On the outskirts of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city, thousands of books are crammed into a huge warehouse. From classical prose to mystery thrillers, romance novels to poetry collections, there is something here for even the most discerning reader. Bookland lives up to its name.
For Irakli Sebiskveradze, owner and chief executive of this large Georgian book distribution firm, the infatuation with books began at an early age. He turned his passion into a thriving business and is now on a mission to embrace green thinking. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Union are helping him to realise his goals.
Entrepreneurship can happen at any stage of life. For Irakli, inspiration struck during his student years. It is hard to say whether he chose his occupation or his occupation chose him.
“My mother is a journalist and a writer,” he says. “I wanted to help her promote her books and, back in the early days, I would visit various institutions and organisations, offering them her books. That is how the Bookland story began.”
Irakli’s efforts did not go unnoticed. Soon, street booksellers were approaching him and requesting his services. Buoyant demand prompted Irakli to buy a used car so he could get around the city quicker and, when demand exceeded capacity, he decided to take his operation to the next level, setting up his company in 2005.
Fast-forward 15 years and Bookland now supplies more than 150 bookshops in the Georgian capital, as well as another 100 or so across the country. The company employs 15 people across 8 bookstores and an online business, which also exports books. The online shop was particularly helpful after Georgia introduced lockdown measures in 2020 to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
‘’Georgians are avid readers. When all of the shops closed last year and we were in lockdown, many people reached out to our online shop to stock up,” says Irakli. “Translated prose, the classics are still the most popular genres among our readers.’’
Embracing solar energy
Ever the trendsetter, when Irakli came across an advertisement for rooftop photovoltaic panels, he decided he wanted to power his business with clean, efficient solar energy.
Bookland is one of around 170 companies in Georgia that have received funding from the flagship EBRD-EU programme to date. The EU4Business-EBRD credit line helps local companies invest in new technologies, become greener, grow their digital presence and expand into new markets. Bookland secured a loan from the EBRD’s partner financial institution, ProCredit Bank Georgia, to acquire solar panels and storage, which now fully meet the energy needs of Bookland’s warehouse and offices.
The EBRD loan was complemented by a grant and support from local and international advisers on implementing the investment project, also funded by the EU4Business initiative. The programme is currently available in Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine, helping local companies become more competitive, both at home and abroad.
Going solar for Bookland means fewer expenses, but the move goes far beyond saving money.
‘’For us, it was very important to position ourselves as a small business that is reducing its negative impact on the environment,” Irakli explains. “We hope that more entrepreneurs will step up their green commitments and that we will together lead the way in introducing more sustainable ways of doing business.’’
The EBRD is a leading institutional investor in Georgia. To date, the Bank has invested more than €4 billion in the financial, corporate, infrastructure and energy sectors, with 79 per cent of those investments in the private sector.