Greek Business File, September-October 2020, No 127

by Symela Touchtidou


Ideas, like flowers, do not flourish on their own

Cisco chose to create its next International Innovation Center in the city of Thessaloniki


Paris, Berlin, Dubai, Tokyo, Toronto, Singapore… A total of 15 strategically located cities across the world. And the next stop is Thessaloniki.

Cisco S.A., the American technology giant that provides products and services for Networking, Wireless, Mobility and Security, chose to create its next International Innovation Center in the city of Thessaloniki. “We picked Thessaloniki for its academic community that is much larger than in other cities” Antonis Tsiboukis, General Manager of Cisco Hellas, Cyprus, Malta and Portugal, explains to Business File.

“Plus, Thessaloniki has a great geostrategic position. We need to make maximum use of its geography and its influence in the Balkans. Last year, when we first announced plans to build our next Innovation Center here, we got calls from Balkan institutes asking what we will be up to and how they can be part of it.”

The Memorandum of Cooperation between Cisco S.A., the Municipality of Thessaloniki, the Ministry of Development & Investments and the Ministry of Digital Governance was signed on the 25th of June 2020.

“Greece has huge human resources and huge potential” the Minister of Digital Governance, Kyriakos Pierrakakis said. “But it needs appropriate conditions to unleash them. What is happening today in Thessaloniki is great. It is great that we are all here together to open a new era for our country.”

The ceremony took place in an iconic building, in western Thessaloniki. A century-old building that used to house the municipal slaughterhouse before it was turned into a cultural center. To help Cisco proceed faster with the Digital Transformation & Digital Skills Center (as it is called), the Mayor of Thessaloniki Konstantinos Zervas decided to make the building available for the purpose.

“This is a very important moment for the city of Thessaloniki. It is the beginning of a systematic effort to radically change for the better” Zervas noted at the ceremony. “Greece must change. To achieve this, Greece that produces must be strengthened. Greece that innovates. Next to our heavy industry, which is tourism and services, others, new ones, with added value must be set up. The role of Thessaloniki in this is to become a growth pole, a center of entrepreneurship, innovation, trade, tourism, and technology production.”

Cisco’s Center moved from concept to reality in a speed unprecedented by Greek standards.

The idea was first floated less than a year ago, when then newly elected Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had a meeting with entrepreneurs in Thessaloniki, seeking ideas to boost local economy. The Greek government believes the project is yet another proof that the USA remains highly engaged in Greece.

A fact reiterated by US Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, when he visited the site, in July. “We, as the US government, are going to remain engaged, helping to lift up the narrative of both Thessaloniki’s emergence as an important technology hub in Southeastern Europe for Greece and the Western Balkans. And it’s not just Cisco, it’s Deloitte, it’s Pfizer, it’s all of our companies that are here, leveraging the large student population, the human capital, and also the supportive government environment” he stated.

What will the center do?

So, how exactly do Cisco’s Global Innovation Centers work?

“Cisco’s Co-Innovation Centers work with regional and global partners to create new technology solutions that solve industry pain points and positively impact business, society, and the planet” says the company.

Cisco’s philosophy is that “Ideas, like flowers, do not flourish on their own”.

So, it brings together customers, partners, startups, universities, governments to promote ideas, solutions, products and services in areas such as healthcare, education, environmental protection and smart cities.

In Thessaloniki, the Center will host local startups, university branches, municipalities and research institutes.

“It will be an innovation center with the purpose to help and accelerate the digital transformation of the country” Tsiboukis explains. “Startups will work on ideas, solutions that have come up in other Innovation Centers around the globe. For example, if we are dealing with a specific challenge that the Australia Center has already looked into, we will take the next step from there. We will not produce technology per se, but rather technology solutions.”

In the first phase of its operation, the Thessaloniki Digital Transformation & Digital Skills Center will offer view of emerging technologies to all its ecosystem partners and to visitors looking for solutions in fields such as:

1. Smart city

❱ Smart Parking

❱ Smart Lighting

❱ Smart Waste management

❱ Urban mobility

❱ City platform

❱ Smart metering (water & gas)

❱ Safe City

2. Telemedicine

❱ Remote health services

❱ Support patients at home

❱ Pandemic Management (Covid-19)

3. E- learning

❱ Modern distance learning

❱ Remote collaboration

❱ Remote work

4. Precision Agriculture

5. Tourism and culture

6. Electric cars, Monitoring of energy consumption of buildings, etc.

Moreover, Thessaloniki’s Center will host a branch of Cisco’s Networking Academy. It will offer top technology education, teaching and training students to become highly specialized employees or future entrepreneurs with their own startups.