Going Dutch: Promoting Entrepreneurship,Innovation,and Sharing

Stella Ronner-Grubačić, the Netherlands Ambassador to Greece, says the Orange Grove initiative supported 181 innovative Greek start-ups since the peak of the crisis, more than half of which are still up and running. Now, its sights are set on leaving a footprint beyond the capital.

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GIG: Since 2013, 170 start-ups have been a part of Orange Grove. What sectors are they from?

Stella Ronner-Grubačić Netherlands Ambassador to Greece

Ronner-Grubačić: Orange Grove was launched in September 2013 as a platform to promote entrepreneurship and knowledge sharing. Ever since it was founded, 181 start-ups have been supported, 53% of which are still up and running. Start-ups are offered, among other things, tailor-made mentoring, coaching and consulting, a chance to participate in competitions like The Squeeze, seminars, boot camps, workshops, and unique networking opportunities.

Start-ups from all sectors of the Greek economy are welcome to apply. Most start-ups, however, are operative in the sectors of agri-food, tourism, health, social entrepreneurship, and services-software solutions. Education, fashion, and marketing are also well-represented sectors. What’s more, over 60% of the Orange Grove start-ups are tech-related.

GIG: What kind of results have you seen derived from the incubation services you provide?

Stella Ronner-Grubačić Netherlands Ambassador to Greece

Ronner-Grubačić: Orange Grove is an initiative by the Netherlands Embassy, launched initially as a three-year project in 2013 with financial support from Dutch corporates operating in Greece and Greek philanthropic foundations. The initiative was set up when Greece was facing a difficult financial situation, and we saw an important need to support the field of start-ups and innovation through know-how transfer from abroad. Our embassy’s aim was to contribute to reducing brain drain and youth unemployment, and to help young (Greek) people find their way in Greece.

During its six years of operation, we have provided the Orange Grove start-ups with international know-how and guidance during their first entrepreneurial steps. We have worked together with experienced executives and experts in the field, from Greece and abroad, and organised seminars, workshops, boot camps, and innumerable 1:1s and consultations. Today, after being in operation for almost six years, we stand proud of the results of Orange Grove and its start-ups.

By promoting early-stage entrepreneurship in the form of a start-up incubator, we have tried to provide a spark in the Greek economy. Our efforts have translated into real impact: sustainable businesses were set up, job positions created, and investments were made. Moreover, talented youngsters chose a future in Greece rather than to live abroad. Also, on a policy level we have been able to introduce policy decision makers from abroad to Greece’s local start-up ecosystem.

GIG: Your two acceleration programmes involved one business in healthcare and another in agri-food. Agri-food is a growing business in Greece, offering many local entrepreneurs the opportunity to expand abroad. Can you tell us a little about the profile of the agri-food business involved in the programme? How did it benefit from Orange Grove?

Stella Ronner-Grubačić Netherlands Ambassador to Greece

Ronner-Grubačić: Since its launch, Orange Grove has organised multiple incubation programmes, masterclasses, pitching competitions, and earlier in 2019 also a junior entrepreneurship programme for high school students called The Squeeze. In 2019 we took the next step and introduced two acceleration programmes, which were sector-specific and more intensive. The first was in Health-Tech and, the most recent one, in Agri-Food.

For the Agri-Food acceleration programme, Orange Grove joined forces with the U.S. Embassy in Athens as part of a collaboration between the U.S. and the Netherlands for the organisation of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit that took place in The Hague in June 2019. During the three-month programme, the participating start-ups received intensive 1:1 support and training from some of the best validation and start-up growth experts in the Netherlands, Orange Grove, and mentors from large corporations. The start-ups worked on customer development, branding, positioning, growth hacking, go-to-market strategies, and much more.

The acceleration programme focusing on agri-food attracted various innovative start-ups in the field of agri-food and tech: from start-ups reviving local, traditional products, to innovative technological applications, vegan initiatives, and indoor garden technologies.

Building on the experience of all the programmes we have implemented, we now plan to organise similar programmes at various locations around Greece.

GIG: Where do Greek start-ups need the most help?

Stella Ronner-Grubačić Netherlands Ambassador to Greece

Ronner-Grubačić: This question can be answered in two ways: the specific help Greek start-ups can benefit from and the economic and social context within which they operate their business.

Any start-up can benefit from working on the scale of their business, finding relevant contacts and working within a supportive, creative, and enabling environment. That is what Orange Grove offers: a vast network of international experts and investors, media exposure, a bridge to international markets, support from its mentors, coaches and Entrepreneurs in Residence, and training by professionals from all over the world.

