Greek geek central is a light, bright, very white space off Athens' main shopping street, furnished with cheap desks and chairs from Ikea and an expensive – and well used – coffee machine. They don't do despondent here. At coLab you can get a desk, free broadband and as much coffee as you can drink for €10 a day or €140 a month Or you can rent a small office for not much more.

Some of the dozen small startups that do are world leaders in their field. BugSense, for instance, though barely a year old, is used by more than 4,500 mobile developers around the world to track and analyse crash reports from their apps. It recently turned down a £1m takeover bid. Others have already outgrown coLab, as this space is called.

TaxiBeat, a mobile app that allows taxi drivers to advertise where they are and passengers to hail them, is doubling its business every two months and has expanded into Latin America and Scandinavia.

These are Greek ideas, launched by young Greek entrepreneurs; most of them with a PhD or master's in what is poetically termed the internet-mobile-software triangle.

"It is quite a new phenomenon," says Andreas Constantinou of VisionMobile, which analyses the mobile telecoms industry. "Greece has always had bright minds, but for generations a public sector job was the only goal. Decent pay, job for life, early retirement. That's no longer the case. And new technology – apps – mean people can concretise their ideas."