Daily Archives: August 16, 2015

  • Venture Fair in Athens gives Greek EVOO entrepreneurs newfound hope

    There was a wide array of participating businesses, from agriculture to tourism, transport, to logistics and shipping.

    A day before the Greek government announced the referendum and four days before it imposed capital controls, the first-ever venture fair was held in Greece. After five years of a crippling recession, the Greek economy was on the road to recovery for the first time this year with a forecast of 3 percent GDP growth. However the past few months have seen the Greek economy take a turn for the worse: after a disastrous standoff with its international creditors and the imposition of capital controls, the GDP is now expected to drop by -3 percent to 2.5 percent, and the “real” economy has nosedived bringing enormous setbacks to businesses, particularly SME’s which are effectively isolated and unable to pay their international suppliers. At a time when the whole notion of entrepreneurship in Greece was being tested, this venture fair was seen as a ray of hope and a chance for business people to meet potential investors from all over the world.

    The fair was hosted by The Hellenic Initiative, an international movement run by members of the Greek diaspora, that seeks to bolster Greek entrepreneurship. Over the past few years, the group has promoted various charitable activities — but most importantly economic recovery initiatives which have — understandably — often been neglected as crisis relief became the center of most charitable activities in Greece.

    The event, which more than 100 European and American investors attended, took place behind closed doors at the Hilton Athens at the end of June. The notion that Greece is not the most hospitable environment for business is most likely taken as fact by now. As Achilles Konstantakopoulos, chairman and CEO of ΤEMES, noted in his brief introduction speech: “Greeks have to face bureaucracy as well as the market.”

    George Stamas, the co-founder of The Hellenic Initiative, explained in his own speech how the venture fair coincides with “some of the hardest times that Greece has faced to this day.”

    During the event, 19 up-and-coming Greek companies had the opportunity to present their businesses. Each had five minutes. After the presentations, the judges’ panel, which consisted of experienced business executives (often Greeks of the diaspora themselves) from around the world, provided feedback, observations, and advice to the participants.

    Especially impressive were the businesses that have traditional Greek commercial activity, but also innovate. One such example is Terra Creta, a company based in Kolymvari, Crete, that manages something quite difficult: to produce extra virgin olive oil in large quantities, and has already expanded to the American market through the online channel QVC. As presenter Fotis Sousalis explained, the reason they wanted to attend the venture fair was to find partners with whom to expand in the American market in a more organized manner. The judges were particularly impressed by Terra Creta’s “traceability,” i.e. the possibility for the consumer to “trace” their olive oil. By inputting the five digit lot number of each olive oil product on the company’s website, the consumer can trace back the olive oil to its place of origin (even down tot the exact olive grove!) as well as see its chemical analysis and date of production.

    Ideas in other less “sexy” areas were also successful: The judges’ interest was monopolized by Join Cargo. Greek-Dutch Roxanne Koutsolouka’s company is a web services platform that matches companies wishing to carry goods with carriers who need loads to fill their trucks. “Many trucks are almost empty. Our job is to fill those trucks,” said Ms. Koutsolouka during her presentation.

    Another very good impression was made by Owiwi (a company HuffPost Greece covered months earlier) which aspires, as co-founder Elias Vartholomaios explained to the attendees, to sell the notion of job recruitment through video games. It was by no means the only “online” based business at the fair.

    Incrediblue is already in business chartering yachts (with or without a captain and crew) and as its founder, Antonis Fiorakis, explained, they came to the venture fair “looking to expand.” Then there was Yolenis, which aspires to become the most successful online delicatessen of Greek products worldwide, while Park Around helps solve the issue of finding parking with an app.

    Almost all companies and judges expressed their enthusiasm for the first Greek venture fair despite the setbacks and hardships of the Greek market. “I think that as a team, we learned a lot from all this,” said Stratis Andreadis, the co-founder of Saltybag, a company from Corfu that manufactures bags from used sails.

