The FINANCIAL -- A special photo taking and printing kiosk; online booking for visits to the doctor or hairdresser; studying languages online; doing charitable activities all via one card - are some of the recent innovative projects that have been started by young Georgian entrepreneurs under the age of 30. With over 10 years of experience as employees, these people all decided to quit their jobs and devote the whole of their energy to the implementation of their start-up plans. Do not be afraid of failure, and believe in your idea - is the main advice they give to anyone thinking of following in their footsteps.
The FINANCIAL met with the entrepreneurs cooperating with VEGA Start-up Laboratory. Founded in 2014, Vega Start-up Lab is a program designed to help aspiring entrepreneurs get two essential elements for successful start-up – knowledge and the money.
The company has initially considered over 400 projects; out of them, over 15 projects started working in their office. Eight of them were financed by VEGA.
“Think Global - is my main message for start-ups. I see a trend that over 95% of projects are still oriented on the domestic market,” Vasil Revishvili, Partner at Vega Startup Laboratory, told The FINANCIAL.
In Revishvili's words, the main risk related to any start-up business is its implementation from a technical point of view.
“The main mission and achievement of VEGA will be establishing a culture of entrepreneurship in Georgia. We want to give these young people an opportunity to cooperate in implementing their ideas and achieve many things together. Current economic development is directly linked to the IT sector. Accordingly, these entrepreneurs will bring huge benefits to our country as a whole,” Revishvili told.
Zaza Sichinava, 28, company ‘Registro’.
After leaving Komarovi School Sichinava graduated from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. After his graduation he returned to Tbilisi, Georgia, where he worked at various companies, including Beeline and Silk TV. Sichinava gained valuable experience from his time at those companies. Later, he decided to establish his own company. The first company he founded was Presto. The company has been providing various types of services for businesses, like CRM and reporting web portals. Working with leading Georgian companies Sichinava founded really interesting as it provided big experience for him. Finally, he decided to create a product that would be offered to many companies. Sichinava launched an inter-management programme for one aesthetics centre; he launched a programme that runs all reservation and booking processes. “It has really helped them to simplify their business process. This product worked so well that we decided to transform it into a dynamic product, a cloud system. It will attract companies from various fields that are serving consumers and require bookings. We registered the company ‘Registro’ and will soon start offering our product to businesses. We open an account for users. They then open the web via their browser. The only requirement is having internet access. Consumers can then make bookings online. It is convenient for both consumers and administrators, doctors, hairdressers and anyone serving consumers that require advance bookings from them. As the product is for mass consumers, the cost of the service is low. Currently we are in negotiations with companies and trying to explain the benefits of our product for their businesses,” said Sichinava.
According to Sichinava, starting a business in Georgia, especially when you do not have initial capital, is very difficult. “Meanwhile, having an aim is crucial. You should know why you are doing it. Facing problems is unavoidable. However, you should never give up. Look for new opportunities, new experiences. Any difficulty should be considered a new experience, not a barrier. Fighting for your goal is the key issue,” Sichinava shared.
“It is always easier to get stable work, with monthly income, rather than establish your own business and take on all the responsibilities. I always wanted to found my own company, however first I had to gain experience. There are huge opportunities around us. The only thing is finding the proper one, and managing it with a proper approach,” Sichinava told.
In order to succeed with your start-up initiative first of all you have to create a product which will be useful for others, Sichinava suggested. He believes that a successful project born in Georgia can be expanded abroad.
Sichinava sees his company developing in Georgia over the next year or two. After fulfilling it in Georgia he plans to export it abroad.
Gabriel Meliva, 29, Inventor of the ‘Fotorator’
Meliva worked at commercial banks for eight years. In 2013 the idea came to him to invent a photo printing kiosk. “Over time I had been taking lots of pictures via Instagram while on trips. When I returned from my trips I wanted to print these pictures but could never find a place to do it easily. I searched for such a kiosk on the internet but didn’t find any. So, I decided to create it myself,” Meliva told.
