Marathon Venture Capital adds to its newest fund to back Greek founders around the globe

Marathon Venture Capital, an Athens, Greece-based venture firm co-founded in 2017 by two stalwarts of the Greek startup scene, has added €30 million in capital commitments to its second fund roughly a year after completing a first close with €40 million.

Backers of the vehicle, which is more than twice the outfit’s €32 million debut effort, include the European Investment Fund, the Hellenic Development Bank of Investments (which really upped its investment, we’re told) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

We traded emails yesterday with one of the outfit’s co-founders, George Tziralis, who said that he, co-founder Panos Papadopoulos and the rest of the team have been writing seed-state checks of between €1 million to €1.5 million into a wide variety of startups in exchange for a targeted 15% to 20% ownership stake. He made it sound from the exchange like the startup ecosystem in Greece is more active than ever, but far from frothy as in many regions around the world. Part of that exchange follows.

TC: Are you exclusively backing Greek founders, no matter where they are in the world? Do they have to be natives of the country or do Greek Americans, for example, or Greek Australians interest you?

GT: No, absolutely not [they don’t have to be born in Greece]. If you are an ambitious Greek founder, we want to talk no matter where you’re based.

How many women founders have you backed? Are you talking with many female founders of Greek ancestry? Like many other countries, Greece long had a very paternalistic culture, so I wonder what you’ve observed on this front.

We have invested in 14 companies so far, and only two had female founders. There is an increasing number of female founders starting up in our broader community, and some of them have been quite successful. Still, obviously, we have lots to do on this front and we started by tracking related figures. [Specifically], we recently released a compensation report for tech roles in startups based in Greece in which we also studied gender ratios. The results further highlighted the underlying gender gap, especially in leadership roles. On the flip side, product and QA/testing roles proved to be more balanced, and we hope they can serve as an example.

What percentage of your founders are based in Greece versus elsewhere?

I’d say roughly half. We’ve invested in founders starting from Nicosia to Munich to Berlin to Stockholm to London, all the way to San Fransisco, and we’re increasingly getting access to more opportunities across Europe and the U.S. At the same time, our domestic market has been growing really fast. The next generation of Greeks want to build a career in startups rather than anything else.

It’s also interesting to highlight that an increasing part of Greek founders based internationally maintain part of their operations in the country. Culture, quality and compensation-wise, this is becoming appealing to more and more companies.

You and Panos are the firm’s two general partners, yet you have investments across a lot of areas: climate, health, security, infrastructure, finance, education, real estate, productivity, AI, crypto. Who specializes in what at Marathon?

We all focus on company building — from setting up shop, recruiting a team, perfecting the product, nailing marketing and sales, then raising the next round, and so forth. These functions are largely sector agnostic in our experience. We believe founders know better when it comes to their domain of expertise.

From where does your deal flow come? What kind of outbound work do you do to ensure you’re talking with the right founders?

We started doing meet-ups in Greece 15 years ago. I actually was running Open Coffee meet-ups in Athens every month from 2007 until COVID. We built a vibrant startup community, but there was no investor around and someone had to do it. This is how I got started with venture capital.

Since we launched Marathon in 2017, we’ve expanded our event footprint to destinations across Europe and the U.S., hosting a sizeable pool of Greeks doing startups and working in tech. We’ve been to Zurich, Munich, Berlin, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, London, New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, gathering hundreds of attendees and bringing together a global community accumulating experience and enthusiasm about startups. We are on a mission to find every Greek entrepreneur around the world.

What can you tell me about the size of the market you’re tracking?

It has become sizeable, fast. It actually grew 2.4x to $4.5 billion last year. You can see our latest report here, using CB Insights data, to find every Greek founder who raised money last year, or who sold their company.

What is your biggest exit to date, and what are some of your most valuable portfolio companies?

We’ve done ten investments with our first fund, and had our first exit already. Data streaming platform was acquired by Celonis, one a fast-growing enterprise software company with a decacorn valuation. Last year alone, half of our Fund I portfolio companies raised a Series A. More specifically: LearnWorlds raised $32 million led by by Insight Partners; Causaly raised $17 million led by Index Ventures; Hack The Box raised $11 million led by Paladin Capital Group; Augmenta raised $8 million led by CNH Industrial; and Cube RM raised $8 million led by Runa Capital.

Have you raised any side vehicles so that you and your limited partners can get a bigger stake in a promising portfolio company (or you can at least maintain your pro rata)? If so, have those vehicles been registered in the U.S.? 

We participate in Series A and B rounds, maintaining our pro-rata with our existing funds. The second closing of Fund II we are announcing today is providing us with more firepower toward that goal. SPVs are reserved for later stages. A significant number of our LPs are based in the U.S., and participate using various kinds of vehicles.

Are you seeing more foreign investors checking out startups in Greece than you were when you co-founded Marathon?

Absolutely. The names from our portfolio speak for themselves.

Are you seeing many more funds formed in Greece?

Yes, activity has been increasing and we believe there is space for more of it. Venturefriends announced a fund of similar size a few weeks ago. Genesis Ventures also recently launched a €20 million pre-seed fund. And there has been a bunch of funds originally started at the 2018 vintage that should follow with new funds soon.

What’s your newest deal and why did you do it?

We led the seed of Ariadne Maps, a Munich-based pioneer of real-time commercial real estate analytics. It’s actually a pretty slick case. Its service tracks in real time the position and trajectories of visitors in an area without requiring an app download, WiFi login or using cameras. Its adoption by large retailers, shopping malls, transport operators, etc. has been spreading fast with landmark customers, including IKEA globally.