Cyprus has earned its fair share of poetic nicknames throughout the years: it has been dubbed the jewel of the Mediterranean and the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite. With its rich history and stunning nature, tourism used to be at the forefront of the Cypriot economy. But the country has come a long way since then, and today, it's eyeing another nickname: a "tech island".
Once you set foot in Cyprus, the transformation is palpable. New high-rise buildings, university campuses, and infrastructure signal the island's next chapter fit for global talent and innovative companies seeking a new home.
The evolution from the holiday destination to a modern entrepreneurial hub ensued gradually, with the rise of several defining industries.
Back in the 1980s, Cyprus took advantage of its strategic location to advance its shipping industry, and today, the Cyprus flag is welcome in ports worldwide. Throughout the 1990s, the focus had shifted to corporate servicing that took the country to the property boom of the 2000s. These industries are still an integral part of the country's growth, but another goal has surfaced in recent years.
Cyprus wants to serve innovative entrepreneurs and motivate them to choose the island as their base.
Looking at the map, the island is quite literally at a crossroads. Located at the intersection of Europe, Africa, and Asia, it's inevitable that Cyprus would emerge as a tech and entrepreneurial hub. With its 300 to 340 sunny days per year, kilometres of beaches, and high quality of life, it's a great place to call home.
On top of that, the country has pursued a transparent, simple regulatory, tax, and legal system as one of its priorities.
Besides, the Cypriot talent pool is educated and largely proficient in English, and the government offers tax incentives that can make the beginnings in Cyprus easier. The priority is to develop a highly-skilled technology talent pool locally and at the same time open the doors to global talent to relocate to the island.
New organizations and initiatives are being established, and world-class institutions are supporting the whole ecosystem. Cyprus has 14 universities and colleges providing higher education for over 50,000 students.
Additionally, several funding schemes are available, and the ambitious entrepreneurs can turn to a network of private investors, the government, or the EU for support. Digital transformation is an inevitable part of the development process, and it's on the list of the country's priorities.
"In a time when digital change is a key driver of a country's economy, Cyprus is making strides towards that goal. For example, by the end of this year, Cyprus will most likely be the only country in Europe with 100 per cent 5G coverage," explains Andreas Neocleous, Chief Executive Officer at CYTA.
Despite the pandemic setbacks, some of the Cyprus-based companies have achieved significant milestones. Odyssey, with an office in Nicosia, was just included in the Gartner 2021 Magic Quadrant. Online course marketplace LearnWorlds has managed to raise $32 million (€27 million).
Another Cypriot company, Omilia, raised an impressive $20 million (€17 million) last year to work on their conversational AI technology for enterprises. Another major success story relates to Nexters Global's IPO: the mobile game Hero Wars owner is about to go public through a deal that values the company at $1.9 billion.
"During the last five years, the IT ecosystem of Cyprus has been massively disrupted," says Alexey Gubarev, Co-founder at Servers.com and Co-founder and Board Member at Palta.
Palta, a health & well-being technology company, has recently raised $100 million (€85 million) in a Series B funding round.
"Plenty of companies are coming to the island, and this wave is redefining the desired profile of the local workforce. Cyprus now has the possibility to create the best environment in Europe for IT companies and elevate IT to a leading sector of the economy," Gubarev adds.
Arthur Mamedov, COO at TheSoul Publishing, agrees that the island is a well-rounded business base. "Cyprus already has a lot of what it takes to become a very appealing and internationally successful technology hub," he says.
In countries with thriving startup and tech ecosystems, someone from within usually comes to the same conclusion: the "doers" need a place to meet. In Cyprus, the Reflect Festival has blown up from one year to the next, demonstrating how frantic the growth on the island is.
"Our goal was to open up a platform that encourages interesting collaborations, new projects, and exciting ideas. It feels immensely rewarding, especially since the people of Cyprus are very action-oriented and proud of the progress the country has made," says Dusan Duffek, Co-Founder at Reflect.
Since 2018, the festival has hosted more than 7000 attendees including a multitude of founders, executives, investors, and speakers. Inviting household names to the island is not the only goal: it's also yet another opportunity to connect Cyprus with businesses and entrepreneurs worldwide.
"We were given access to practically every customer we could identify as relevant for us. We will surely be back and hope to even set up locally in Cyprus soon," explains Paul Jozefak, Co-Founder & CEO at Receeve.
At the beginning of this year, more than 100 tech companies have joined forces to showcase that Cyprus is an ideal place to live, work, and innovate. They have launched Techisland, a non-profit organization with a mission to promote the acceleration of the local tech ecosystem.
Kyriacos Kokkinos, Deputy Minister to the President of Cyprus for Research, Innovation & Digital Policy, participated at the first press conference and introduced his vision for the island.
"All these bright minds have been brought together determined to make a step change on how we make Cyprus a regional - if not global - hub for sciences, technology, and startups," he said.
Stylianos Lambrou, a serial entrepreneur and one of the founding members of Techisland, adds that the country is entering a defining era.
"The Cyprus tech ecosystem has been steadily growing, and a significant acceleration came especially in the past few years. We've teamed up to strengthen the prospects of Cyprus as a tech hub," he explains.
According to him, Cyprus of such high international standards will attract many professionals and global technology companies.
"In return, the technology sector will have a key role in helping the government transform the economy by contributing to a new sustainable growth model," he adds.
Sustainable growth is indeed crucial should innovative tech companies define this decade. There's a lot at stake, but if Cyprus will live up to its ambitious goals, the "tech island" can cement its position as a modern entrepreneurial hub conveniently connecting three continents.