A Breath of Fresh Air

7 September 2016
Double DNA Helix. Paulista/AdobeStock

A new generation of thought leaders steps forward to put Cyprus on the map of innovation and shape a new cluster of R&D in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Advanced medical research and IT acumen might not be the first words that come to mind when thinking about an island in the Eastern Mediterranean, and yet, inspired perhaps by their close neighbors to the east, Cypriot innovators and entrepreneurs took a leaf out of the Israeli book and started putting increased emphasis on creating a successful start-up culture locally.
From private sector executives to political leaders, supporting and empowering youth and new initiatives has become a key talking point over the past two years, which has not previously been the case. It is all part of a new-found understanding of the growth potential arising from technology, which, in the words of Evgenios Evgeniou, CEO of PWC Cyprus, “is still in embryonic stages in Cyprus but it brings the excitement of creating new areas of business harnessing the highly educated local human capital” that has been heavily affected by the crisis-induced unemployment. PWC Cyprus is one institution that has made it a mission to support innovation, which ranks high on its agenda, together with identifying emerging trends that will push the economy forward. The realization of such potential most likely came with the first sale of a Cyprus-registered tech company, the Israeli-founded messaging app Viber, sold in February 2014 to the Japanese company Rakuten for USD 900 million.
Viber was not the only international innovative company to realize the benefits of setting up in Cyprus, a business-friendly environment, based on English common law but with one fifth of costs of running a business in London and strategically positioned at the crossroad of three continents. Valued at USD 1.5 billion and 150-million-global-users-strong, the Belarusian founded Wargaming also chose Cyprus as its base.
Disruptive technology is making its way to mainstream business practices all over the world and the Cypriot entrepreneurs have understood that in this field everything is up for grabs. Major startup events such as Startup Live and Startup Weekend came to Cyprus, together with accelerators and incubators aimed at bridging the knowledge gap for the early stage startup founder.  Given the small size of the island, the entrepreneurs are forced to think globally from day one and that has proven particularly successful for startup companies that have reached the crucial milestone of becoming international players.
The most successful local example of research and innovation making the difficult crossover to the global market place as a solid business venture is NIPD Genetics, a biotech company that commercializes a noninvasive method of prenatal testing. Developed initially at the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics, a major research center, the Veracity test is a screening procedure based on the analysis of the fetal DNA to identify possible genetic disorders like Down Syndrome, Edwards Syndrome, and Patau Syndrome and determine the sex of the child. It has a rate of above 99 percent accuracy and it can be performed starting with the tenth week of the pregnancy through a blood draw which eliminates the risk of the invasive procedure of amniocentesis which has a 1 percent risk of fetal loss.
A revolutionary method for which the patent was obtained in 2011, not only highly accurate but also very affordable, it received international acclaim and its penetration is quickly spreading through Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
NIPD Genetics has since raised EUR 5 million for the initial start-up phase, has won research grants worth EUR 2 million from the European Union, and is currently engaged in a new round of funding which will allow it to grow at a faster rate in a sector that is expected to reach a 30 percent growth each year. The company is one of only two European companies in the field, and one of the seven globally with 4 companies operating in USA and one in China.
The government does its part in supporting the innovation and technology initiatives by including the Research and Technology fund on the list of possible investment options for the applicants to the residence and citizenship program, who can choose to make an EUR 500,000 donation to the fund in the process of acquiring the Cypriot nationality.
By Ioana Belu

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