Serbian President Boris Tadic has announced he is resigning.
He still has 10 months of his current term of office to serve, but the move will allow him to stand for re-election on 6 May.
Parliamentary elections are already scheduled to take place on that date, and the move is seen as a tactic to help his Democratic Party’s campaign.
Mr Tadic says he will formally submit his resignation to the speaker of the Serbian parliament on Thursday.
Mr Tadic, who’s keen to build closer links with the European Union, will face a strong challenge from the nationalist candidate Tomislav Nikolic.
An 80-year-old US woman with little flying experience has staged an emergency landing in Wisconsin after her pilot husband collapsed and died.
Helen Collins remained calm as she brought the small Cessna plane in to land at Cherryland Airport, even though she said she knew her husband was dead.
She had taken basic lessons in taking off and landing 30 years ago, her son told the Associated Press news agency.
James Collins, also a trained pilot, helped guide his mother down via radio.
Mrs Collins and her husband John were coming back from their holiday home in Florida when he suffered a fatal heart attack in the cockpit.
She called the police and local pilot Robert Vuksanovic went up in another small plane to try to help guide the Cessna down.
The plane had almost completely run out of fuel by the time she landed at the small airport in Sturgeon Bay and had only one functioning engine.
It skidded down the runway for about 1,000ft (305m) before coming to a halt.
“She was calmer than everybody on the ground. She had it totally under control,” James Collins told AP.
“The amazing thing is she landed that plane on one engine – I don’t know if there are a lot of trained pilots that could do that.
“I already knew I lost my dad; I didn’t want to lose my mom. It could have been both of them at once.”
Local resident Torry Lautenbach watched the Cessna land and estimated that Mrs Collins circled the airport about 10 times.
“She did a really good job. It was amazing. It took one bad hop and then it came back down and skidded.”
Mrs Collins was taken to hospital with injuries to her back and ribs but is expected to be released within the next few days.
At least 28 people – including 22 children – have been killed in a coach crash in a tunnel in Switzerland.
Another 24 children were injured in the crash near Sierre, in the canton of Valais, close to the border with Italy.
The coach, carrying 52 people back to Belgium, hit a wall in the tunnel head-on late on Tuesday. Both of the coach’s drivers were among those killed.
The children, from the Belgian towns of Lommel and Heverlee, were returning home after a skiing holiday.
Belgium’s Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who is travelling to the scene of the crash, said: “This is a tragic day for all of Belgium.”
The bus crashed shortly after 21:00 (20:00 GMT) on Tuesday.
In Brussels, the Belgian foreign ministry said most of the children were aged around 12, and the bus was one of three hired by a Christian group. The other two reached Belgium safely.
The children had spent a week skiing in Val d’Anniviers in the Swiss Alps.
Those on board the bus that crashed were from ‘t Stekske primary school in Lommel, close to the Dutch border, and from Sint Lambertusschool in Heverlee, near Leuven.
Some of the injured were flown by helicopters to hospitals in Lausanne, Bern and other Swiss cities.
Swiss prosecutor Olivier Elsig told a news conference the bus was new, or nearly new, and was equipped with safety belts.
In a tunnel where the speed limit is 100km/h (62 mph), Mr Elsig said the bus collided with the right-hand wall and then hit, head-on, a concrete wall that forms part of an emergency access section. An investigation is under way.
More than 200 people and eight helicopters were involved in the rescue operation.
Swiss journalist Ruth Seeholzer told the BBC that the two-lane tunnel was not busy with traffic when the accident happened and driving conditions were normal.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said: “It is incomprehensible. There were three buses and only one was in an accident, without any contact with another vehicle.”
A helpline for families has been set up, and many relatives are expected to arrive in Switzerland later.
Belgium has made two aircraft available to take them to Switzerland.
Belgium’s ambassador to Switzerland, Jan Luykx, has travelled to the crash site.
He said: “This tragedy will hit the whole of Belgium. The magnitude of the accident is difficult to take in. For the moment I am concentrating on the practical aspects. The emotional side will come when we meet the families.”
The head of the Valais region, Jacques Melly, expressed his deep sadness at the accident, sending his condolences to the families of the victims and praising the rescuers for their work in “extremely difficult conditions”.
Unlike innovators in Silicon Valley, who have the luxury of rolling out new ideas with no real plan for making money, Greek entrepreneurs are laser-focused on launching businesses that will put them in the black – fast. And they’re coming up with unique business models to do it — outside of Greece. Greek entrepreneurs are making money by taking their start-ups to the rest of the world.
Dealingers.com is one such example. An e-commerce site founded by Jacko Carasso and Ilias Pantelakis, Dealingers is sort of a reverse eBay. The items it carries are exclusively brand-new, high-end and luxury goods, such as iPhones, iPads and Louis Vuitton apparel. Unlike the popular auction site that markets products at the lowest possible price that then go up as people compete on bids, items on Dealingers start out at full retail. That’s where the “falling price race” begins.
