In this episode of Business Planet, we speak to the co-founders of Pepper Vally, an innovative textiles company near Athens, which is reaping the rewards of an EU-funded support network helping SMEs step up to the next level and expand abroad.
Growing a business abroad is exciting, but potentially risky. But one EU-funded network is bringing together international expertise with local contacts to help businesses innovate and make the step up to the next level.
In the suburb of Acharnes near Athens, Aliki Goritsa and Spyros Fragos are two engineers who are passionate about fabric and clothes.
They founded Pepper Vally in 2011. This Greek textile company uses traditional natural materials along with cutting-edge technology to create smart clothing.
Aliki and Spyros’ vision is to design and manufacture high-quality sustainable garments, and they are constantly innovating to make their ideas a reality, like swimwear that uses cotton instead of lycra or nylon.
"We try to make innovations which are useful for the wearers in terms of skin safety and for the environment because every time you go in the sea or wash your clothes you have microplastics," said Aliki Goritsa.
"And the innovation here is that we have a knit pattern that has holes and it is a 3D structure where the air can circulate and this makes the clothes dry easier."
Aliki and Spyros are ambitious and teamed up with the EU-funded Enterprise Europe Network, the world’s largest support network for small and medium-sized businesses with international ambitions, to produce smart clothing prototypes that monitor biometric measurements using conductive, metallic yarn.
The garment resembles a sports top that monitors biometric measurements including cardio and respiration rate, and even your posture.
They worked with the Enterprise Europe Network to develop the Feel More Knitwear collection and pinpoint the right international partners.
"They helped us to navigate in this new field and also find the right opportunities to go on and effectively promote all our research in other businesses, in other European countries, and also universities to collaborate with," Aliki explained.
Supporting millions of companies across Europe
The Enterprise Europe Network celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Over this time they’ve helped some 4.2 million small businesses across Europe, including a sweet company in Latvia to a Czech firm that developed a beehive that uses the heat of the sun to kill off harmful mites.
In Greece, the Network supported more than 3,000 SMEs between 2022 and 2023. To find out more about how it works, Business Planet met with Mina Peleki, an Enterprise Europe Network Advisor from the Athens Chamber of Small & Medium Industries, a member of Enterprise Europe Network since 2008.
“We support 1000s of companies from the textiles and fashion industry," Mina revealed.
"What we are looking for is to find companies which produce something special, something innovative, something which stands out internationally because competition is fierce [...] Pepper Vally is a company that combines all those traits that make it stand out."
Mina and her colleagues first meet with a potential new member company to decide on the next steps and draw up an action plan.
The Network then provides help with finding funding, identifying the opportunities of the single market but also helps companies understand the laws and regulations in other countries, and how to choose the right international collaborator.
“Once a company comes to us and says ‘you know I have found a partner but I am not sure whether it is the correct partner or not,' the Network has been very helpful in that because we do have a reliable contact somewhere else where we can ask," Mina explained.