He talks to us about significant turning points in his life, the differences of life in Greece and abroad, the Greece’s opportunities for technological development and innovation, but also about his great love, music and rebetiko.

The educational system

”I graduated from the National and Kapodistrian Technical University in Greece and went on to Columbia University as a post-grad student in 1995. I went on to become a professor there and stayed for a decade, and upon returning to Greece in 2008, I became an Associate Professor in the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. I have, therefore, experienced both sides (Greece and the USA), both as a student and as a professor. Education in Greece is one of the most troubled and problematic issues of public life, because university culture was allowed to be degraded, mainly as a result of political opportunism. It goes without saying that I’m not against politics, it’s just that one should choose the right time and place wisely. In my view, the greatest enemies of the university are governments and politicians, past and present, who claim that the university is self-governed, when, in reality, it doesn’t control anything at all. Consequently, all of us as a society live a big lie. We believe we have solved its problems, when, in essence, we haven’t. We cannot talk about a healthy academic environment when we have not resolved any of its essential issues. This constitutes a significant pathology of the tertiary educational institutions in the country. Not all the universities in Greece are like that; the central ones are the worst because university professors there are so into unions and politics. In addition, turning colleges and other institutions into universities has completely disorganised education. A fact which instead of better organizing higher and vocational education, has set it twenty years back.
Now, I see these structures in the Greek university, and you want to talk about structures and organisation in foreign countries? They’re miles apart, because there are stable foundations and structures there. To establish a good university, you need the support of the whole society. It can’t be done only by the professors and students. Columbia University, in particular, possesses a vast fortune donated to the foundation by grad students, who have made a lot of money. At the same time, universities abroad don’t have to deal with governments tripping them and setting them back.”


”In the last few years, there has been a lot of activity, heightened student awareness, as well as technology transfer offices, which act as sources of information for universities from within. I’m not comparing the situation with the US, where the environment is very mature. For instance, professor and student patents have brought Columbia University millions of dollars of income, which since the 1950s has brought about great innovation in electronics. This is the one field, the other one being health, with patents concerning medicines. These are the two main fields which produce innovation and correspondingly patents at high speed. Regarding entrepreneurship in Greece, I believe, we’re well on the right track, as there are accelerators and funds, like ours, which provide funding.”

The return to Greece

”I’m an early digital nomad. I came back to Greece for very specific reasons, having run my course in America. I wanted to be nearer the European and Greek culture. Since 2005 I’ve split my time between Greece and the USA. I still have ties in America, I still have a life and professional activity there. I’ve struck a good balance. I don’t think I’d have felt right, having lived in a professional and technological environment comprising the greatest corporations in the field, to come back to Greece and bury myself in a hole conversing with Greek companies alone.
This is the reason why at Big Pi Ventures, I’m involved with companies that may have been founded anywhere in the world, but which address the global market. The only thing they need is to have an office and be active in Greece as well, like the Greek-founded software company Accusonus.”

New Ventures

”One of the reasons I hold a lot of patents is that I’ve existed in environments which encourage their production, such as Columbia University. To achieve that, you need to set off with the logical part first, to offer a technology that will be the solution to a real problem either for you or someone else. You start at the essence, which is the product itself, and then, with the provision of extra know-how and capital, you manage to transform the concept into a final product. If you are patient enough and really determined, you build it step by step and take it forward.”

Vidyo, video streaming and the future of 3D

”Vidyo has not been involved in the creation of the kind of videos we upload on YouTube. There are technical differences, as the former [TLN video streaming] has low latency, while, when we stream on YouTube, there may be latency, which creates great differences in encoding.
Today, everyone has a smartphone. A lot of work still needs to be put into improving modality in 3D – we need to have better conditions and prerequisites for 3D imaging regarding the screen, the display, and the capture; for how we collect 3D information. Do you recall that special effect in Matrix, where the action freezes mid-air and the camera revolves around it? On that shot, the capture is done in a specific way, which allows you to move around and watch an object from different angles. This is improving and will keep improving.
People don’t realize that the creation of good quality content is a challenging process requiring a lot of work. We’re all spoilt because we watch movies on Netflix, and it’s like you turn on the faucet and movies flow out! People think making a movie is quite simple. But both technically and regarding storytelling, it isn’t simple, everything is hard. Perhaps at school, we should also learn how to create long-form videos, apart from how we should write essays.”

