The European Commission announced the official results of its EIC Accelerator 2022 program, which supports startups and innovative high-risk small and medium-sized businesses that can contribute to rapid economic growth. The winner of this year’s program is Releaf Paper, a greentech startup founded in 2021 by Ukrainian innovators: biotechnologist Valentin Frechka (21 years) and businessman Oleksandr Sobolenko (37 years).
The team submitted to the commission a project of a pilot production line of cellulose from the fibers of fallen leaves, which will produce raw materials using a unique technology developed and patented by the company. The total cost of the submitted project is 3.5 million euros, of which the European Commission will finance 2.5 million in the form of a grant. In addition, the total amount of funding may exceed 10 million euros, as the European Commission fund has also agreed to additionally invest in the further scaling of the project. According to the approved development plan, Releaf Paper will use investment funds to establish two more production lines in different countries within the next five years.
The technology developed by Frechka allows to process leaves and other green waste into cellulose, which is the basis for creating paper and some types of packaging. This material is a direct replacement for primary cellulose, which is obtained from wood, but at the same time it has a number of advantages. First, leaf paper is fully recyclable and has a biodegradation period of only 60 days. Secondly, carbon dioxide emissions when using such raw materials are 78% lower. And third, Releaf Paper contributes to forest conservation by saving 17 trees for every ton of its paper produced. The startup launched test production in Ukraine in 2021, using the services of other factories. In September of the same year, pilot sales of several Releaf products began: wrapping paper and paper bags. Among the very first clients of the startup are L’Oreal, Samsung, Weleda, Schneider Electric. In the second half of 2022, the company began exporting its products to EU countries, despite the logistical and financial difficulties caused by the Russian full-scale invasion. However, Releaf Paper was in dire need of its own production.
Each year thousands of startups and representatives of small and medium-sized businesses from all EU countries apply for funding from the EIC Accelerator. Statistically, about 1-1.5% achieve success. In addition to the Releaf team, consultants from CIVITTA also joined the project team. This became an important success factor. The selection process lasted over 7 months and included 2 rounds of validation and a final interview with five experts representing Western European VCs. As a result, Releaf Paper beat out more than 6,500 competing companies and received the coveted funding. We can finally start building our own pilot production line! – comments startup co-founder Oleksandr Sobolenko.
The first grant part of the project will start in April 2023 and is designed for 2 years. Currently, the founders are choosing a location for future production and start to expand the team. The next two production lines, in which investments from the European Commission will amount to at least 8 million euros, will probably be located in Germany and Poland. However, Sobolenko and Frechka will make the final decision after creating their first production.
We are closer than ever to the goal of starting a series of our own production line of the new generation, where the paper of the future, Releaf paper, will be created. When at the end of this year everyone is talking about reducing carbon footprint, deforestation and stopping environmental catastrophe, we are taking real steps to revolutionize the paper industry! – says Valentyn Frechka.
Releaf paper is the first in the world manufacturer of paper and packaging from fallen leaves from Ukraine. Releaf Paper started production during COVID pandemic and made a move to export the sustainable packaging in Europe during the war in Ukraine in 2022. Main production site is located in Lutsk (Ukraine). Current capacity is 5,000 tons of paper per year. We use Releaf Paper to produce Releaf Bags for shopping. Monthly production capacity is 3,000,000 bags. Warehouse of ready-made bags for EU customers is located in Bratislava (Slovakia).
The EIC Accelerator offers start-ups and SMEs grants of up to €2.5 million combined with equity investments through the EIC Fund ranging from €0.5 to €15 million. In addition to financial support, all projects benefit from a range of Business Acceleration Services that provide access to leading expertise, corporates, investors and ecosystem actors. Companies can submit their ideas to the EIC Accelerator at any time. For ideas meeting the EIC criteria for excellence, impact and risk-level, companies are invited to prepare full applications to submit to one of the regular cut-off dates. Since its launch in March 2021, more than 6,500 start-ups and SMEs have sent their ideas and over 3,330 have submitted full applications. The companies announced today were among the 1092 who submitted to the last 2022 cut-off on 5 October, and join the 314 companies selected for funding by the EIC so far. The next cut-offs for full applications are: 11 January 2023, 22 March 2023, 7 June 2023, 4 October 2023.