Europe’s Best Young Entrepreneur by Business Week – close enough, or not

About a month ago, I receive an email from Business Week, stating that I was one of the about 40 nominees for the Europe’s Best Young Entrepreneur 2008 contest. That was a really pleasant surprise, asking me to reply with more information on my business, next to confirming that I am 29 years old or younger, I am the founder or manager of my company, my company has been in business for five years or less and it is a viable, revenue-producing entity, not just a business plan.

I finally wasn’t happy enough to be included among the final entrants, and to my disappointment there is only one entrant from Southern Europe, but I think my reply mail is of an almost autobiographical value you may find of interest (event it is kind of outdated one month afterwards), so I’m attaching it hereby:

Dear ****,

first of all, I’m really thrilled of receiving such an invite and I need to thank you for this tremendous opportunity. To be honest, my first thought was that I’m just not eligible for participating (we have yet to host hundreds of thousands of users in our web service and I’m definitely not a millionaire, for the time being at least). However, giving it a second thought, I decided to tell you my humble story, you being the judge. So, here it goes.

Originally a researcher, I was interested in everything related to forecasting. I got my Diploma in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering with a thesis attempting to predict -using artificial intelligence techniques- the future stock prices in Athens stock exchange. Right after that I was self forced to continue researching the field of forecasting, starting a PhD in Operations Research (both Diploma and PhD from National Technical University of Athens).

I focused initially on machine learning and data mining (the expertise I gained from the latter one enabled me to teach a relevant course at post graduate level, all of which was made through a blog, you may find more about that here), but the attraction was almost instant when I found out about the innovative use of markets as a forecasting mechanism, the so-called ‘prediction markets’. So, I switched focus, mastering the subject while making some academic contributions and attempting to make a name in the field, to realize that my theoretical / algorithmic contributions also needed some actual implementation and a web application to be tested at (by nature, prediction markets live on the web).

At this point, I was lucky enough to met up with Efthimios Mpothos, who later on proved to be my co-founder and true soulmate. Thimios was a PhD researcher at NTUA, studying prediction markets, too (actually we probably were the only researchers on the field in Greece, yet struggling to find some time to finish up our PhD dissertations), while possessing a stronger technical background than mine. We immediately decided to join forces and scale up our targets, from an experimental application needed just for our research, to a rock solid web service and potentially the best prediction market offering around the globe.

So, we started working together in the lab, initially during the weekends, trying to simplify the concept of prediction markets as much as possible and bring its potential into the masses. And we founded AskMarkets UnLtd about one year ago, to host our work, devotion and vision.

Le me describe you the latter: Markets by their very nature bring people together, they sum up their information and transmit it through prices. We intend to bring this functionality to the masses, by enabling anyone to create a virtual market or trade in markets already created by others. You may visualize it as the concept of stock markets brought into your everyday life, as a market game or a social bet, also as a dynamic survey or the next generation of polls. But, no matter how you visualize it, the tool aggregates the opinions and knowledge of the many and transforms these into a meaningful result, more accurate than the opinions of the few experts and faster than every other decision support mechanism.

You may take a look at all these at http://askmarkets.com, which is our default marketplace and a demonstration of the potential of our services (we’re putting this out of private beta this week, so don’t expect to find that much traffic there), while we offer separate marketplaces as a paid service. An example of these is what you can find at http://techcrunch.askmarkets.com (we’re launching this marketplace for the biggest tech blog in the globe in the following week) and, while we’re still finalizing our product and we haven’t yet launched our service platform out and loud (we’re counting down to next week for that, too), we do already have some big clients from europe and america (the only name I’m allowed to tell you is ********) and income.

Apart from AskMarkets, we have also created http://websource.it, a simple tool which you may find useful, especially if you work all day editing and refining texts, plus I happened to launched yesterday another start-up, http://datamine.it, providing data mining services.

Another activity of mine which you may find of interest and related to the contest, while I do consider it as one of my most important achievements, if any, regards Open Coffee Greece. I happen to be the initiator and principal organizer of Open Coffee meetups and events in Greece, for the last one and a half year. And even if we started with virtually no interest in startups and entrepreneurship in general, we have managed to organize about 30 events countrywide (maybe the most successful Open Coffee meetings around the globe), gathering hundreds of people in each one, inviting great speakers and finally managed to create a vibrant start-up community from scratch, giving birth to a bunch of companies out of thin air. You may find more about this activity at http://opencoffee.gr, we were also privileged enough to co-host a relevant session with Jennifer Schenker of BusinessWeek at Stream 08 a few months ago in Athens.

All that said, I do apologize about the extent of this email (it looks more like an interview, rather than an one-paragraph introduction to my entrepreneurial activities after all) and I do remain at your disposal for any further information needed.

Thank you again for what is to me a great honor, at least.

Kind regards,
George Tziralis