Behind ZICER are two cycles of extremely successful implementation of the EIT Climate-KIC RIS Croatia accelerator – a program of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. The results are measurable in millions of investments, in hundreds of tons of food saved and sustainable market results that leave only a green mark. This was the reason for the conversation with Fran Šesnić, the director of ZICER.
We have been implementing the EIT Climate-KIC RIS Croatia accelerator since 2019. The program featured six participants in the first cycle (Ascalia, Makabi Agritech, Miret, Naval Hydro (In silico), Urban Oasis and WePark) and five startups in the second (Ascalia, BeaRD bureau (Nuotwo), In silico, Miret and VeeMee). For all of them, the goal is to preserve our planet and make it a better place to live. By the way, through ZICER we provide comprehensive support to innovative entrepreneurs through which they can more easily achieve success. At the moment, more than 100 technological startups are being developed through ZICER, for which we provide mentoring, educational and financial support in addition to infrastructure. Through our pre-acceleration program Startup Factory, we have so far prepared 75 teams for innovative entrepreneurship. In all our activities, we place special emphasis on technology transfer, which has been proven possible thanks to our comprehensive approach. Given the growing number of our green solution-oriented customers, I am pleased to be running the EIT Climate-KIC Croatia accelerator. There are three startups from the first generation in our incubation program, and four startups from the second generation. Three of the EIT Climate-KIC RIS Croatia startups also participated in the Startup Factory. From all this, it is clear that startups need the full support that does not stop after the completion of a particular program. – Frane Šesnić said about the importance of comprehensive support to startups through development.
After a total of one year (twice for six months) of the program with more than 20 lectures, trainings and public events, intensive mentoring and non-refundable financial support to startups in the cumulative amount of 200,000 euros, the results are visible. Šešnić said about that:
I am very proud of the results of Croatian EIT Climate-KIC startups. The successes of the first generation continued through the second cycle of the program. Although 2020 was extremely challenging for everyone, startup Ascalia made an investment of more than HRK 4.5 million during the program. Startup Miret made an investment of almost HRK 2 million last year, and despite the pandemic, it successfully concluded the Kickstarter campaign and raised more than HRK 400,000.00. Startup VeeMee saved 750 tons of food from being thrown away, and with its digital market in the midst of a pandemic, they provided an excellent alternative to the physical one, connecting customers and producers across the country. Also, I would like to point out here that three of our ecologically oriented startups have connected and together successfully applied for an EU project worth 100,000.00 euros. Also, they are all growing, and that growth is seen through new employment. In the past, these startups have employed more than 15 people. Such results are an indicator of the excellence and potential of domestic startups, but also the value of the support they achieve through ZICER.
We asked two Markos, Vinceković from the first and Kozjak from the second generation of the EIT Climate-KIC Croatia accelerator, about their impressions of participating in this accelerator.
Makabi Agritech is an interdisciplinary team of scientists who have developed agroecological formulations of microcapsules for plant nutrition and protection during many years of scientific research on various projects, all with the aim of reducing the use of mineral fertilizers and other organic chemicals in modern agricultural and functional food production. This startup prof. dr. sc. Marko Vinceković launched the 2018 Startup Factory pre-acceleration program through ZICER. Maccabi Agritech is an excellent example of technology transfer from university to entrepreneurship. Thanks to its excellence, this startup in 2019 also entered the EIT accelerator implemented by ZICER. About how far Maccabi Agritech has reached today, its founder Marko Vinceković says: I am extremely satisfied with everything we have done in the last two years because we have done a lot! Through ZICER’s comprehensive and complex support, we gained experience in developing a business model and knowledge on how best to present support to a target audience. This opened us up new opportunities for various collaborations and project applications. Of all the positive experiences, perhaps the most important is establishing new contacts and friendships that are invaluable. With this kind of support, the path of us scientists towards entrepreneurship is easier and safer, and our efforts to implement the solutions created through scientific work and achieve the purpose become realistic.
The vision of a healthier, happier and environmentally sustainable society is the core of the startup VeeMee, last year’s participant in the Croatian EIT accelerator. VeeMee is a healthy small company with organic growth and stable business incubated in ZICER. Elimination of food waste and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy self-sustainability, healthy diet and return to original values are the focus of this promising startup. The results they achieve are really impressive. So far, their activities have saved 750 tons of food from being thrown away! Their plans are big – to expand their reach in the EU market and, in addition to Spain, Greece and Slovenia, to launch sales in Germany and Austria. This plan is accompanied by the modernization of their platform and the release of a new mobile application for recognizing consumer products using AI technology. A few months later, Marko Kozjak, founder and director of the VeeMee startup, told us about participating in the EIT accelerator: Due to the good balance in the level of advisory and financial incentives we received in this accelerator, we significantly accelerated our path to goals. Today, upon completion of the program, our team is richer for new mentors, acquaintances and opportunities. We now have a complete business plan and documentation for investors, through open contacts, made video and online promotional materials which until recently due to the small available budgets from organic growth were reduced to only the necessary elements. The experience gained is a great incentive for us to achieve our goals! Through free education, consulting, guidance and evaluation of our materials and results, and through financial incentives, we are now fully ready to conquer the market and investors and for even better cooperation with partners and institutions.
Nuotwo is a project that develops smart active panels that absorb CO2 and CH4 from the surrounding air and convert it into fresh air and biomass. This promising startup, backed by Iva Soža and Marko Brkljačić, was launched a year ago. After winning the Startup Factory pre-acceleration program and founding the company, Nuotwo became ZICER’s tenant, and in the spring of 2020, part of the new generation of EIT Climate KIC Croatia accelerators.
Scientist Iva Soža, the co-founder of this startup, told us about her experiences:
Being accepted into the EIT Climate KIC program has shown us that our idea and product have been recognized at European level as a promising solution for a sustainable future. When Marko told me two and a half years ago, “Hey, do you think it’s possible to turn existing buildings into forests?”, It was just a crazy idea with which we signed up with a lot of goodwill for Startup Factory 2019. After we won the main prize of the City of Zagreb of HRK 200,000 that year, the idea was no longer just crazy, it was also achievable. We settled in the office in ZICER and with their great support we started working on the first prototype. Shortly afterwards, this great global crisis in which we find ourselves followed, and then the invitation to participate in the EIT Climate KIC came as a huge wind in our sails. Given that the business strategy of the Nuotwo panel is based on a circular economy, ie a circular business model, experts from the EIT Climate KIC Croatia accelerator were very helpful in giving advice and mentoring how to overcome potential risks. The business network and contacts we received through the EIT Climate KIC enabled us to connect and arrange for test pilot projects of our product. Above all, the financial support helped us a lot because we developed the first functional prototype of our panel within the specified deadline and we will soon see each other in finalizing the first final product.
Behind ZICER are three successfully held Climathons. Climathon is a conceptual hackathon and global movement of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, which every year thousands of young people in more than 100 cities around the world simultaneously create solutions to today’s climate challenges. We held the third Climathon Zagreb on December 16 last year. It brought together an international team of students, activists, journalists and scientists who creatively and optimistically presented segments of life in Zagreb from the perspective of 2050.
Only through responsible action and proactive green activities can we ensure the sustainability of life on earth. That is why we are looking forward to the development of existing and new environmentally-oriented startups!