ENTREPRENEURSHIP | BUSINESS | ATHENS
THE CUBE ATHENS
"BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR IS ABOUT TURNING NOTHING INTO SOMETHING, NO MATTER THE OBSTACLES IN THE WAY."
- MARIA CALAFATIS
With diverse technological advances arising at unprecedented rates, entrepreneurship, startups, venture capital and co-working spaces are in the global limelight now more than ever before. As a mecca of human talent, the city of Athens has itself evolved into a hub for technology and the arts.
Situated on a pedestrian street in the edgy neighborhood of Exarcheia is The Cube Athens: a co-working space and startup incubator with a colorful character like that of no other. Founded and run by power couple Stavros Messinis and Maria Calafatis, The Cube is a place for those who love innovation and seek positive change.
And perhaps its position on the map speaks to The Cube’s multifaceted existence. A collection of bookshops, vinyl record stores, unique cafes and parks with an alternative urban feel, the graffitti-clad Exarcheia is Athens city’s anarchist playground, and the center of an underground revolution of sorts.
“[Exarchia] is well-known for its free spirited environment that hosts a variety of cultures and lifestyles,” Calafatis says. “Freedom of expression is a big thing here - with its loud protests, its vivid graffiti and various political, apolitical and anarchist groups.”
Messinis and Calafatis launched The Cube Athens in 2013 after running CoLab Athens - the city’s first coworking space - for three years. The Cube Athens hosts some 80 percent of Athens meetups, and facilitates hackathons both locally and internationally, Calafatis says. Projects include the Athens Mini MakerFaire, an invention and creativity festival, and Robotex, a robotics competition hailing from Estonia.
On a typical day, the entire Messinis-Calafatis family, including 13-year-old Panos and 11-year-old George, can be found at The Cube working on anything from homework to coding and event planning. Home to numerous startups, The Cube serves as a venue for presentations, gallery showings, art and wellness classes, as well as various cultural and tech-focused activities.
“We host and help run a series of events with a more social aspect, including book presentations with a panel discussions, art exhibitions and painting workshops. These are all geared towards networking and fundraising in support of various causes,” Calafatis says. “We also run projects teaching young kids to think outside the box in skills like entrepreneurship, business and coding,” she adds.
The Cube Athens actually gets its name from the building’s structure: a cube comprised of seven floors and 1,700 sq meters of space. “The space is big, with a lot of demand in running the space and keeping it creative, fun and active,” Calafatis says. “Every other day we run events, meetups, talks and hackathons open to the public...some days we host up to three concurrent events. Those are the most interesting days,” she says.
READ THE INTERVIEW:
What types of startups are hosted at The Cube Athens?
Maria Calafatis: Our teams vary. We have teams working on anything from IOT, gaming, online services, engineering, robotics, DIY, as well as non-profit organizations & NGOs working on the refugee crisis. Together, we’ve co-organized a series of workshops and trainings around those topics.
Being located in the notorious Exarcheia has its challenges. How has The Cube Athens been accepted, and how would you say its presence has impacted the neighborhood and locals?
Exarchia is special in its own way. Some might call it a ghetto, but they’ve probably never visited a ghetto. It’s well-known for its free spirited environment that hosts a variety of cultures and lifestyles. Freedom of expression is a big thing here - with its loud protests, its vivid graffiti and various political, apolitical and anarchist groups.
It’s where demonstrations normally start and finish, being situated downtown, but it is also very well-known for its cafes, restaurants and cozy bars. A little-known fact is that Exarcheia has the most theaters per square kilometer than any other place in Europe. Exarchia packs a punch. It’s super hip. It’s Athens’ equivalent to Kreuzberg in Berlin, Mission in San Francisco or Hackney in London.
The Cube’s building itself used to house a stockbroker company that downsized due to the crisis, causing the building to be left empty and abandoned for over five years until we moved in. We gave the area a new life. The neighbors have accepted us well and we have brought back cool innovative activity into the area, like any new business does.
What is it like being a couple and working together?
It’s both fun and challenging at times. Stavros is the expert on the tech side, while I am more on the public relations, social media and marketing side of things. I guess the diversity and combination of both gives us the outcome that one can see.
What’s the story behind your colorful logo?
It is all Stavro’s doing, so he will take full gratitude here. He basically crowdsourced its design and the end product is a combination of a few peoples work. The colors symbolise the colorful and vibrant nature of our neighborhood and the cube is the shape of the building.
What sets The Cube Athens apart from other co-working spaces in Athens?
No other team is so closely connected to the city’s tech startup ecosystem and its related activities. Every startup has been through the space for one reason or another.
Offering the largest space, The Cube Athens can be very flexible with its combination of equipped closed office spaces and open space desks. A team can grow and shrink here - we prefer that they grow, but sometimes they need to temporarily shrink while they pivot on their idea.
Athens offers four active co-working spaces, all doing great work, each with their own identity without really being competitors to each other. We collaborate with all of them and have at least one common project during the year with each space.
The Cube Athens is a very open and inclusive place, hosting events for artists, entrepreneurs, refugees, children and more. What brings you the most joy in meeting and working with so many people of different backgrounds, in the same community?
Apart from the everyday running of the space, we never know how the day will end up and who we will meet. We’ve met thousands. Good folks on the whole, but some crazies too. It goes with the territory.
We are very open minded and love discussing the possibilities of new ideas as collaborations in the space. Our open minded view on things also helps start new ideas. A lot of new ideas and projects are born, run and succeed in the space, as we try to let go as fast as possible of those that don’t have the impact and outcome we expect at very early stages. And that is also something we encourage with new entrepreneurs: fail fast, and fail cheap.
What would you say is your greatest challenge running a business in Greece during these (modern) turbulent times?
The bureaucracy side of things. At the same time, we see similarities in other cities in a different scale. But being Entrepreneurs is about that, turning nothing into something, no matter the obstacles and challenges in the way. Things are getting better and easier though, like anything new to the system, it needs its time to adjust. The truth is as they say: “if it was easy, everyone would do it.”
WORDS: Portes Magazine
PHOTOS: Portes Magazine + The Cube Athens