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Cyprus’s army of entrepreneurs

Success seems hard to find on the Mediterranean island these days, but smart young entrepreneurs, internationally educated graduates, and wealthy Cypriots on the UK's Rich Lists give a glimpse of what Cyprus's businesspeople can achieve.
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Ireland is the only country in Europe that produces a higher percentage of graduates per capita than Cyprus. Yes, the troubled Mediterranean island is bursting with educated brains ready to make their ambitions reality. But they are hindered; not just by the crisis that is hitting the headlines at the moment, also by low levels of funding and a minuscule domestic market. 

The answer for many is to emigrate. Young Cypriots build themselves a life abroad, often study in the UK, and some stay here for a career. The UK Census recorded over 70,000 Cypriot-born people living in the UK. A number of them are well known – George Michael, for instance – and some have made it to the top end of the Rich List. 

Cypriot entrepreneurs in the UK are no rarity. Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, for instance, is best known for setting up low-cost airline easyJet. The offspring of a wealthy Cypriot family, he set up the business with start-up funds provided by his father. Nowadays, Haji-Ioannou resides in Monaco… for tax reasons.

Just as well known is retail magnate and Dragons’ Den investor Theo Paphitis, whose fortune now accounts to about £200m (not quite enough to bail out Cyprus). When asked on BBC News whether it’s true that wealthy Cypriots based in Britain are getting together for a “solidarity fund”, he replied: “Nah, that’s absolute nonsense. Why would you give money to a government that can’t even organise its own PR, never mind run a country?” Not much sympathy there, then.

Alki David could certainly add a few million to the imaginary solidarity fund, with a fortune of £1.1bn. He is of Greek-Cypriot origin, member of the Leventis family, who have a series of successful businesses in various sectors. They own a number of Coca-Cola bottling plants in 28 countries around the world, as well as shipping companies. David is a producer and owner of an internet broadcasting platform for high definition television programs on mobile phones, FilmOn.com.

Not quite on the Rich List, but certainly another trailblazing Cypriot-born entrepreneur is Xenios Thrasyvoulou. The founder and CEO of PeoplePerHour is driving outsourcing forward, something both Britain’s and Cyprus’s companies will surely thank him for in tough times and talent wars.

And let’s not forget Michael Tyrimos, the COO of Exelia Technologies and co-founder of online social platform, Synups. Tyrimos has served as the head of business development at Bioland Energy, was elected associate of King’s College London and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He currently sits on the executive board of the youth-led organisation Cypriot Enterprise Link, which he helped co-found in early 2012, and acts as an advisor and co-chairman to the Cambridge University Venture Capital & Private Equity Club.

Five successful entrepreneurs who could add a million or two to the Cyprus Rescue Fund (if there was one); or lose a few if part of their fortune is kept in a struggling Cypriot bank.

But there are many other entrepreneurs in Cyprus who, like so many educated young people across Europe, face economic and institutional challenges that appear almost immovable. However, it’s undeniably good for Cyprus when a flood of highly educated and internationally experienced grads, who have come home from years of ambitious studies in the UK or elsewhere, is starting to put pressure on the old ways of doing business and brings new ideas to the tight-knit island community.

The good news is that talent, determination, and education usually finds a way to success. If they’re fortunate and smart, all those difficulties and barriers might just help them grow.

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