The Wild East of cleantech startups


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The recent launch of Beamline Accelerator and the Estonian Cleantech Demo Centre signals that a new wave of cleantech startups is gathering in the East. 

For some, Eastern Europe might still associate with the stereotype of being the source of cheap and quick code writers. For forward-looking people, the region is busting with ambitious innovators and startups. One of the founders, Erki Ani, CEO of Cleantech Estonia, described it as “The Wild East.” This is why Cleantech Estonia bundled with Sunly, a renewable energy company, and launched an accelerator program called Beamline designated for cleantech startups from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Parallel to this, they created a Demo Centre to promote already existing regional products and services.

CEE is busting with startup potential

By sheer numbers, the growth and the potential of the CEE startup scene are staggering. To give a few indicators, CEE startups have hired more than 43 000 employees from the available workforce of about a million developers, and the number of startups has doubled in the last few years. This is not just a bubble, for 69% of startups get funded (Google for Startups report).

Solar power output is increasing

In the cleantech field, this growth goes hand in hand with the development of power – literarily speaking. When the Renewable Energy Association in Estonia did a review in 2015, the total solar power output in Estonia was 6,5MW. In 2019, the output was 113MW, and this is believed to reach 450MW by the end of 2021. This is accompanied by a wealth of cleantech startups who combine the benefits of software competence, increased interest in cleaner technologies, and support from state actors in the forms of both ecosystem and finances.

Showcasing energy-related startups

Therefore, it is no wonder that the Demo Centre already hosts an impressive array of globally-oriented solutions. I asked the founders of the Demo Center to point to three outstanding examples. Both Mari Sepp, Community Lead from Sunly, and Mr. Ani from CleantechEstonia admitted that the choice was difficult to make. Many of their showcased startups are already providing quality products and exporting them successfully. However, after being pushed, this is what they selected:

  • RoofitSolar — providing integrated photovoltaic construction elements that replace the conventional roofing and facade materials.
  • GridIO — whose product automatically checks the price of electricity and adjusts households’ electricity consumption accordingly
  • Themo — who provides a thermostat that checks the electricity price when heating your home

It is no coincidence that all of these examples being in the field of energy. In addition to matching the profile of Sunly, according to Ms. Sepp, “The centre is a primary contact point where start-ups, investors, and experts of energy and innovation meet under the same roof.

We provide them an overview of the clean technologies developed by Estonian start-ups.” “And we are expecting addition from our accelerator,” Erki Ani, the CEO of Cleantech ForEst, added.

Accelerator that can do good for the environment

Beamline Accelerator’s first batch will focus on Energy and Smart Cities. The chosen teams will have access to an impressive array of cleantech-specialized mentors, investors, and 50k in support. This, plus a clear focus on hardware startups, is a unique combination that can make a mark in the region – both in terms of business and environment.

Priit Lepassepp, the CEO of Sunly and the accelerator’s primary funder, states that „Estonia is in a really good position to roll out new businesses in the energy sector.” He says it comes down to our strength in the IT sector and the availability of relevant data since Estonia is one of the first countries to digitize its grid. Based on this, Estonia can be seen as an incubator where you can test your products and services and create a splendid reference to enter new markets.“

Applications are open!

Beamline also has the potential to shape the environmental impact of the industry. During the pre-accelerator period of two weeks, the Beamline team will get more acquainted with the candidates and validate their scope, ambition, influence on the environment, and the carbon cycle. While no strict criteria are set, teams are encouraged to take their environmental responsibility seriously.

💡 For those interested: the applications are open, and the chosen teams will start on June 1st, 2021.

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Written by
Peeter Vihma

sociologist, filmmaker & author


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