On the other hand, the economic and social context in which start-ups operate is equally important. We have often asked what young entrepreneurs want to see improved in Greece. Their answers include less bureaucracy, a more stable taxation system, and – above all – more meritocracy. Young entrepreneurs want to see a change in mentality. We believe Orange Grove has made its contribution to improve on these points, which we want to keep offering in the coming years.

Improving Greece’s competitiveness is crucial for its economy, and should be a priority for any Greek government. Cutting red tape and simplifying bureaucratic procedures, for example, are important steps. Contributing to Greece’s competitiveness will be a priority for Orange Grove in the next few years as well. By improving competitiveness, better opportunities can be created for young entrepreneurs to grow and prosper.

We believe the tide is already turning. In the Netherlands, too, we have discovered that the economies that recover best from an economic crisis are the ones that also pay attention to the micro-economic dimension, and that modernise themselves through innovation and by endorsing a new style of sustainable entrepreneurship. Orange Grove is there to support that. The newly elected government has set high ambitions for improving the business climate and realising sustainable economic growth. The first signs of improvement are visible: the economy is showing growth, unemployment levels are dropping, trust in the economy is higher, and Greece is attracting increasing interest from abroad.

GIG: What do you believe are their strengths?

Stella Ronner-Grubačić Netherlands Ambassador to Greece

Ronner-Grubačić: Greece has a lot of human capital to offer, and it is great to see young Greeks taking their future into their own hands and starting their own companies. The level of knowledge, creativity, and innovation among young people in Greece is impressive! We have had experts visiting from more advanced start-up ecosystems like San Francisco, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, and Dublin. Orange Grove has shown them ‘the other side’ of the previous economic crisis: the presence of a new generation and new opportunities that are being both created and seized. We have also welcomed to Orange Grove Greek politicians, from the entire political spectrum, to meet our start-ups and talk about the obstacles that start-ups face.

A new generation of entrepreneurs is gaining self-confidence in Greece. However, the importance of innovation for an economy is still underestimated. We believe start-ups are an integral part of a modern economy. Start-ups can play a pivotal role in Greece’s economic recovery. They can attract more foreign investments, lure highly skilled talent, and recast struggling cities as epicentres of innovation. Their often-disruptive character makes them approach matters in a different way. Modern economies focus on sustainable development and innovative entrepreneurship, which is not about protecting established markets but about inventing new ones, and about generating new ideas. In that regard, we want to provide more best practices from the Netherlands and elsewhere in order to contribute to the current effort to modernise the Greek economy.

At the embassy, we see the Greek government actively looking for inspiration and best practices from abroad. During Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ visit to the Netherlands, he showed interest for Dutch entrepreneurship and expertise on economic diplomacy. This creates opportunities for the Netherlands and Greece to strengthen their ties and build further on our already existing cooperation. Close cooperation between the embassy, Orange Grove, its start-ups, and the local business community is something my embassy believes in and happily supports.

GIG: What does the future hold for Orange Grove?

Stella Ronner-Grubačić Netherlands Ambassador to Greece

Ronner-Grubačić: As Orange Grove was approaching six years of existence, we sat down and evaluated our initiative’s mission, our activities, and our impact since its launch. Looking back, I believe Orange Grove has definitely left its mark on the start-up ecosystem in Athens. Over the last few years, new high-quality initiatives have been launched in Athens in the field of innovation and start-ups. This is a development we much welcome.

Hence, Orange Grove has reached a point where we feel its goal to effectively contribute to bringing innovation and start-ups to Greece is achieved. Today, start-ups in Athens can find support in various directions. However, similar support is not as strong beyond Athens. In fact, we see a large gap in supporting entrepreneurship outside Greece’s largest urban areas. Therefore, through Orange Grove, we want to keep contributing to the economy in transforming and improving its competitiveness. We want to do this in two ways:

  1. Orange Grove is shifting its activities beyond Athens: through the activities Orange Grove has organised in the past outside of Athens, we have seen the talent and potential that is out there. We want to focus especially on towns with a large young population and with present academic institutions. We want to make the programmes, experience, and network Orange Grove has built over the years more accessible to the rest of Greece. This will be realised by reinforcing our Orange Grove Patras office, from which activities around Greece will be supported. Discussions are underway with local partners in different locations to set up programmes that fit the community’s needs.
  2. A platform for the transfer of know-how and best practices: Orange Grove is a platform that transfers know-how and best practices from the Netherlands and other countries. In the years to come, we want to invest more in this dimension of Orange Grove by designing more focused activities around this target. Furthermore, we wish to adopt activities that aim to enhance the interconnection between start-ups, corporates, universities, and government. We believe similar activities can contribute to the strengthening of the business environment and encourage the creation of innovative and sustainable businesses. We want to provide support for starting entrepreneurs, as well as support those looking to scale up their business. This, in turn, can contribute to making the Greek economy more outward-looking and attractive to foreign investment.
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