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Hofer startup SmartZavod receives EXIST founder grant

Oleksii Solntsev, 26, and Anton Yakhno (27) are master’s graduates in mechanical engineering at Hof University of Applied Sciences and founders of the startups SmartZavod (Ukrainian for Smart Factory). Together with Eugenia Solntseva, who is mainly responsible for marketing and communication in the founding team, they have been working on the development of a multifunctional 3D printer for a year. They have now received funding of 125,000 euros for their project.

Pleased about the acceptance for the EXIST-Gründerstipendium for the team of SmartZavod (from left to right): Prof. Dr. Michael Seidel (Professor of Entrepreneurship at Hof University of Applied Sciences), Jörg Raithel (Project Coordinator of the Startup Lab at Hof University of Applied Sciences), Anton Yakhno from the SmartZavod startup team, Prof. Dr. Robert Honke (Professor of Engineering at Hof University of Applied Sciences) and Dr. Jens Löbus (Managing Director of the Digital Startup Center Einstein1). Oleksii Solntsev and Eugenia Solntseva could not be on site for the photo session. Photo: Jörg Raithel;

There is great joy among the founders and their supporters at Hof University of Applied Sciences and at the Einstein1 business incubator

We are very happy that it worked out! The application was complex and waiting for the decision from Berlin caused us some sleepless nights, because the further development of our project would have been at risk without this funding.”

Anton Yakhno, SmartZavod

With the EXIST start-up grant, which the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection awards for technology-oriented and knowledge-based start-ups from universities, the three founders are now getting a good tailwind to drive their idea forward. They will receive a monthly allowance for one year to cover living costs, so that the founders can concentrate fully on their project and are secure. In addition, they receive around 35,000 euros for material expenses and consulting services to drive forward the technical development of their idea and draw up a detailed business plan. At the end of the year, it will then have to be seen whether SmartZavod’s development has a chance on the open market.

Fully automated 3D printer that can also mill and laser cut

Oleksii and Anton are busy building a special 3D printer. 3D printing is a technology of the future whose use has been growing rapidly for years, especially in the production of one-off items and spare parts, such as prostheses in medicine, models, small series and prototypes. It is an additive manufacturing process in which a material, in SmartZavod’s case plastic, is applied layer by layer to create three-dimensional workpieces. The main advantages over conventional production methods are that it is faster and cheaper to produce because it eliminates the upstream production of molds for casting processes. However, many of the 3D printers available on the market are purely stand-alone solutions. This means that if different materials are to be processed or if, for example, milling or laser work is to be carried out in addition to printing, several devices are generally required

The SmartZavod team wants to solve this problem with a fully automated and multifunctional hybrid printer. This would significantly streamline and speed up the development and production process of new workpieces. “Our printer should be able to process up to 30 different materials, have eight tool heads that can be changed fully automatically. Finished workpieces will be automatically removed from the printing table, allowing continuous printing without interruption between printing parts. This would allow printing, milling and laser cutting in a single machine,” says Anton Yakhno

“We can control the manufacturing process completely remotely from anywhere in the world via a web application, without the need for an operator to intervene manually. If we succeed, we would be the first supplier in the world to enable this diversity in a single device.”

Oleksii Solntsev, co-founder

Start-up support at the university bears fruit

At Hof University of Applied Sciences and at the business incubator, people are pleased to see so much innovative and founding spirit.

Oleksii and Anton hit a nerve with their development and they bring very essential character traits that characterize successful founders, namely persistence, enthusiasm for experimentation, courage and, last but not least, know-how and the conviction that one’s own idea is good.”

Dr. Jens Löbus, Managing Director Digital Startup Center Einstein1

Dr. Jens Löbus assisted Anton and Oleksii with their application. The two founders have already won several prizes with their business idea, for example the Ukrainian Startup Fund founder award in their hometown of Kiev, which is worth the equivalent of around 20,000 euros. A few weeks ago, SmartZavod took second place in a nationwide startup competition in Leipzig. With the award of the coveted EXIST startup grant, they will receive the highest funding to date

“We have received very good support at the university and at the Digital Founders Center Einstein1 from the very beginning. We would like to express our sincere thanks for this, especially to the Startuplab project and its coordinator Jörg Raithel, who made it possible for us to get started in the first place with Kickstart funding, and to Dr. Löbus, without whose help we would not have managed the application process for EXIST,” says Anton Yakhno. During the one-year fellowship, Oleksii, Anton and Eugenia will continue to receive support from the university and the incubator. The program is designed so that the founders are each assigned a technical and a business mentor. In this case, they are Dr. Robert Honke, Professor of Engineering at Hof University of Applied Sciences, who already mentored Anton Yakhno during his master’s thesis, and Dr. Michael Seidel, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Scientific Director of the Digital Incubator Einstein1.

For Seidel, the award by the Ministry of Economics is also a logical consequence of the broad range of offerings for founders at Hof University

With the “Entrepreneurship and TechStartups” course of study, the Digital Startup Center as a beacon and the Startuplab with Makerspace and Kickstart program, we are now very professionally positioned here. We are of course pleased that our commitment is now also bearing fruit.”

Prof. Dr. Michael Seidel

He continues, “Those who study in Hof will find an exceptionally good environment for starting their own business.”

Jörg Raithel

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