Athens gets a new venture fund

Raising money for a venture fund is almost never easy, but it’s a whole lot harder in certain places that are struggling economically, like Greece.

Thankfully for the country, a new seed-stage firm has formed, called Marathon VC, that’s currently investing $8.6 million and expects to close its debut fund with roughly $25 million in commitments later this year.

Its mission, broadly: to back Greek tech entrepreneurs, regardless of where they are based.

It’s one of the only funds in Athens — though its founders are hardly new to the startup scene.

One co-founder, George Tziralis, previously co-founded OpenFund, a seed-stage firm in Athens that’s currently investing a €15 million fund. (We talked with another partner, Georgios Kasselakis, last year.)

While Tziralis describes himself as someone who tried — and failed — twice at being a software entrepreneur, he also launched Open Coffee, a popular meeting series for founders who get together monthly to talk shop.

Marathon was also co-founded by Panos Papadopoulos, who first met Tziralis a decade ago when starting his first company — which he describes as an Airbnb for exchange students in Athens — and who went on to co-found BugSense. The mobile analytics company, which would eventually wind up in the Bay Area, was acquired in 2013, two years after its founding, by the publicly traded tech company Splunk.

The price wasn’t disclosed at the time, but Papadopoulos says Splunk paid roughly $9 million in cash — a good outcome for investors who had invested just $100,000 into the company.

Apparently, the two had crossed paths various times over the past decade; they came together more recently when Tziralis told Papadopoulos that he was spinning out of OpenFund, and Papadopoulos — who was ready to return home from California — decided that he’d rather become an investor in Greece than start another company.

Explains Papadopoulos, “There aren’t these great enterprises in Greece [as in the U.S.] where college graduates want to work. A lot of people have moved abroad in the last four years and established experience and a network and are thinking more globally and who are interesting to us as investors.”

Papadopoulos says that the tech scene in Athens is maturing, too. “Ten years ago, there was very little capital and startups were practically non-existent. But that’s changed. The community has grown strong. Startups are now top of mind for a lot of college graduates. And Greece has a lot of talent. We don’t have product companies, so we don’t have product managers. But in Greece, they almost overemphasize education, so we have mathematics PhDs and biology PhDs. We have people who’ve done research and studies and who once might have wanted to research funded by the European Union but are now looking at startups as something they want to tap instead.”

So far, Marathon’s funding has come exclusively from individuals, including from numerous shipping families and other local industrialists who’ve grown more interested in Athens’s evolving tech scene.

Now, the duo is hoping their track record gets them past their $25 million goal by the end of the third quarter.

Among their collective investments is the cloud-based recruitment startup Workable, which is based in Boston and has raised roughly $34 million from investors so far;, a Seattle-based startup that helps Linux-based developers more easily update the software in internet-connected devices and has raised more than $12 million to date; and TaxiBeat, a taxi-hailing smartphone app that sold just last month to the automotive giant Daimler. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.