By Alexia Kefala
In an exclusive interview with in.gr, Caspar Veldkamp, the Ambassador of the Netherlands Athens, discusses entrepreneurship in Greece and the efforts of the Orange Grove start-ups to help with an Athens meeting.
What is going to happen on the 23rd?
On November 23d from 6 PM, a great event will take place at the Orange Grove start-up incubator, opposite the Kalimarmaro stadium in Athens.
The event is called The Squeeze and takes place about every three months. It is a pitching competition in which eight Greek start-up entrepreneurs present their company or project in an exciting setting. I expect hundreds of people to turn out, to enjoy free beer while watching the presentations.
Every startup has a maximum of five minutes to present itself. After each presentation the start-up will have to answer critical questions from a jury, which is made up of four experts from Greece and abroad. This time, we will fly in a jury member from the US as well as one from Amsterdam.
The winners receive 15,000 euro, as seed money to help their start-up grow. The runner-up wins 10,000 euro. It is always a great event, with a lively, informal atmosphere. It is attended by lots of young people, but also by investors from Greece and abroad, by journalists and many others. This time, TV-anchorwoman Sia Kossioni will kick off the show and introduce the jury.
How is the Orange Grove project developing ?
Orange Grove was initiated by the Dutch embassy several years ago, as a flexible co-working space for young Greek entrepreneurs. None of that existed yet in Greece! It has since grown into a fully-fledged start-up incubator. It provides start-ups with training, for which we fly in experts from the Netherlands. It also has a network of mentors from private companies. We also have two experienced ‘entrepreneurs in residence’. They coach start-ups about matters such as writing a business plan and the best way to approach potential clients. One of them is a young man who co-founded a company that was sold to eBay several years ago for 300 million dollar.
I am seeing a lot of recognition for what Orange Grove has achieved. Media from various countries have published articles about its startups. CEOs of major international companies, such as Philips, have visited to meet them. Embassies of such countries as the US, Israel, or France are working with us. Greek ministers and members of parliament from left to right have come to meet the start-uppers, who feel free to tell them about the tax burden or bureaucratic obstacles they face.
Are you surprised by Greek innovation today?
There is so much creativity among young people in Greece! We have had experts visiting from advanced start-up ecosystems such as Boston, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam or Berlin, and they were surprised about the level of talent here. When they hear about Athens, they first think of the crisis, but at Orange Grove they learn about a new generation and new opportunities in Greece.
By founding Orange Grove, we wanted to provide a spark of innovation to Greece. The focus of the media in Greece is often on fiscal matters, the bailout program and the latest meetings of the Eurogroup. These are important, but history has shown that countries that recover best from an economic crisis are those which innovate. Greece needs a new generation of entrepreneurship, which is not about protecting established markets but about inventing new ones, about generating new ideas.
CEOs of major companies in the Netherlands emphasize that start-ups are not only needed to create more jobs, but also help larger companies to think more ‘out of the box’. “Start-ups make elephants dance”, is what one of them says. We need a start-up mentality to refresh the Greek economy.
What is the key for a good project?
It is important to ask yourself several questions before founding a start-up. First, why do you want to do it? It makes a difference if you want to do it to get a job, if you see it as a chance to experiment with new technology, or if you do it because you expect a gain from selling the company later on. Secondly, you have to ask yourself if your strategy is sound. Will your idea generate sufficient money and growth? It has to be clear what your start-up will and won’t do. And finally, you should ask yourself if you can do it. Do you have the right talent and the right people in your team?
What I see in Greece is that the social status of start-up founders is still low. Youngsters are still afraid how their friends and family will judge them if their start-up idea does not lead to immediate success. I think there should be less fear of failure in Greece! Because if you are in your twenties, you found a start-up and two years later you conclude the idea doesn’t work, this is an affordable loss of time. You will probably have learned more than at an expensive MBA at an American business school. Increasingly, recruiters of large companies also see it this way.
Another problem in Greece is the lack of investment in start-ups. I am working on this, convincing investors from abroad to come to Greece and see how much talent is available, for example by showcasing start-up talent at events such as the Squeeze.
What kind of message could you send to young Greeks who have brilliant ideas, but don’t know how to deal with them?
Ο τολμών νικά! If you have a good idea, want to start a business and you are looking for an environment in which you can make it flourish – then Orange Grove is the place. Please do not leave Greece, the country needs you to build it up again and make it grow. In the end, this is also why it is in my country’s interest to support this project: as a fellow European country, we want to see Greece standing on its own feet again and become more competitive in the globalizing world. That is also why Dutch companies present in Greece have supported Orange Grove from the beginning: it is in their interest to see new dynamism in Greece and see new partners growing here. There is plenty of talent in Greece and so much creativity, let’s make it work!