The Athens Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEin) is the incubation center of AUEB, offering support to researchers and potential young entrepreneurs, in order to help them develop innovative business ideas and bring them to the market. ELTRUN (the eBusiness Research Laboratory of AUEB) supports scientifically the various activities of the center. ACEin puts significant effort into supporting students who are pursuing undergraduate studies, master’s or doctoral degrees, and researchers who wish to turn their innovative entrepreneurial ideas or scientific research results into a sustainable business model and subsequent start-up a company. The Center offers more than just physical resources. The key strategy includes training on how to establish and run a start-up, services from experts, mentoring and networking. Parallel to this, the Center organizes innovative actions in the context of its wider synergies in order to introduce innovative solutions in specific market segments. The basic pillars of ACEin’s strategy are:
Education: A carefully designed mixture of lectures, team assignments/workshops, case studies and action learning. The courses are taught by faculty members and specialized industry experts. Several times per year, ACEin organizes a two-day “Entrepreneurship Bootcamp” where some 10 groups with innovative business ideas collaborate with experts and mentors to further develop their business model and identify critical success factors.
Networking: Organization of various networking activities at a national and international level, team development activities, access to the European network of University-based incubation centers, dissemination activities, participation in international exhibitions and events. ACEin organizes team development events branded as “Match and Develop”. Each entrepreneurial team has its own needs for growth and development. We listen to skills requirements and can craft a unique team building or team development experience leveraging complementarities in the entrepreneurial teams.
Consulting services: Teams benefit from professional services (provided by experts), which vary depending on the teams’ business maturity level, their specific needs and the capabilities of the Center. These services include business planning, marketing, branding and design, IT, accounting and legal issues. All are offered through personalized meetings with experts.
Motivation and Mentoring: Access to mentors with proven corporate, startup and venture capital experience and a successful track record. Motivation through a series of events, competitions and award schemes.
Exploitation of research output: An important part of the Center’s approach is the systematic exploitation of the research produced within University and research laboratories. This is tackled through a concrete Technology/Knowledge Transfer methodology and a number of activities, such as identification of the most appropriate exploitation plan per research result (e.g. setting up a business, selling research and development services, concession permits) and providing specialized consulting services, depending on the business readiness, maturity and needs of each research team.
Some notable statistics regarding the first years of operation of ACEin include: the Center has actively supported more than 70 entrepreneurial teams consisting of 180 potential entrepreneurs and more than 60 experts/mentors have steadily helped to build up the new ventures. ACEin has managed to support entrepreneurial teams that succeeded already:
- ClioMuse: an intermediary in the tourism sector, offering curated cultural content through a tour guide app. It has expanded in the markets of Greece, Italy and Brazil. Has been granted a Horizon 2020 programme.
- Collegelink: is the first Greek matching platform for internships. In its 2 years of operations it has already cooperated with major companies such as McKinsey, Google etc. and has been funded by an angel investor.
- TacticalSystems: has received the Airport Innovation Challenge distinction award. It has established a partnership with the UK based SignalBox awarded funding under the auspices of Innovate UK, UK’s innovation agency, to explore partnerships and business opportunities in the Singapore market. Moreover, it was awarded the ‘New Technology and Software Development Startup’ prize at the STARTUP GREECE awards 2016.
- Nestcargo: has won several awards and distinctions in a national and international level and since 2016 the National Bank of Greece has invested in the company.
- Vieno: in its 2 years of operations has already 19.000 users and has expanded to United Arab Emirates.
- Enaleia: is the first school for professional fishing in Greece. It has reached its break-even point from the first 2 weeks of its operation.
Open Innovation Programs: Bridging Industry with Young Entrepreneurs
ACEin also supports specialized Open Innovation programs of the ELTRUN research laboratory, in collaboration with corporate organizations in vertical sectors, entitled «IDEA – Innovation, Design & Entrepreneurial Action». The IDEA program helps a firm work with a group of talents or entrepreneurial teams or startups to solve specific business issues and thus embrace innovation. The program incorporates the concept of open innovation to boost entrepreneurship in specific market domains (e.g. tourism, health, fintech etc.) and, as a result, it promotes a vertical focus and depth of innovation.
The program is addressed to talented people and top students from leading business schools and technical universities or already established entrepreneurial teams or startups, with the aim to engage them in the definition, design and implementation of innovative entrepreneurial ideas related to a specific sector. The open innovation model that structures the IDEA program was first put into practice through collaboration with the Athens International Airport (branded as “The Digital Gate” program). The cases that were promoted through this program include:
- Weather Ex Machina: reliable prediction meteo based on an efficient Internet-of-Things infrastructure
- ClioMuse: a tour guide app introduced as the “personal assistant” visitor to Greece
- Tactical: the effective planning, monitoring and managing of daily personnel work in large rooms, as well as emergency management;
- Human Electric: finding parking spaces in real time;
- Nable Solutions: a mobile application / driver for disabled people in the airport;
- Liater: and an application for “smart” tests and shopping through interactive displays.
In the second edition of the IDEA initiative, ACEin has supported an open innovation program in the health sector in collaboration with a big insurance company (branded as IDEA in Health). Fifteen entrepreneurial teams managed to reach the semi-finals and five of them were in the finals. The ideas were:
- Healthyclub: Application creation and monitoring of dietary programs (further funded by a business angel supporting the program)
- Portable electrocardiograph associated with mobile application and measuring heart rate and vital signs, specially designed for heart patients and chronically ill
- Mobile tracker insurance policy, medical information and history management
- Application monitoring vital signs and user location, addressed to minors, and elderly drivers
- Medical history tracking service and medication
Currently, ACEin supports an IDEA program in Fintech that is focusing on the Fintech area (branded as VivaNest) in cooperation with VIVA WALLET SA, one of the biggest players in the Greek market. Eight entrepreneurial teams managed to reach the finals. In random order, some indicative the ideas were:
- Cloudeplo: a web platform that enables the user to easily create and deploy complex big data clusters in major cloud IAAS providers. It abstracts from the user vendor specific complexity, it promotes use of best practices and leverages spot instances to achieve maximum cost efficiency.
- Echoleap: is a Fundraising, Contract / Digital Rights Management, and Digital Distribution startup, aiming to provide a simple, transparent and robust financial ecosystem for the production of digital media assets.
- Pitchstor: is a global online crowdfunding platform that integrates all types of crowdfunding in one place, providing a powerful tool of digital funding mechanism for startups, entrepreneurs and existing companies.
- Synaphea: manages documents/contracts trade on the blockchain and uses smart contract to eliminate costs, disputes, forgery and unnecessary risks.
The IDEA model has to-date produced several different types of outputs including digital technologies, new services and co-branding arrangements which are formally agreed between the start-up teams and the company. These agreements have taken different forms depending on the exact details of the case including supplier contracts and revenue sharing agreements.
In times of economic hardship and particularly difficult conditions for young graduates in the job market, the efforts deployed within ACEin are a timely response to the need for new thinking and approaches to career development, and a strong proof of AUEB’s devotion to preparing its students and graduates for a successful future.