The startups which stand out

”For a startup to stand out, it has to offer a substantial innovation which will differentiate it from others currently in the field. This will protect it from future competition, too. That’s why we are gravitating towards deep tech, so that there is a technological advantage in each company. Another essential factor is the team. It should have the potential to set up a company, develop it and help it grow. The third factor, for sure, is the size of the market. We invest in companies which we want to grow rather fast because we invest in high-risk companies. We also very rarely invest in companies that have only one founder. It’s safer and more structured to have a team. A flexible, determined and strong team that doesn’t back down is want we look for; a team which can deal with difficult moments, can pivot and change tack if need be, in order to move on.”

Big Pi II

”We want to boost innovation so that it can function as a lever for economic development and create employment and wealth for everyone. You can’t have social benefits and help people if you don’t generate wealth. You need to find the money to provide social benefits.
Those who have the talent and the disposition have to be given the resources to do what they love. It’s like being in an environment where children play music but they have no musical instruments. So, we, on our part more or less, with the money we invest, we kind of enable people to do what they have really set their hearts to, and set up their company.
Many don’t see companies as something creative. And yet, when you build a product, that in itself is a very creative process. It’s like creating a sculpture. You design it and create it. And when it gets off the ground and starts working, that’s a great feeling.
Many of the companies of the previous fund, Big Pi I, are active in the field of health, which impressed me greatly. It just happened, and it’s very interesting. There’s a lot of activity in Greece, and this trend will continue. One of the most productive sectors is the application of digital technology in fields that are still virgin. Orfium, for example, helps locate the music that’s used on YouTube. So, it locates it, receives the fee and pays it to the right-holders, charging a fee.”

Emigrant Greeks and the opportunities in the country

”Abroad, as there are structured societies with rules, meritocracy and consistency, those who want to work hard (and it’s usually those who emigrate), are motivated to do so. Those people are willing to work. So, when they find themselves in an organised environment, which promotes and encourages productivity, they blossom. In contrast, if you wanted to conduct any kind of business in Greece, even a few years ago, you had to authenticate your signature in person, for instance. The environment was constructed to inconvenience the citizens, not to help us produce. The state is the most to blame.
In comparison, when I moved to the USA, I had access to TV from day one, while I never set foot to the tax office. So, what happens abroad is that people find themselves in environments which aim to solve citizens’ problems. In Greece, we oscillate left and right randomly, with the result that not only we are unable to move forward, but we’re also unaware and unable to agree which direction ‘forward’ lies in. Now, of course, it’s a bit better.
We should realize that the reason emigrants have left Greece and remain abroad is that they want a well-organised society, which will provide these basic values. I’m not sure if it would be better for all those people to come back. In fact, having had this experience personally, I believe it’s great that they get to know new things, cultures, mentalities and different societies. I believe they, too, are part of a broader Greece. And they enrich our country differently. They will come on holiday, they have friends and family here. Whether they will ever return permanently here is irrelevant.”

The future of music in Greece

”I love Greek folk music a lot, and I play the three-string bouzouki professionally with a particular focus on rebetiko and old folk songs. A basic principle for me is that it’s not enough to produce song adaptations, we need to create original music. At the moment, I’m having a studio built, and I’ve taken the pledge that it won’t be used for covers. It will be used by whoever wants to create original music. Unfortunately, as a society in Greece, we hesitate to embrace novelty. Who has ever encouraged us to do new, original things? Just think about literature or music. Anyone who would be experimenting with writing new songs would be told “you will write new songs, when we have Tsitsanis and Chiotis?” (TLN Tsitsanis and Chiotis were two legends of Greek folk and Rebetiko music) I believe as a society we aren’t brave, we don’t encourage young people to be creators. Even creating trap music, which isn’t a very good example of music today, because of its extreme content – well, I think it’s much better for a young person to get into the studio, write new pieces and be creative rather than stay at home all day watching Netflix.”