It took Meliva approximately nine month to set up the first kiosk, Fotorator. “It was established in the Pixel trading centre in Tbilisi. When I saw the potential for developing this business I quit my job at the bank. I gained support from VEGA Start-up Laboratory and also a state grant from GITA with plans to expand my business. The new model has three functions: print from Instagram, Bluetooth and taking pictures”.
“My main goal is to reach foreign markets, open representative offices overseas, and export my innovative project,” said Meliva.
As Meliva told, his project is beneficial for the companies that set them up in their spaces. After purchasing the kiosk companies will be able to brand it with their own colours, screen their commercials on its interface, create hashtags on Instagram, and pictures can be printed on the company’s branded papers.
Meliva believes that if you are not fully involved in your business you can never succeed. “If I had not quit from the bank I would never have developed this business,” he told.
In two years’ time Meliva expects to attract venture capital from abroad. “I will further develop my Fotorator so that it becomes popular on the global stage. There is no analogue of the Fotorator globally and I patented it”.
Vato Veliashvili, Founder of ‘teach.ge’
“Online studying is gaining huge popularity on the global market. We hear a lot about how it might replace traditional forms of studying. Online studying resources did not exist in Georgia previously. So, we decided to establish an online programme, teach.ge, to enable people to study foreign languages. The project has gained huge popularity. Many people have stated that it is much more convenient and better than any foreign programmes. The programme is created via European standards of language courses,” said Veliashvili.
Currently there are five language programmes on the web: English, French, Italian, Georgian and Russian.
Veliashvili plans to expand the number of languages and offer over 15 languages in total. There are over 70,000 registered users for the moment at teach.ge; over 10% are Georgian emigrants.
“I, personally, was eager to learn a new language. All the existing online programmes were quite similar to traditional books, where it was impossible to clear up something without a tutor. The main goal was to change the methodology of the existing format. Our programme allows one to get results even after the first lesson. More simple, convenient and understandable was what we required for ourselves, and is what we offer consumers,” Veliashvili told.
Dachi Choladze, 25, and Dmitri Mikadze, 26., founders of “Cherrytea”
Choladze is a graduate of the Central European University in Business Administration, and Bocconi University, Milan, in International Economics and Management. After graduating he was working as deputy head of marketing at a food and beverage company in Milan. After returning to Georgia he started working at the International Corporation, ICR. At the same time he launched an internet portal for students that helps to guide them in studying abroad.
Mikadze studied business administration in Milan. For the past three years he has been studying programming. A year ago he launched a web and mobile development company, Upme, which is still successfully operating.
Two friends, Mikadze and Choladze, established Cherrytea, an innovative idea of doing charity. “We are simplifying the act of doing charity for people. We have issued a loyalty card which is accepted by Georgian companies from various industries, shops, cafes, restaurants and other places. Card holders can choose the destination for their charity. Later, by having the card at the Cherrytea Places, a share of the spending is transferred to the charity fund chosen by them. Card holders get registered on the web, get their profile, and can choose their beneficiaries there. It will be a kind of community gathered around a charitable mission. Creating a valuable service for society was the main goal behind issuing this project”.
“We have tried several projects previously that have not succeeded. This has brought us an experience that helps us find better ways of how to implement our ideas. Working without passion can barely be successful. We believe that Cherrytea can make the world better place for many people, and this belief drives us and makes us devoted to our work.
According to Mikadze, on the global market we are witnessing a trend of replacing cards with mobile apps. “So in the future we also want to withdraw our cards and replace them with apps. This will break down borders and involve much more people, not only those in Georgia”.
“I see a mission for each person in creating something and changing things for the better. I do not see any other role for humans in society. Accordingly, I never felt comfortable as an employee. Not because I do not like someone guiding me. I just saw changes occurring in myself, and not maintaining exact rules. Accordingly, I consider this project to be a kind of accomplishment for myself, as I rejected stable income for some time and devoted myself to implementing my own idea. I see my personal growth directly aligned with the development of my idea. It is very important, especially when you are young and have ambitions, to carve a path to your ambitions,” Choladze told.
“We spent lots of time on self-development and gained much more knowledge from this. How to implement and realize our idea is just one of the things that we have learned for now. Failures are never pleasant, however, facing them in the early stage is better for steeling yourself for the future,” said Choladze.