Customers on Dealingers compete to get an item at the lowest possible price, which is in some cases zero, by purchasing clicks. Each click is valued at €1. The minimum packet of clicks a user can buy is €10. The cost of a given item goes down with each click by fifty cents. (The other fifty cents keeps Carasso and Pantelakis in operation.)
“Even if a user is checking the price, they automatically reduce the product’s actual price,” Pantelakis says. They are also contributing to Dealingers’s gross margin.
While Dealingers offers users to compete to get items for free, it also provides the option to purchase an item once it hits half-off. “That’s for the people that don’t want to gamble too much,” Pantelakis says.
Gambling is precisely what the two 25-year old childhood friends are hoping will make Dealingers a hit. Though the platform feeds off of the popularity of on-line shopping and discount sites such as Gilt Groupe and Groupon, it evolves around the success social gaming and gambling have had on the Web. And that has been one of its challenges.
“The legal barriers to this type of a model are really high,” Carasso says. Lottery and gaming licensing is expensive and takes months. Not every country will register this type of a platform.
Carasso and Pantelakis aren’t willing to roll it out in every country. They’re beta testing Dealingers in Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. They’re working on bringing their platform, registered in Malta, to the United States later this year. But as for their home country? Not even on the radar at this point.
“We’re not considering Greece,” the two Greek founders say. Not only is the market too small (11 million), but “Greeks aren’t big Internet users and are scared of buying online,” Carasso says. The two entrepreneurs are targeting scale. “If we do this right we plan to break even by 2013,” he says.
Scale is what StartersFund is also focused on. An equity-based crowdfunding platform, it is another Greek start-up with a unique business model that is already generating revenue. Like Dealingers, StartersFund also uses a credit system to invest in start-ups or start-up ideas from all over the world. Users buy credits, each also valued at €1, then “vote” for listed projects. “Supporters can vote for as many ideas they like or provide multiple votes for a single idea,” says co-founder Paulius Uza, a Lithuanian national. His partner is Greek lawyer Constantinos Parissis.
“When an idea has received the targeted number of votes, the votes are converted into shares,” Uza says. StartersFund, not the individual, then invests those shares, avoiding the legal and regulatory landmine that plagued equity-based crowdfunding site Profounder, which is now shutting down. StartersFund bears the liability. It does not, however, reap the profits. The company only takes a percentage of funds generated by credit purchases. It gains nothing from any investment, guaranteeing that users are the beneficiaries.
Though it is not, as the company claims, the “first service in the industry that leaves the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) model,” (UK-based Crowdcube is already doing this) it is does act as a pseudo-venture capital firm. StartersFund helps start-ups with legal challenges, accounting and hiring talent. “We follow through on what happens after the funding,” Uza says, in order to ensure a startup’s success. “We aim to be the Swiss Army Knife in the crowdfunding business,” he says, hoping to carve out a mass following that people are confident in. They’ve rolled it out in Greece and are looking to take it to Europe. “We’re watching the U.S. as well, hoping to apply our model once the (crowdfunding) law is passed,” Uza says.
Startersfund will be competing with many other crowdfunding platforms eager to break into the U.S. market, where there is no lack of investors to begin with. How it and its highly human capital-intensive model will fare under such circumstances remains to be seen. What is clear is that it, along with Dealingers and a number of other Greek start-ups, is not wasting any time on launching and iterating as it goes along.
As the European Union drags its feet on releasing a bailout package that would prevent the Greek economy from going bankrupt while also requiring the Greek government to implement steep austerity measures, time is against Greek techies. Their government has already cut key loan guarantees and grants that have marginally helped the fledgling start-up scene. Banks are no longer lending.
“If you look at the total revenues of the Greek stock market, we’re really aren’t in a bull period; there isn’t a lot of money flying around here,” says Georgios Kasselakis, a partner at the Open Fund, a seed investment fund based in Athens. He says if his country’s entrepreneurs are to succeed, they have no choice but to drive revenues from the beginning and think globally.
“They have to come up with business models that generate money immediately because there is no investment community that will give them the slack. No investor in Greece would say, ‘Here’s a million, do your R&D for a couple of years and we’ll talk again,’” Kasselakis says.
In today’s Greece, there is little time for talking. The country is racing in a game of survival.
Elmira Bayrasli writes about global entrepreneurship and innovation in her weekly blog, Entreventures, on Forbes. She is writing a book about the obstacles to global entrepreneurship. You can follow her on Twitter @endeavoringE.
Top photo: The Acropolis, by Stefanos Kofopoulos/Flickr
- Fitch ratings agency upgrades Greece (seattletimes.nwsource.com)