and other structures. Greece was a part of the Ottoman Empire for more than 400 years. It is very natural for any Turkish visitor to feel at home while visiting Greece. People even have a similar way of smiling. Turkey and Greece are like one nation, as Manos said.

IMG_189940 elementary school children got onto the bus with their teachers to visit the city. l recalled the days when my mother, who was also my elementary school teacher, took us to places in Istanbul on city buses and the whole class of 65 students visited the historical sites of Istanbul.

The Greek teacher in the bus was so similar to Turkish teachers in Turkey.

At 10 00, l was back at the hotel, and Princess Katherine, her sister, Alison –  the daughter of the Princess, Manos – Vice President of the Balkan Business News came a few minutes later.

We all moved up to the meeting room of the hotel, where we talked about how we could foster entrepreneurship in the Balkans. Then it was time to develop some projects to foster the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Balkans. As the Ambassador of the World Entrepreneurship Forum to Balkans, l presented a copy of the new book recently published by Wiley, ‘Planet Entrepreneur’. l authored the 8th chapter, entitled “Hello Entrepreneurs! Good-bye Borders, a 16-page evaluation of 21st-century entrepreneurship.

IMG_1904This chapter inspired all of us so we decided to hold an important event in co-operation with The Royal Family and WEF – World Entrepreneurship Forum. Following this meeting, l scheduled a meeting with Prof Atamer, the President of WEF in France, and Princess Katherine for the morning of the 12th of February in New York. It was then time to fly to Belgrade for the 3rd meeting about this project. The WEF President will come from France and l will come from Turkey and have a dinner debate at the Royal Palace with the Prince & Princess on the evening of the 9th of April.

Regarding the project: l won’t announce the name of the project yet. l want it to be a surprise for all entrepreneurs in the Balkans.

During the meeting l appreciated very much the very inspiring and entrepreneurial vision of HRH Princess Katherine during the discussion of the key issues:

‘’While beginning a project, you may not estimate which doors will be opened in the future. Launching an initiative always leads you to new opportunities which you can not count in the beginning’’

After my 90-minute meeting with HRH Princess at the hotel, l left the hotel for my flight to Athens. Thanks to HRH Crown Princess, l was taken from the airport in Athens to the Pendelikon Hotel, where the angel investment workshop would be held the next evening.

IMG_1910The hotel was very nice but a little bit far from the city centre. Everywhere was lit up at night, and you would never think that there was a economic crisis in Greece. Would l stay in the same hotel again? It depends. If it is a touristic trip, the Athens Hilton is a much better choice because it takes minimum 30 minutes by taxi to go downtown from Pendelikon Hotel. However, it is and a very nice five-star hotel.

IMG_1914l asked the driver to wait for me a little bit so l could leave my bags in my room. Then l asked him to take me to the Turkish Embassy, where l would meet with H.E. Mr Kerim Uras, the Ambassador of Turkey to Greece. He is very pleasant person and we chatted about entrepreneurship for more than an hour. Then l took a taxi to go back to the hotel.

Dimitris Tsigos, the founder and CEO of StartTech Ventures, is also the EBAN’s Board Member. He is also the President of YES – European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs, the major association of young entrepreneurs throughout Europe representing 40,000 members aiming to support and improve the economic and social performance of young entrepreneurship in Europe.

He and his brother came around 19 00 and we chatted a little bit about women entrepreneurship in Greece with Maria. There were so many women in the hotel, which was a really strange thing because we were the only men in the reception area. Then we understood that there was a Christmas event at the hotel where women entrepreneurs were selling their hand-made products for for the benefit of non-profit organisations. Then we moved to a very nice restaurant with Dimitris, his brother and his friend. l cannot forget how delicious the spinach pie was.  Bio of Dimitris


5th of December (Athens)

After breakfast at the hotel, l took a taxi to the city center, where the city tours depart from. Until late afternoon l visited the main sites in Athens and watched the city from the highest point of the Acropolis.


IMG_1933The sacred rock of the Acropolis was for many centuries the most important religious centre of the city of Athens. The first traces of occupation go back to the Neolistic period. In Mycenaean times it was the seat of the king. In the middle of the 5th century BC, when Athens was at the height of its power, the ambitious artistic programme of Pericles was implemented: the Parthenon, the Propylaea and, a little later, the temple of Athena Nike and the Erechteion, were all erected between 447 and 406 BC, remaining to the present day witnesses to the Greek Classical civilisation.

 Angel Investment Workshop

IMG_1948At 16 00, l was back at the hotel to check my presentation room. Around 18 00, the room was full and there was standing room only to listen to the panel.

There were four people at the panel table. Our moderator was Agis Hiliar. Dimitris made welcome speech and then l gave my keynote speech and ended by asking a challenging question: If you don’t have all skills you need to become an angel investor but you have enough finance to support start-ups, then how can you become an angel investor? So, l opened the door for debate about the importance of becoming a member of a business angel network. Because there was no business angel network in Greece, this was a good opportunity to launch such an entity. I also shared the tax-incentive system of Turkey, which could be a good model for the Greek entrepreneurship eco-system.

Keynote speakers for this workshop were:

while Agis Hiliarhopoulos contributed as moderator.

Also, Nikos Chloros, Principal at CNL Advisors, discussed the tax and legal aspects of angel investing in Greece. Hellenic Venture Capital Association Chairman, Giannis Papadopoulos, addressed the workshop participants.

It was very nice to see Andreas Baresel-Bofinger, the president of SEERC – South East European Research Centre, among the participants who came from Thessaloniki for this event. I had met with him in Tirana, Albania a few weeks before, where l had given a similar keynote speech at the Balkans Venture Forum. So, he listened to my speech a second time, but now in Athens.

After the workshop, all participants went down for the networking reception at the hotel bar area. After chatting with participants about such topics as the future of the Greek economy, Turkish policy, and US policy, it was time to go to bed.

You can read an analysis of the Greek economy’s conditions for private equity investments written by Dimitiris at


6th of December (Athens – Istanbul)

IMG_1953I was at the business class lounge of the Athens airport at 09 00 after a 30-minute taxi drive from the hotel and took the 10 05 flight to Istanbul. I arrived in Istanbul at 11 30.

It was a very lovely two days. I will definitely bring my family to Greece in the near future.

It was a wonderfully organized event and l was very happy to become acquainted with the Greek entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Thanks Dimitris, Thanks Manos, Thanks Alison…

Of course a big thanks to HRH Crown Princess Katherine…



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