April 22 marked the finals of the third exciting engineering competition, Vernadsky Challenge 2017. After the prize fund was doubled to 2 million UAH in 2016, competition for Max Polyakov’s Vernadsky Challenge stiffened in 2017. This year’s competition finals were momentous for everyone involved as the legendary Mythbuster, Jamie Hyneman, attended the event.
As someone who has seen it all in engineering, Mr. Hyneman joined the panel of judges to evaluate each engineering startup with his years of experience in television and the engineering industry. His unique background as a special effects guru and hosting 15 seasons of Mythbusters was a beautiful addition to the other judges on the panel. It would be hard to find anyone who could better evaluate the feasibility of these ideas than Mr. Hyneman.
The opening ceremony was scheduled for 11 a.m., but the excited audience started packing the National Aerospace Educational Center of Ukrainian Youth in Dnipro, hours earlier to get their seats. Everyone was eager to be first in line for the 30-minute autograph session with Jamie Hyneman that started at 10:30. The event hall was then to became the Startup Expo Zone where finalist startups could introduce their technologies and prototypes to the audience and judges to receive some direct feedback. Predictably, half an hour was not enough time to satisfy all the fans, so Mr. Hyneman made another round after the event to meet anyone who wasn’t able to see him at the beginning.
Onсe the autograph session closed, the crowd moved to the main stage to take their seats, unaware of the surprise to come. The stage was illuminated with a 3D map, framing the entire event from start to finish with an atmosphere of high tech innovation. As a managing partner of Noosphere Ventures and the Vernadsky Challenge founder, Max Polyakov kicked off the show with an opening speech sharing valuable insights and tips for would-be entrepreneurs.
“I would like to advise every startup that will be making a pitch today, or in the future, to always keep their business model and the true value of the product in mind. For instance, when a company builds a rocket, the rocket as a product is not the ultimate product. It should be considered as the means to overcome gravity or to retrieve exclusive data from space. The rest is just operational issues. I want everyone to think this way. It is also crucial to design a closed-cycle business model. In the future this will eliminate the risk of reliance on business partners who fill the gap in the value delivery chain.
Secondly, compared to software startups, hardware startups face problems with increased R&D costs and the lack of potential investment. Thus engineers have to be prudent from the very start. Consider the “cost to market” and think about the project scalability over 2-3 years. Otherwise, there is a high risk of failure in the future with only the unfulfilled intellectual potential as a sad reminder of all the effort invested.
Thirdly, despite all the stereotypes regarding the cheap labour force in Ukraine and outsourcing capabilities, you should analyze the other advantages of operating your business in the country. It will be a simple matter of 5 years or so for the market to, one way or another, balance this disproportion in salaries.”
— Max Polyakov, Managing Partner of Noosphere Ventures
The kick off was followed by one of the most interesting events – the Q&A session with the panel of experts for the Vernadsky Challenge. Jamie Hyneman, accompanied by Michael Ryabokon, Noosphere CIO and Rashid Aliyev, Head of Maker Space at Baku American Center, dazzled the audience for the next hour. On top of this, Dmitry Sholomko, Vernadsky Challenge founder and Google Ukraine Director, also joined the discussion via Skype. The discussion took direct questions and gave participants the rare opportunity for personalized answers. During the discussion that touched on a variety of topics in technology and engineering, Mr. Hyneman made one particular statement that struck a chord with the audience. While answering a question on what dream myth Jamie had left to be tested, he answered, ”I would like to fly to Mars on the rocket you guys build!”
Shortly after the session, the time was turned over to the Hideez project team, a Vernadsky Challenge 2016 finalist. The team shared their story of success and prepared a short presentation on their achievements in the post-Vernadsky period. With this positive note from a former winner, finalists shared their 15-minute pitches for the next 3 hours. Time flew by, as the startups struck the audience with their innovativeness and the breadth of ideas presented. Each presentation raised the energy in the room and seemed to raise the bar for the next one.
