Three Pillars of Environmental Start-up: Team, Idea, and Patience
“If you think that the life of a start-up is all about development, pitching, and looking for money for your ideas — well, that’s exactly how things are!” says Andriy Hnap, co-founder and СЕО of the Waste Ukraine Analytics — a platform of open data about waste.
“Today, I have one pitch, and in ten days — another one. We’re applying with the Ukrainian Start-up Fund. I’ve just come back from a discussion about the market situation. That’s the life or a startupper: we’re on the hunt all the time,” says Hnap.
“Think up something”
The idea of creating a platform of open data about waste — Waste Ukraine Analytics — was born among a group of people who were meeting for the first time, and just a few months later it reached the final stage of the Open Data Challenge, a contest of IT projects.
For Hnap, an open data trainer, this was his second project in the area of the environment. Two years earlier he had entered the contest with a different idea to do with waste. At that time, his idea was not accepted, but the experience opened the way for him to enter the community of innovators. When he was eventually invited to join the Open Data Campus, a group dedicated to environmental issues, he immediately agreed.
At a meeting of the group, eight total strangers sat around a desk with this aim: “Think up something that has to do with open data.”
For the first five hours, Hnap tried to persuade the team members that waste had to be the area to work in. Finally, he succeeded. On the same day, the start-up formed a team and decided on a name: “Waste Ukraine Analytics.”
What does the start-up offer? Waste Ukraine Analytics is a site containing data about the waste that links partners together to buy and sell waste for recycling or reuse.
In Ukraine, up to 94 percent of garbage gets buried in landfills. This is the cheapest way to dispose of it. But Hnap believes that it is now time to move to more sustainable solutions. Europe and the United States are doing it, so why can’t we?
Over the first year of its existence, Waste Ukraine Analytics gathered together all of the available data on waste; competed in contests and hackathons, polished its code, and with every experience kept improving. Now they have ready solutions for Kyiv and Vinnytsia — the cities taking part in the Incubator for City Councils organized by TechUkraine. Hnap has no doubts his presentation will be successful: “I’m sure about it. This is a self-sustaining forecast.”
The start-up does not only work with businesses and City Councils but with international organisations as well.
“Right from the start, we shared our early concepts with the UNDP, showing our intermediate results and developments. That UN agency has the reputation, and we have the data, so we complement each other very well,” Hnap says. The two first worked together in December 2019, holding a joint event in Khmelnytsky on better waste management with the use of data*.
How it works
“There are companies that are ready to pay for solutions, but up until now, the market did not have those solutions. We’re an intermediary that has the solutions, knows the market players, and knows how to carry out that mutually beneficial exchange of waste,” Hnap says.
Open data about companies in Ukraine are already available via such services as YouControl, Opendatabot. What it takes now is to match these data with what companies themselves declare. This was what the WUA was busy doing all through the previous year.
Communication with business is now a priority. According to Hnap, while development continues, the dialogue with companies broke down somewhat: “Now we better understand what to ask, and how, to find out what our clients are concerned about — rather than what we think they are concerned about.”
WUA needs to understand what waste generators need, and how WUA could be of use to them. But being useful to everyone is not at all easy. From his talks with the clients, Hnap concluded that all of them have different requirements. Some want transparency, others don’t. Some are willing to share data about their operations, others would prefer it if those data were not available. Hnap has realised that it is impossible to please everyone, but it should not be a deterrent:
“One solution that would suit everyone does not exist. We have 1,536 kinds of waste, and each of those requires its solutions. But at some point, we will become a service that will help businesses to solve their problems. Now we need to have plenty of patience, develop the product, and become better.”
A long game
Being able to work for an idea, rather than for money, to keep going after setbacks — this is an absolute must in a start-up. Over the project period, the team members changed a little, since some members did not have enough patience to wait for the results. But now the work is being conducted in a coordinated manner all over Ukraine, and even from abroad. One of the business analysts moved to Oslo for several months.
“We all have our day jobs. Here, we’re not earning anything. Some things work, some things don’t. I understand that this is a long game, and the team is understanding about it. It is a path that we need to walk. To talk with clients and investors, and believe in our product,” Andriy says.
Besides, he claims that no extra incentives are required. So much has been done that there is no returning — what was started must be brought to a finish.
“You just realise that this must be done, and do it. If there were a simple solution to this problem, it would have been found long ago, without us. To have these things implemented, you must be outside the system. Maybe a bit of craziness is also required,” the environmental start-up CEO says.
In February 2020 the WUA was selected among other projects at the contest of “municipal” start-ups, but to have their ideas implemented, the team must make certain improvements in their solution and fearlessly get down to work with the city of Vinnytsia. More will follow. For the next five years, they plan to establish communication with market players across the whole of Ukraine, to make recycling and re-processing simpler and more profitable. An ideal scenario for the start-up? The successful launch of their product in Ukraine and beyond its borders: in the neighboring countries or in those where the environmental situation is worse.
“We can prove that data can help improve the situation and that a closed-loop economy can be a reality,” Hnap says.
- The event in Khmelnytskyi that Hnap refers to is one of the discussions of environmental policy at the local level, from the “Green Agenda: Regional Dimension” cycle, initiated by the “Support to the Parliament of Ukraine on sustainable energy and environment” project, implemented by the UNDP with financial support from Sweden. Events within that cycle were held in Svyatohirsk, Khmelnytskyi, and Dnipro.
- This story is a part of a communication campaign about environmental changemakers, which became possible thanks to the UNDP project “Support to the Parliament of Ukraine on sustainable energy and environment” with the financial support of Sweden and UNDP project “Plastic Waste Management at the local level” with the financial support of the joint New World Programme of the Coca-Cola Foundation and Global Water Challenge.
By Yulia Gudoshnyk for UNDP Ukraine. Edited by Yulia Samus and Viktoria Yashkina, UNDP
You can also read this article in Ukrainian