    Conditions for Greek entrepreneurship remain difficult and things will likely stay challenging for a while. But as Kurt Heiar, professor at the University of Iowa and collaborator of the Hellenic Initiative, said when referring to the 19 entrepreneurs who took part in the venture fair, risk and uncertainty are part of everyday life for an entrepreneur: “We live with uncertainty, we live with risk, that is what we do. We are not afraid of uncertainty or the threatening winds blowing in the world of politics. We shall move on, we shall succeed and we shall make our dreams a reality.”

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    There was a wide array of participating businesses, from agriculture to tourism, transport, to logistics and shipping. A day before the Greek government announced the referendum and four days before it imposed capital controls, the first-ever venture fair was held in Greece.... 
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  • Olive Farmers using fly traps get rid of a destructive pest, without the chemicals

    Next time you drizzle olive oil on your salad, give a thought to the larvae of the olive fly, which love olives as much as you do. Every year in Catalonia, Spain, farmers have to fight these pests so they don’t ruin the year’s crop. The customary method is to spray with insecticides, but in recent years a simpler weapon has gained favor: the olive fly trap.

    The female olive fly is slightly larger than the male, and can be spotted by the spike at the end of its abdomen. This spike is used to inject eggs into the olive flesh while they are still on the tree. When the eggs hatch, the young feed on the olive pulp.

    These flies are endemic to the Baix Ebre and the Montsià regions of Catalonia. In 2014, 40% of the harvest was lost to olive flies and drought. Spraying can be effective, but is a big job, has to be repeated, and is less effective when it’s windy because the spray just blows away. This year, 400,000 traps were deployed to try a different approach.

    The trap is as simple as it gets. Supplied as flat sheets of plastic, the traps are twisted into a cone shape on site and hung from trees. Instead of the usual liquid bait, these traps use a solid attractant (mostly diammonium phosphate) contained in a sachet made of a porous membrane. Imagine those little sachets of desiccant you find in your new electronics and you’ll be close enough. These packets are moistened overnight by dew, ready to bait flies in the morning. The traps work all season long, and keep going through the winter which, thanks to the pleasant local climate, isn’t always cold enough to kill off the flies.

    Holes on the top let flies walk in, but they can’t fly back out. And that’s it. Farmers like them because they work in the wind, and once you’ve hung it on the tree it keeps going. The traps are effective too, if they’re deployed properly. To work most successfully, the majority of an area must be blanketed by traps. In a trial in June of this year, technician Quique Pedret managed to cover 20,000 of the 27,000 hectares in the test area, partly due to the fact that farmers are enthusiastic about the low-maintenance traps.

    This is corroborated by Jordi Roig of Probodelt, the company that manufactures these traps. In a trial at a farm in Montsià, Probodelt found the traps to be more effective than spraying. Thanks to their long life, the traps can be spread over huge areas, and Roig estimates that just one trap per four trees gives optimum protection if the entire area is covered. ”

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    “This does’t means that the entire population is eliminated,” Roig told Barcelona’s Vanguardia newspaper. “The treatment will reduce the fly population.”

    But can these traps replace pesticide spraying by plane? Not completely, but they form an important part of the fight against olive flies.

    “It’s important to remember that the traps don’t replace other methods,” Jaume Gregori Puñet, a retired sustainable agriculture expert in the government of the Generalitat of Catalunya told Co.Exist. “In the case of very intense attack of the pest, crop spraying is necessary to achieve a satisfactory solution.”

    New government supplements are available to farmers who use the traps, which will help their popularity. But it’s also possible to make your own traps. In fact, when I started to research this article, the majority of the results were for DIY versions using old soft-drinks bottles, proving that some things—like farmers’ ingenuity and their drive never to waste anything—never change.

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    Next time you drizzle olive oil on your salad, give a thought to the larvae of the olive fly, which love olives as much as you do. Every year in Catalonia, Spain, farmers have to fight these pests so they don’t ruin the year’s crop. The customary method is to spray with insecticides,... 
    Read More →