In 2017, Vernadsky Challenge attracted applications from 230 startups in different tech fields, ranging from IOT devices to orbital satellites launchers. The competition also covered a wide geography. Participating startups were not exclusively limited to Ukraine. At least 10% of all projects came from other countries, such as the USA, Israel, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and India. Such a diverse group of startups required the squad of experts to carefully examine each submission and select the top 10 to present at the finals. The selection committee consisted of 45 scholars from leading Ukrainian universities and 20 executives from companies that support Association Noosphere.
Special credit should be given to the expert committee that was evaluating the startups at the challenge finals, as this year Jamie Hyneman was not the only honourable judge at the event. In addition to the competition founders Max Polyakov and Dmitry Sholomko, Michael Ryabokon and Rashid Aliyev joined the panel of judges. It also included the “Innovation & Capacity Building” program manager at the American Councils for International Education in Ukraine, Adrian Erlinger. The director of National Center of Control and Testing of Space Vehicles, Volodymyr Prysyazhnyy was also asked to join the panel and the founder and CEO of the design firm ARTKB, Alex Nesterenko, joined him. Finally, physicist and popular blogger, Anton Senenko took his honored seat along with other judges who were kind enough to lend their expertise.
Once the last startup finished off the pitching sessions with its presentation, the panel took half an hour break to compare notes and decide on the winners. While they deliberated, the audience was again entertained with a 3D map show with special effects and the awards for the video challenge that was launched 2 weeks before the event. The challenge was free to join and participants simply needed to create a DIY video of busting popular myths. The authors of most spectacular videos received a special prize a Vernadsky Challenge branded T-shirt with a Jamie Hyneman autograph.
The judge’s decisions were based on the average scores calculated for each startup and were announced as follows:
- First place and 40% of the total fund (800 000 UAH / approx. 30 000 USD) went to
Cubomania for their interactive cubes and toys for kids.
“Cubomania” developed a universal design for children cubes/bricks. Cube side panels are to be replaced with LED screens, which can broadcast different educational and entertaining video content pre-downloaded via a web interface. To make the learning process even more engaging for kids, cubes can be also equipped with other interactive elements like toggle switches, joysticks, web-cams, etc.
- Second place and 30% of the total fund (600 000 UAH / approx. 22 500 USD) went to
Cardiomo for their health monitoring device.
Cardiomo is a small device designed for constant health monitoring. The device captures the main vital signs such as: EKG/ECG and heart rate, breathing rate and skin temperature; and most importantly it can track for abnormalities. If anything is detected, Canrdiomo can alert not only the device holder, but also family members. The product can recognize and alert for up to 40 diseases including heart attack and stroke.
- Third place and 20% of the total fund (400 000 UAH / approx. 15 000 USD) went to
CloviTek for their wireless audio transmitter.
CloviFi, Wi-Fi Audio Transmitter, is a device that connects to any TV or any other audio source and transmits an audio stream via WI-Fi. In such a way, the audio stream can be played using a smartphone and headphones plugged-in, so users will be able to control personal acoustic levels without disturbing anyone nearby.
Although they did not place in the standings, these startups didn’t leave the event empty‑handed by receiving motivational freebies:
- Raccoon.world won the Audience Choice Award that counted for 10% of the total fund (200 000 UAH / approx. 7 500 USD) for their VR hand device.
Raccoon.world develops gadgets to reproduce fine motor skills and tactile perception of human hands. Raccoon Сlip is a hand palm gadget designed for operating VR hands and manipulating VR objects.
- eCozy won the Partner Choice Award for their smart house heating control devices and received a special prize from MaxPay, a Vernadsky Challenge partner. The award was for an exclusive package of MaxPay services in payment processing to boost eCozy’s sales.
eCozy Smart Heating Solution is an AI-integrated water heating control system. The system is compatible with current Smart-House solutions and can help save up to 30% on energy consumption.
There are no better words to sum up the feeling of the event than those that the initiator of Vernadsky Challenge Max Polyakov used during his opening speech:
“What we do here is not exclusively for the startups that will pitch today and win the grant. It is done to inspire everybody here and grant the opportunity to pitch their ideas in the coming years. It is a great way to seed the idea of passionarity – the desire to overachieve – that will shake the noosphere and result in new successful companies.”
Don’t miss your chance to participate in Vernadsky Challenge 2018.
Apply @vernadskychallenge.com starting form September 1, 2017!