There are a million reasons for budding Greek entrepreneurs in America to thank Greek American Venetia Kontogouris and her husband Zoran Djokic. The couple has just decided to pledge $1 million to endow a scholarship for entrepreneurial international students from Greece.
Their goal is to assist Greek students, who would otherwise not be able to afford a Northeastern University education, and bring entrepreneurial thinking to their studies. It is their hope that these students will return to Greece to build a stronger, more diverse economy.
Kontogouris, a Northeastern University trustee (former graduate, class of 1974), and Djokic said their $1 million investment, part of which will come to Northeastern University through a charitable gift annuity, will assist Greek students seeking to bring entrepreneurial thinking to their studies.
“We realized that by teaching Greek students that it’s possible to develop new ideas and start businesses through entrepreneurship, we could help them rebuild their economy,” says Djokic.
“Northeastern’s international students are determined to acquire the knowledge, skills, and experience that will allow them to build stronger economies and communities at home and abroad,” said President Joseph E. Aoun. “Thanks to Venetia and Zoran, generations of talented students will have the opportunity to attain the education necessary to make a difference, both for Greece and for our global economy.”
Kontogouris and Djokic also want their gift to inspire other alumni, parents, and friends to step forward and invest in Northeastern’s students.
“I believe in our youth globally, because they look at the world very differently – and that’s an enormous opportunity for new enterprises to create new jobs and new possibilities,” says Kontogouris, whose Connecticut-based venture capital firm Venkon Group, LLC, invests in early-stage information technology companies worldwide.
Her dedication to fledgling entrepreneurs comes from her own pioneering spirit. Born and raised in Athens, she arrived to the United States to study at Northeastern University. Her perspective as an outsider and her astute observations on American culture taught her the value of being nimble.
“Any human being with exposure to different cultures develops skills you cannot get by being exposed to a single way of life,” Kontogouris says. “A lot of my own insights are the result of being at ease in many different circumstances.”
After earning a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago, where she met Djokic, Kontogouris rose through the corporate ranks during stints at IBM, Dun & Bradstreet, and Cognizant Corporation. Executive positions in venture capital firms followed, including running a joint venture with Bain Capital and a tenure at Trident Capital, where she co-managed more than $1.7 billion in early-stage investments.
Kontogouris launched her own company, Venkon, in 2011.
In the midst of Greece’s financial crisis, she and Djokic began to focus on her native country, where they discerned an opportunity for education to power economic change.
“It’s our hope that people from other countries will be moved to build a bridge linking the youth of their own country, Northeastern, and that country’s future,” said Kontogouris. “We can do our part to drive the economy forward. The world is changing, nothing is staying constant. We cannot stay put as the rest of the world moves ahead.”