Business support

As part of the programme Prototech, run by the Technology Business Centre at the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia (LIAA), 30 entrepreneurs and innovators have secured support for prototype development. Three of them are in the field of smart materials, creating a specific sled prototype, a 3D model of fiberglass reinforcement production equipment, and packaging film made of biodegradable kelp material.

“Smart materials in the classical sense include various functional electronic and composite materials. Developing any new material in this area is very expensive. Unlike information technology, where almost anyone with a computer can innovate, universities develop new solutions for smart materials. But innovation in this field is possible when universities license their inventions to companies ready to develop them further,” says Andrejs Berdņikovs, Head of the Technology Business Centre at the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia.

He adds: “Smart materials are important in many fields, from aerospace to construction. They are much more robust and environmentally friendly, and they help tackle challenges in the energy sector and address important contemporary issues, including offering innovative solutions for sustainability, reducing the negative impact of industrial activities on ecosystems, and saving natural resources. For example, smart materials make it possible to develop lightweight but durable materials by reducing resource consumption in production processes, while biodegradable polymers reduce the environmental pollution caused by traditional plastics. Prototech members are also tackling these and similar problems.”

Young people will have suitable sleds

Sled driver Mārtiņš Rubenis has been developing the sled for Latvian national athletes for a long time. He saw an opportunity to translate these developments into a more straightforward yet functional product – a sled for children and young people so that they can learn to ride quality equipment from an early age. This will help them to learn their chosen sport faster and reduce the risk of injuries caused by poor quality or outdated sleds. Moreover, such a product would not only be helpful in Latvia – there is also a great need internationally for high-quality but also inexpensive and easy-to-maintain sleds for children and young people.

“I decided to apply to the programme Prototech because I had a clear idea of what I wanted to create, but I didn’t fully understand how to make it happen. During the programme, we managed to create a real working tool and systematise the technological process for manufacturing the product,” says M. Rubenis.

In collaboration with Riga Technical University, the Prototech programme has developed a technological process for elements that will enable the production of safe and affordable sleds for the younger generation of sled drivers. “The next step is to start the full production process and to develop and refine prototypes of the next components,” he adds.

Get to prototype faster

HMP Group manufactures glass fiber reinforcement that can replace metal. The company had the idea for an engineering device that connects fiberglass reinforcing bars with a specially designed polymer compound to form a reinforcing mesh.

“We had planned to start developing such a device on our own, so the opportunity to participate in the Prototech programme was an unexpected but pleasant coincidence. The support of the programme significantly reduced the time needed to develop the prototype,” says Alise Novikova, CEO of HMP Group.

Together with experts from the Faculty of Civil and Mechanical Engineering of Riga Technical University, a 3D model of the future equipment was developed, which serves as a basis for the further development of the equipment. She stresses that this is a crucial step in creating the equipment: “We will continue to further develop the equipment according to our plan, leading to operational equipment that will deploy our fiberglass reinforcement.”

The prototype serves as proof

Kitija Paula Melnbarde initially developed her idea for algae packaging in the Innovation Academy, where she received valuable help validating it. At the programme's conclusion, the possibilities for building the first prototype were sought, requiring material scientists.

“The opportunity to participate in the programme Prototech came at the right time and place because it was this programme that offered the opportunity to collaborate with scientists from Riga Technical University (RTU),” she says.

With the support of the Prototech programme, the task of the team of Professor Sergejs Gaidukovs from the Institute of Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Technology, RTU, was to obtain a prototype packaging material using seaweed biomass and to develop detailed characteristics of the chemical and physical properties of the material. The result is a biodegradable, film-like, flexible, optically transparent, and hot-water soluble packaging material. “We needed to develop a film made from algae. Of course, you can’t make a proper film from algae, so we started looking at the scientific literature. It is known that a special substance can be extracted from algae, and a film can be made from it, but the pure film of this substance does not have the mechanics and other properties necessary for the client. So we adjusted the formulation a little to meet the technical specification: specific solubility, specific mechanics, and specific visual properties,” says Anda Barkane, a researcher at the Institute of Chemistry and Chemical Technology and project contributor.

P. Melnbarde is delighted with the prototype developed in the programme, which proves that this idea can be brought to life. The idea is that this material could be used in the packaging of personal care products, thereby reducing the amount of fossil-based plastic packaging in the cosmetics sector.

It promotes the development of new business ideas

The Prototech prototyping support programme had two calls. The first one received 29 applications, and the second 77. A total of 30 prototype authors received support of up to 15,000 euros each.

The Technology Business Centre aims to support promising young entrepreneurs in developing their business ideas. In cooperation with universities, the Centre supports research, concept development, prototyping, and the translation of Latvian scientific achievements into competitive business projects.

In addition to Prototech, the Technology Business Centre also runs the Innovation Academy, which has supported nearly 100 ideas. The Technology Business Centre is funded by the Norwegian Financial Mechanism and is part of the structure of the Business Incubators of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia.

The funding for the current programme has been exhausted, and the Technology Business Centre is now being made into the Technology Representation Office of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia in Riga. From 29 April to 17 May, a call for proposals is open for the Business Incubation Programme, which also offers support of up to 20,000 euros and an intensity of 70% for prototyping.

The Prototech prototyping support programme is implemented in cooperation with Latvian science universities and with the support of the Technology Business Centre at the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia and the Norwegian Financial Mechanism in Latvia. Working together towards a competitive Europe.