TechUkraine Changemakers: Roman Zinchenko

Roman Zinchenko, co-founder of NGO Greencubator 

“Elevator pitch” – ID (short resume – who, what, where)

Greencubator’s ambition is empowering the generation of green entrepreneurs, growing Ukraine’s green GDP, and putting our country on the global map of the cleantech industry. We started Greencubator ten years ago to help Ukrainian green entrepreneurs grow, scale, raise capital, and win new markets. We serve the Ukrainian cleantech ecosystem and plan to expand our coverage in the coming years. We connect Ukraine with the major cleantech ecosystems of the world: Berlin, Amsterdam, San-Francisco, and others.

“Bootstrapping” – When did you start “tech&innovation life” and why? What was the challenge of the sphere?

Since quite early years, I had this passion for looking into things and mechanisms, often disassembling them to learn how did they work. Not everything was put back together successfully, though. 

The foundation of my tech side came from my granddad, a truly great crafts master, whom I watched and admired doing all types of work – from woodworking to construction to car repairs. Granddad Leonid often invited me to be his assistant; that’s how I got my love for the smell of freshly cut wood and got rid of the fear of power tools. 

My tech career accelerated when I was about 10 years old and got my uncle to teach me some soldering so we could build a radio together. Not sure if it is to be counted as a tech career, but spending time in my school’s physics lab and later in the university’s computer lab was an ultimate joy for me. 

But formally, I started working in the tech business in early 2000 – I was running a company providing both communication services and web-development. In 2003 it landed me the role of product manager at the Civic Internet Portal, launched by the International Renaissance Foundation (Soros Fund in Ukraine) and UNDP. And then this path brought me to AVentures, where I worked in 2003-2004 as a business development manager for banking, financial services, and insurance sector, and had a chance to see today’s IT giants in their early years with offices of 70-100 people. Our task was bringing new international clients to the Ukrainian IT businesses – and it was a privilege to see the early days before the dynamic growth of the sector. But then I went for the financial communications sector to help Ukrainian investment banks and IPO prospects raise capital. In all looked good, but then we had 2008. 

The idea of starting Greencubator came after the crisis of 2008 when my brother Andriy and I lost our businesses and decided that we should apply our knowledge communications, tech, and investor relations and apply it all to a new field. We saw the Ukrainian energy dependency as the ultimate threat and wanted to help grow the Ukrainian green economy and its players. That’s how Greencubator was born.

The biggest challenge? Domestically it’s probably over-monopolization of the energy sector and domination of “brown,” fossil-heavy sectors in the formation of Ukraine’s GDP.

“Ninja/Rockstar” – How do you change the ecosystem?

We are wearing several hats in serving the ecosystem. We’ve started as an enthusiasm provider, creating unconventional events and connecting the energy innovators, attracting more people to the sector, and making sustainability end energy a hot topic. First ЕnergyCamp and later TeslaCamp became the meeting point of the emerging industry and brought a lot of attention to the new green ideas. 

When we published the Startup City book in Ukrainian and expanded our educational products with ClimateLaunchpad, PowerUP, and others, we’ve also become a knowledge provider for the Ukrainian ecosystem and new green ventures. 

We are proud that several thought leaders of the green sector and tech at large have discovered Ukraine as a result of our involvement. Zachary Shahan of CleanTechnica, Andreas Kuhlmann of DENA, Ruben Nieuwenhuis of Startup Amsterdam (at that moment) – we are happy to have been their guides of Ukraine’s tech and cleantech ecosystem and help them discover the country. That’s the reason why we have a motto “Ambassador of the Ukrainian cleantech” on our print publications. 

And with implementing Climate Innovation Vouchers program, initiated by EBRD and funded by the EU, we’ve become a capital provider for Ukrainian green innovations sectors, and keep working on attracting investors to this field. 

Our true rockstars are future cleantech stars launching new ventures and new products, struggling, pivoting, moving on, entering new markets, getting mentored and invested – and it’s our privilege to serve them.

“Moat/Value proposition” – The most prominent projects, achievements you are proud of

Over these years, Greencubator has grown from the educational and networking organization into the capital provider – but there is a lot more work ahead. The Climate Innovation Vouchers program, created by EBRD and EU and managed by Greencubator, is currently Ukraine’s largest R&D financing program for cleantech ventures. And it’s our task to keep the flow of capital and the flow of innovators in Ukrainian cleantech. It is important to take the next steps, to empower the scaleups аnd to develop the community green startups and green investors. We are putting Ukraine on the global cleantech map and open new opportunities for the green tech talents of our country. 

And there is one more thing to be proud of. Probably the proudest of. It’s the people we’ve been able to attract to this sector and help them at the very start of their ventures or careers in the energy and climate innovations field.

‘Tech for good” – The next big thing you predict in the next decade for Ukraine

There are several levels of opportunity to see the next big thing for cleantech: 

  • Globally – the climate movement is changing markets, divestment from fossil assets by the world largest hedge and investment funds in on the rise, and the global business would need more solutions in the fields of sustainability, renewable energy, smart mobility, sustainable real estate, IoT, energy storage, energy trading, and many others. So if you ask me when is the right time to start a cleantech business – my answer would be yesterday. 
  • Domestically – Ukraine is a large market with a huge delayed demand for energy efficiency technologies, as well as aging energy generation facilities, and distribution networks. The infrastructure is often ripe for disaster, but rebuilding it on the principles and standards from the 60s and 70s would be unwise. Our market is prone to overregulation, but the same is true with many other markets. Can you imagine the potential of a 40+ mln market requiring just the energy infrastructure upgrade, but with sustainability in mind? 
  • Regionally – I’m sure that Ukraine is ideally positioned to serve as a regional cleantech hub and market leader for many countries of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. We are the region’s largest market, with great dynamics in renewables, electrical mobility, and other sectors, so it makes a lot of sense to start expansion from our country. 

I think that many tech companies would create sustainability, energy efficiency, and energy management solutions for the domestic market. They would kick off in the corporate sector, and then they would move to B2G and finally to household sectors. We are proud that at least 50% of the companies we’ve supported and exporting and creating solutions to the global tech markets. 

I also see the growth of the domestic manufacturing of a larger share of green technologies. I expect more corporates are getting into technology manufacturing in Ukraine both for local and global markets.

Listen to Michael Buryk’s interview with Roman Zinchenko for the podcast “Made in Ukraine – Tech Startup Edition” – here.

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