This could be the start of Something Big
Orange Grove, through its regular Squeeze pitching battles and incubator tools, is helping to plant Greek entrepreneurs on the world stage, one start-up at a time. And to mark International Women’s Day, the next Squeeze event on March 8 will give extra focus to female participation in business with an all-female jury panel and workshops for women!
As Greece discovers that economic recovery is not just a matter of Eurozone bail-out programmes and macro-economic correction but also of modernizing through innovation, creative young Greeks are asserting themselves as start-up entrepreneurs.
Orange Grove, Greece’s first start-up incubator, came about in an unusual way. It was founded by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Athens, 4 years ago, with the firm belief that an unconventional approach was needed for Greeks to take a different look at economic opportunity.
Since then, Orange Grove has grown into a fully-fledged engine. It offers training, boot camps, a network of mentors and many international contacts. It has an Entrepreneur in Residence who advises start-ups: currently a young Dutch entrepreneur who co-founded a company that was acquired by eBay for 300 million dollars several years ago. Orange Grove is known for its many well-attended events. Each quarter, it organizes a pitching competition, called the Squeeze. A jury of entrepreneurs, investors and business representatives from all over the world picks the winners out of the participating start-ups, with €25.000 of pre-seed funding as prize money.
Greece needs a new mentality on the road to more competitiveness,” says the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Greece, Caspar Veldkamp.
“In the end, as a Eurozone country, helping to recover the Greek economy is in my own country’s interest.”
According to Natasha Apostolidi, director of the Orange Grove, “Greek start-ups are still undervalued compared to their American and European counterparts. But the Greek start-up scene is rapidly developing, its young entrepreneurs are showing the way by cultivating an innovative, creative and competitive mindset that Greece so desperately needs.”
What was the driving philosophy behind the creation of Orange Grove?
Orange Grove is an international incubator for young entrepreneurs. The aim is to help by providing them with a space where they can further nurture their talents: innovation, initiative, cooperation, flexibility. These are important elements that are very much needed – and often currently lacking – in order to create a modern and competitive Greek economy.
How did you get Orange Grove off the ground and what are its main spokes?
Thanks to the very positive and enthusiastic reaction of the Dutch companies in Greece, it was soon possible to raise a budget for Orange Grove. Heineken – Athenian Brewery – was the first company to agree and became our main sponsor. Soon many other Dutch companies followed and the list of sponsors, donors and contributors grew longer and longer. At Orange Grove we bring knowhow from the Netherlands and the rest of the world, in order to help our start-ups grow and succeed. We bring international speakers, organize workshops & bootcamps and our Squeeze pitching competition. We also have a voluntary mentor and coaching program, as well as our Entrepreneur in Residence program, through which experienced people from Greece and abroad, help our start-ups with their knowledge and expertise.
Do you think that post-crisis Greece is ripe for some new-world entrepreneurship? What are the key obstacles to setting up a start-up in Greece?
I definitely believe Greece is ready for innovative entrepreneurship. If you take a look at the startups we have at Orange Grove, you will see smart, young, highly educated people, with great ideas, working hard to achieve their goals. That doesn’t mean it is an easy task to set up a business in Greece, especially a start-up. There are still many difficulties in the legal and taxation sphere, as well as when it comes to access to funding. Now with the new equifunds this is changing very fast. But there still is a gap, when it comes to angel investors, who are very much needed in the first steps of a start-up.
What are some of the most interesting pitches you have come across at your regular Squeeze competitions?
During every Squeeze, 8 of our best start-ups pitch in front of an international jury for prize money (€15.000 and €10.000). It is hard to choose only a few examples, but just to give you an idea, during the last Squeeze our two winners were Kontolixima and Foodakai, two start-ups we are very proud of, since they have been working very hard at Orange Grove.
Kontolixima (kontolixima.gr) is an online platform for purchases of kontolixima products. The term “kontolixima”, in Greek, refers to products in excellent condition near the expiration date, but which haven’t expired yet. More specifically, it acts as a Nationwide facilitator linking companies that possess kontolixima products and companies that are interested in purchasing them.
FOODAKAI (www.foodakai.com) is an online system that allows easy access to all the global food safety information that a food company needs in order to manage the risk for all the ingredients that are used in its products. Using FOODAKAI a food company can identify the hidden and emerging risks for all its food products in an easy, reliable and affordable way.
How can one become an Orange Grove member? What are the benefits of being part of the OG Community?
Depending on the capacity of Orange Grove, we have an open call approximately every 6 months. Start-ups that are interested in participating to the programme, can register through our website www.orangegrove.eu. Once selected they have the right to use the workspace, to participate in the workshops & bootcamps and they are matched to a voluntary mentor and coach. Orange Grove gives start-ups a lot of opportunities to network and thus meet people who can potentially help out in one way or the other. Orange Grove doesn’t ask for equity from its start-ups, only a small participation fee (details can be found on our website).
Be part of The Squeeze at their next International Women’s Day-themed event on Thursday, March 8, from 18:00 until 22:00. Eight ambitious Orange Grove entrepreneurs will take the stage to present their innovative business ideas to an international panel of experts, in order to win €15,000 and €10,000 in seed money. The all-female jury comprises: Gigi Wang, Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship, UC Berkeley; Managing Partner, MG-Team, LLC; Hiro Athanassiou, former EVP and Managing Director Unilever Greece & Cyprus; and Myrto Papathanou, Partner at Metavallon VC. The presenter for the night will be Jan Franke founder of Franke Kramer Innovations.
Follow the event on Facebook for program details and registration information.