Three friends in Georgia had a dream business idea: EU4Youth helped them make it come true
At the Agricultural University of Georgia, three undergraduates used to meet in the labs after lectures. Between 2016 and 2020, they spent countless hours experimenting with innovative drying techniques that could be used in the food industry. One evening, the three friends, Tamar Sheitnishvili, Nona Noniashvili and Shalva Mdzinarashvili, developed some apple chips. As soon as they tasted them, they knew they were on to a winner. CHAMPY – a socially responsible company selling healthy apple snacks – was born.
It’s difficult for any bright new business, even at the best of times, but CHAMPY was faced with enormous challenges. Based in Gori, “the enterprise is located near the occupation line, where the socio-economic situation is quite difficult,” Tamar explains with some understatement, adding that they had “problems with electricity and other communications in the village”. It was impossible to find enough properly qualified staff, and even securing raw materials of the right quality was a significant obstacle. But they weren’t going down without a fight.
Confident in the value of their enterprise, and determined to succeed, the three friends entered their business in the EU-funded Caucasus Social Innovation Grant Competition. This Competition is organised by CENN (the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network), as part of the EU4Youth: Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development (SEED) for Green Growth project. It channels EU funding towards socially responsible and green business ideas in Georgia and Armenia, and is aimed at vulnerable young individuals living in border communities. CHAMPY fit the bill perfectly.
According to Tamar, the “CENN collaboration responds well to the strategic goals of the company and is an important opportunity for the sustainable development of our social mission.” CHAMPY used the finanical support to join the GREENcubator – a green business acceleration programme within the SEED project. This allowed them to gain significant theoretical and practical experience, and helped them to perfect their business model and plan.
They could now begin to make serious progress. With 43,000 lari from the Grant Competition, CHAMPY purchased two important machines – one for drying and another for cutting. Production capacity could finally increase to meet market demand. The machines are also essential for securing one of CHAMPY’s core targets: zero waste production.
Sustainabilty is the watchword that informs their vision. Tamar explains that they have “started working more actively with farmers and raising awareness on environmental issues”. By involving local people and collaborating with them, they hope to collect recyclable raw materials and prevent the risk of pollution by planning waste management carefully.
These friends want more than just a successful company – they want to contribute to their community. Since the start, social responsibility has been a key component of their business model. Their factory is in the village of Ditsi, and Tamar was clear when she outlined their goal: “To provide support and motivation for the local population by establishing workplaces as well as developing helpful training courses for professional and personal development.”
They are particularly interested in empowering women and young people in Gori. CHAMPY has created a youth internship programme designed to allow people to deepen their theoretical and practical skills. It will also contribute to building a team of professional staff. Tamar is excited about another initiative too: they have just “started a training programme, during which existing and new employees … will study detailed production processes, as well as the requirements of food safety and the principle of working according to the HACCP standard.” With this in place, they hope to establish a comfortable and safe working environment for women across the region.
They also know that supporting their local economy means expansion further afield. With the help of the EU and CENN, CHAMPY has been able to participate in several exhibitions, including some in Armenia. The products have enjoyed huge success; this has not only increased their brand awareness but allowed them to explore international export opportunities.
CHAMPY has big ambitions, Tamar says they’re determined “to create a new, healthier industry of apple snacks”, using “a totally new approach and concept well matched with consumer demand and preferences”. They already have 12 different types of thin, crunchy apple chips. Using rigourous testing processes and inventive natural flavours – mango, banana, citrus, carrot, peach, pineapple, cherry and berry – they are determined to keep expanding their horizons. “This is what we call the apple chips industry,” says Tamar Sheitnishvili.
Their five-year strategy is based on scaling-up production. This will create permanent jobs for local people and have a postive impact on farmers living in the region, since CHAMPY will need suppliers. For now, commercialising various types of apple chips across global markets is a priority. The long-term goal is to establish a leading brand in the sector.
The seeds for this innovative start-up in the apple chips industry were sown in the Agricultural University of Georgia. The bravery and determination of three friends working in Gori have carefully nurtured its vision, and the EU has been on hand to supply much needed fertiliser. “This grant supplied a very important opportunity and provided support for the rapid and sustainable development of the company and for the perfection of its social and environmental mission,” says Nona.
Not only have they created a successful sustainable business that helps consumers enjoy a healthy lifestyle, they’re now able to employ and work with people in their community. Great orchards from little apples grow.
Author: Maiken Bjorlin Hansen, CENN
Photos: CENN, CHAMPY