SOCIETY

Dutch-powered Orange Grove incubator celebrates first year of nurturing start-ups

“Can you hear me without a microphone? I’ve learned to speak loudly because before my diplomatic career I was a windsurfing instructor,” the ambassador of the Netherlands, Jan Versteeg, said with a smile at the beginning of a press conference to inform local media about the accomplishments of the Orange Grove business initiative after its first year.

In that time the project has provided the opportunity for dozens of young Greeks to test the strength of their business plans. The idea for the initiative was sparked by the ambassador’s own desire to help. He found that one of the biggest problems was unemployment among those under the age of 40, as well as the difficulty of starting a business in the country’s currently punishing economic climate. Versteeg also observed that Greece was losing some of its most gifted people to other countries which could offer them better professional opportunities.

The diplomat appealed to Dutch companies that do business in Greece as well as to Greek firms and educational institutions to help create Orange Grove. After the application and selection process, 47 start-ups out of 90 aspiring entrepreneurs under the age of 35 were invited to join the Orange Grove program.

Their selection means that they have a free workplace (light, water, telephone and Internet are paid for), but also something more important, explained the ambassador: the opportunity for all those dynamic and optimistic minds to exchange ideas and use support from Orange Grove to help their start-ups grow.

Out of the new businesses in the program, two have managed to go it alone, two others closed, nine people left to take up other employment full time and 34 have stayed with the program. A total of 20 start-ups in the program, which is assisted by 100 experts, are managing to turn a profit.

Orange Grove participants are young entrepreneurs active in the fields of information technology, tourism and agricultural product promotion, among others.

“I often hear Orange Grove members say that all of their friends have moved abroad and they’re the only ones that have stayed behind. Our incubator is not a school that takes the child by the hand but we do try to provide an atmosphere that can help an idea become a reality,” said Versteeg, adding that “it’s not important if you fail; what’s important is to try.”

What’s unusual, according to the ambassador, is that donors and investors he had contacted found it difficult to believe that the start-ups’ business plans were so well organized. He also pointed out that he would like to encourage more young Greeks to enter the business world and have a go, saying that most are either poorly informed or reluctant.

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For more information on Orange Grove, visit www.orangegrove.biz.