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Greek startups can barely pay for wi-fi

People queue at an ATM to withdraw cash in downtown Athens on July 9, 2015.People queue at an ATM to withdraw cash in downtown Athens on July 9, 2015.
People queue at an ATM to withdraw cash in downtown Athens on July 9, 2015. Photograph by Andreas Solaro — AFP/Getty Images

Greece may be laden with financial woes, but the country’s tech startups have apparently been thriving—at least until a few weeks ago, when the government restricted residents’ access to cash.

The tumultuous negotiations over a new bailout package for the debt-burdened nation have also taken their toll on the healthier parts of the Greek economy, including its startup scene, which resembles a “microcosm of Silicon Valley,” Athens-based journalist Tania Karas reports for Reuters.

Indeed, companies that have not only survived but grown their businesses throughout six years of Greece’s financial crisis—”a testament to the startup founders’ resilience,” Karas writes—have been hobbled by the country’s banking shutdown in recent weeks. With ATM withdrawals limited to just 60 euros from individual accounts per day per Greek citizen, companies there have been unable to pay their employees or even their “Web hosts and Internet providers.”

Karas visited an Athens-based co-working space and incubator called The Cube that houses 30 startup companies. Her experience there might make American startups’ day-to-day problems look minor by comparison:

Within the span of one hour last week, three different startup founders stopped in to seek advice from entrepreneur Stavros Messinis, who started The Cube, on how to pay their rent, employees and bills. “See how much time we’re wasting?” Messinis said when they finished. “We’ve spent 80 percent of our time on this in the last week.”

Still, the growth in Greek startups seems surprisingly robust given the severity of the country’s economic troubles overall—the country even has its own version of Uber:

Greece’s startup ecosystem expanded at a respectable pace for the past few years, until it reached its current 400 or so companies. High-profile success stories include Taxibeat, a taxi-hailing smartphone app; Workable, online job-recruitment software; and BugSense, a mobile analytics platform for app developers that was acquired by San Francisco-based Splunk in 2013. Fledgling Greek startups have been helped along by EU and Greek government funding via local venture capital firms such as First Athens, Openfund, PJ Tech Catalyst, Odyssey Venture Partners and Attica Ventures.

One of those startups, BugSense, has also launched a crowdsourcing site called ZeroFund to help other Greek startups “pay for their online services,” according to Reuters. “Are you a Greek company blocked by capital controls?” ZeroFund asks on its homepage. “We try to help by becoming a proxy for your transactions.”