May 15, 2020 1 PM

PowerUp! Country Finals week #2

The online country finals of the PowerUp! Challenge has been continued. After the first series of countries in the CEE region Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia and Estonia were coming up, to let their best start-ups engage in the competition for the Startup of the Year title.

Apart from the title, the winners get the chance to compete in the international grand final, where the region’s winners will be pitching against each other in the hope of winning financial prizes amounting to €65.000 and other valuable contributions from key partners such as Amazon Web Services, Revolut or the SpeedUp Group. Due to the Coronavirus the now online country finals are open to investors, industry professionals and partners, but any interested person could join to the events.

The Bulgarian winner

AirLief won the Bulgarian country final. They solution fights air pollution with innovative protection masks and a mobile app. At the end of 2019, after years of development and trying to find the right production partners, Airlief introduced to the market an innovative mask against dirty air. The mask’s interchangeable filters were created to safeguard not only against fine particles but also pollen, bacteria and larger particles of dust. Recycled cotton is used for the development of a special 3D structure that ensures a larger filtering area while making it easy for the user to breathe. Last but not least, unlike most masks on the market, AirLief’s protective gear has been built to last for a long time and is easily washable. In January 2020, right before the coronavirus outbreak, AirLief had already sold 500 masks.

The Hungarian winner

The Hungarian final ended with the victory of Poliloop. Their solution is intended to solve the plastic waste problem of the world. They created microbes that decompose any plastic waste (polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene) at room temperature in weeks or in many cases, in a matter of days.

“We have developed a biological solution that could eliminate the vast majority of the 300 million tonnes of plastic waste generated worldwide each year. This is particularly important given that barely 2 percent of all plastics are being recycled. However, we would not stop here. As a manufacturer, we want to make the circular economy work in the long run by producing biodegradable plastics.”

The Latvian winner

The winner of the Latvian final, PolyLabs, was established in 2014 and its main field of activity is the production of chemical products and, in particular, the production of polyols, which is one of the main raw materials in the polyurethane industry. The company's story began with bio polyols made from rapeseed and tall oil. However, this has not stopped innovation. PolyLabs has developed a new solution for recycling previously unprocessed PET plastic waste into an excellent chemical product - an energy-saving material - polyurethane, thus removing raw materials from pollution and placing them in an extended life cycle product.

The Estonian winner

Woola was selected as the best startup idea in Estonia. The start-up company established at the end of 2019, which produces packaging material from sheep's wool residues, was awarded the title of both the audience's favorite and the start-up of the year among the seven finalists in the PowerUp! Estonian final held on April 30.

According to Anna-Liisa Palatu, one of the founders of Woola, the idea arose from the team's own experience: “As the operator of the e-shop, we saw how much plastic waste was created with each package. We looked for an environmentally friendly alternative to bubble wrap and found a solution in wool. Today, we are working with several e-shops and Omniva to further develop packaging, and we have opened a round of funding to attract investment. The PowerUp! competition came at the very right moment, because it allows us to introduce our ideas and hopefully find funders outside Estonia as well.”

According to Heidi Kakko, a Partner of BaltCap Growth Fund and a member of the Jury, a new and smart approach to solving a large-scale problem was decisive in choosing the winner: By producing wool-pressed packaging at a price level comparable to the current ones used, the market will certainly be happy to accept it. ”

EIT InnoEnergy’s PowerUp! initiative not only serves as a competition, but it is also a gateway to secure millions of euros in investment and to be part of EIT InnoEnergy’s network, which offers money, know-how and an extended hub of reliable partners who’ll help companies to become globally successful.

Decision about the timing and venue of the international Grand Final will be made later depending on when restrictions, imposed by governments, are revoked in the region.