How Ukrainian entrepreneurs are changing world industries with EU grants

Energy-efficient houses, 3D metal printing, solar smart blinds – these technologies will change the global economy and our everyday lives in the very near future. Ukrainian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the creators of these innovative products.

Ukrainian companies are entering the world market with their unique products, and the EU is boosting their success with smart grants under the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument. Under this instrument, a company or start-up can get up to €2.5 million for its innovation aimed at solving global problems.

“Business can solve global problems. That’s why the EU supports innovative European companies,” says Yurii-Volodymyr Blavt, a project manager with the CIVITTA company, which provides consulting services for businesses and governments in Europe. He mentions the Ukrainian start-up, SolarGaps, which recently won a Horizon grant for its solar smart blinds technology: “Most people live in multistoried buildings and not everyone can install a solar panel. SolarGaps developed window-blinds that produce solar energy.” The company has already made its first sales, but investments are needed to scale-up production. The Horizon grant will help prepare the company for full commercialisation.

In total, the EU has allocated €3 billion to the SME Instrument under the Horizon 2020 programme. This instrument is different from other programme components as it allows candidates to participate independently rather than as a consortium. “When there is no need to create a consortium and search for European partners, it simplifies the application process,” explains Blavt. “The key to winning the competition is groundbreaking innovation and global ambitions.” At the same time, a bold idea is not enough; a candidate should also have a project with a high technology readiness level: the successful company should have already developed a realistic and tested prototype.

“Our innovation will help move 3D metal printing from being out-of-reach to being a publicly-available industrial technology,” says Dmytro Kovalchuk, co-founder and director of Chervona Hvilya, a company that develops electron-beam technologies for metal production. The enterprise received a Horizon grant to commercialise its breakthrough technology, xBeam, for the 3D printing of metals.metals

According to Chervona Hvilya’s calculations, the xBeam technology is up to ten times cheaper than its alternatives: the cost of printing with the xBeam would not exceed $100 per kilo, whereas modern technologies similar to xBeam cost over $700-800 per kilo plus additional costs to trim the printed components. At the same time, the cost of printing metal with more accurate powder technology is usually over $2,000 per kilo.

Kovalchuk shares his vision, saying, “3D printing is sometimes called the third industrial revolution. Companies will no longer need to produce goods by the hundreds of thousands. 3D technology will allow companies to print an individual product within just a few hours. This is a breakthrough. And our technology is among those that can bring us closer to making that a reality.”

“Our innovation is one-of-a-kind,” says another winner of a Horizon 2020 grant, CEO and founder of the PassivDom project, Max Gerbut. He is referring to an autonomous house that generates its own electricity, heating, ventilation, water supply, and drainage. The house’s frame is produced through 3D printing in just a day. This is also a Ukrainian invention.passivdom

“The combination of mobility, fully-integrated smart house functions, as well as total energy-efficiency, makes the house absolutely autonomous. There is no similar solution anywhere in the world,” assures Gerbut. A 40-year warranty is guaranteed by modern high-strength materials, which ensure long-lasting heat-saving walls compared with traditional materials. And the structure’s solar installations are capable of generating energy even at low light levels. Thanks to these qualities, the passive house was included to the Guinness Book of Records as the warmest house in the world.

The team is continuing to develop its “passive home” technology to make such housing more affordable and bring it to the world market.

Currently, the company has received more than 9,000 pre-orders for its product. PassivDom’s main customers are Americans and Europeans. People can also test this accommodation though Booking.com and stay in one of the prototype passive houses near Kyiv in Novy Petrivtsi. Be prepared for a long waiting list though.

“Our project can change the industry globally,” says Gerbut.

Despite these impressive examples of Ukrainian Horizon 2020 participants, experts say Ukraine is not living up to its potential. Since joining Horizon in 2015, only six Ukrainian companies have won grants under the SME Instrument, and five of the winning applications were prepared by the CIVITTA team.

Blavt highlights two reasons for the low level of Ukrainian participation: lack of awareness and not enough preparation for the competition.

“In 2015 and 2016, an average of five Ukrainian companies per quarter applied for grants through the SME instrument. This is a very low rate. The situation has improved somewhat: about 25 companies have applied in the first and second quarters this year and 40 companies applied in the third quarter. This is still not a high number,” says Blavt. For instance, as of September 1, 2017, the most active Horizon 2020 member states had a huge volume of applications: Italy (340). Spain (338), United Kingdom (129), France (112). Of the 2,079 projects submitted as of September this year, 119 enterprises were chosen to receive funding.

Blavt recommends Ukrainian companies pay more attention to the commercial side of their products, think over their business models, and clearly assess the markets. After all, the SME Instrument is focused on commercialisation.

You can learn more about EU business opportunities and engage in new business partnerships at the Eastern Partnership Business Forum taking place in Tallinn in October: https://eap-businessforum.eu/

Apart from support to Ukraine’s innovative companies, the EU provides extensive support to Ukrainian businesses under its programme for SMEs in the Eastern Partnership region, EU4Business.

EU4Business provides SMEs with financing in form of loans or guarantees, training, and coaching, as well as networking opportunities at fairs and on trade missions.

The programme delivers its support together with such organisations as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank.