Velo Lab: cycling towards commercial successStartups
Greek entrepreneur Stathis Stasinopoulos is building innovative bicycles in Bremen
Stathis Stasinopoulos may not have cycled from Athens to Bremen, but it was his bicycles that brought him to the city on the river Weser. Unable to find the perfect folding bicycle for his commute to work on the Athens metro, the mechanical engineer developed his own. The bike, called ‘Folding Project’, is lightweight and comfortable and folds up in five seconds. Stasinopoulos now sells his bicycles across Europe, has moved to Bremen with his family and has founded his own business, Velo Lab GmbH.
He was one of a very small number of people who cycle across Athens to work in the morning. But Stasinopoulos paid little attention to the odd looks from his fellow commuters. The semi-professional cyclist has already covered thousands of kilometres on his bike, although cycling is not a very popular sport in Greece. “Athens simply isn’t a bike-friendly city, as there are very few cycle paths. No one uses a bike there,” he says.
He did, but he could not find the ideal bike for his commute to work, 30 kilometres across the city including a stretch on the metro. Racing bike, mountain bike, city bike – they were either too uncomfortable, too heavy or too unwieldy, so the 41-year-old mechanical engineer decided to build his own in his spare time. The bike, called FP (as in Folding Project), folds up in only five seconds, weighs less than twelve kilograms, and is fast and comfortable. It doesn’t have the usual triangle shape – Stasinopoulos might not have reinvented the folding bicycle, but his design certainly sets it apart from the competition.
Prototype at Eurobike
Stasinopoulos completed his first prototype in 2012. A couple of eventful years later, he presented his first model at the 2014 Eurobike in Friedrichshafen. All he had at Europe’s leading trade fair for the cycling industry was a stand he built himself and his bicycle, and he slept in a caravan in the car park. “But my bicycle was well received. A comfortable folding bike that also looks good was a rarity. I immediately had a lot of prospective buyers from Germany, the UK, Switzerland, France and Spain,” he says.
Back in Athens, he concentrated on his bicycles. He gave up his engineering job and set about developing other models, including an e-bike and a cargo bike. He found distribution partners, including one from Münster, at other trade fairs. But the economic situation in Greece became more difficult, especially for a start-up like Folding Project. “At the moment, it’s very difficult to realise one’s business aspirations in Greece,” Stasinopoulos says. That is why he made the decision to look for a new site in northern Europe.
Bike-friendly Bremen is the ideal place to settle
The choice was either Denmark, the Netherlands or Germany, as they are all strong markets for cycling. “Living costs in Denmark are quite high. I had got as far as making contact with the Dutch embassy – but in the end, the connection with my distribution partner in Münster was what led me to choose Germany,” says Stasinopoulos. At the time, one of his friends was working as a shipping agent in Bremen, and he got to know and love the city through him. “Bremen has a great central position in north Germany, it’s not as expensive as Hamburg or Berlin, and the city is very bike-friendly and runs many interesting initiatives like BIKE IT!,” he adds. So, Bremen it was.
Via a Google search he found Bremeninvest, the international brand of WFB Wirtschaftsförderung Bremen. He received a quick response and support from Kolja Umland, project manager for international relocations. That helped him make up his mind up to move from Athens to Bremen with his wife and three children, aged two, eight and ten.
Legal form, workshop premises, funding, bank account – this was all new to me, but thanks to the support from BremenInvest I quickly found everything I needed to start my business.
Stathis Stasinopoulos, founder of Velo Lab GmbH
In spring 2017, Stasinopoulos founded Velo Lab GmbH and opened his workshop in Bremen-Woltmershausen. The aluminium components are still made in Greece and the bikes are assembled in Bremen. But that is set to change, with Stasinopoulos looking for business partners in the greater Bremen area so that all process steps, from raw materials to paintwork, can be carried out in Germany. In the meantime, his bikes are becoming better known and more popular. His Cargo Bike Monkeys brand won the 2017 Cycle Award for its cargo bike, and it is now on sale in independent shops in Münster and Kassel.
“Bicycles and cycling are my passion,” Stasinopoulos says, “and I don’t mind working on them night and day.” But he cannot do that indefinitely, so his childhood friend, Chris Papanatsidis, helps him to assemble the bikes, and Jap Kellner recently joined Velo Lab to take charge of sales. This year, they might sell 100 bikes, but in the future they hope to sell 1,000 annually. There is enough interest. “When I cycle around Bremen, people often stop me to ask where I got my bike from. I get to chat with a lot of people this way, and they are all very open and interested, which is fun.”
Conquering the international bicycle market
In the medium term, Stasinopoulos hopes to break into the US market. “Cycling is becoming more popular over there, and bicycles ‘Made in Germany’ are in demand,” he says. The Sirius Business Park provides the ideal environment to expand his workshop. A large room was sufficient for the beginning. “The start has been very promising and demand is growing, but I need an investor to make the leap forwards in terms of quantity and employees.” In May 2018, he moved his workshop to a larger premise in Bremen-Burg.
For now, Stasinopoulos wants to widen his network and take care of his family, so that they feel at home in Bremen. The whole family is busy learning German, but starting school was still a bit of a shock to the system for the children. Not to mention the weather, which cannot compete with sunny Greece. But at least they can cycle to school safely in Bremen.
The person to contact for international relocations to Bremen is Kolja Umland, project manager for international relocations, T +49 (0) 421 9600-339, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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