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New Way of Using Solar Energy Wins Youth Startup Award

Mariia Alipatova, winner of the Youth Startup Competition 2023.
Mechanical engineer Mariia Alipatova’s solar energy startup idea won the Youth Startup Competition 2023. Credit: European Commission

A new way to use solar power as a solution for building illumination, proposed by Ukrainian mechanical engineer Mariia Alipatova, won the Youth Start-Up Competition (YSC) at the European SME Assembly 2023 in Bilbao, Spain last week.

The competition took place during SME Week, the primary goal of which is to promote entrepreneurship throughout Europe. One of the objectives is to also foster this as a promising career path for young people. The three finalists presented their ideas at the event with the winning project being evenly determined by the jury and the audience in attendance.

Alipatova’s startup, named Solar Optic, promises “a new way of using solar energy [in] everyday life.” This can be applied to anything from houses—for the illumination of garages, basements, and attics—to industrial buildings and civil infrastructure such as hospitals, tunnels, airports, and train stations.

In her own words, winning the YSC is “a profound honor and responsibility.” The greatest challenge for her startup has been finding the financial resources and opportunities to bring Solar Optic to life, she opined, adding that her accomplishment motivates her to overcome difficulties and continue striving towards a more sustainable and innovative future.

Direct transmission of sunlight vs energy conversion

Mariia Alipatova developed a breakthrough sunlight router that allows its users to illuminate building interiors with direct sunlight through specially designed cables. This allows for the reduction of electricity costs by a handsome seventy percent. This further translates into significantly lower carbon emissions.

“We do not convert heat into electricity, like solar panels do, because with the concept of direct transmission of sunlight we avoid huge losses of energy,” the young entrepreneur noted in her video pitch.

“We concentrate the light on the surface of the lens,” Alipatova explained in speaking about the technology of Solar Optic. “This concentrated light is guided via a transparent polymer cable, and with a diffusion model we distribute the sunlight inside the building.”

Essentially a cable installation, the system includes smart sun tracking technology which follows the light on the roof as the sun moves throughout the day. Solar Optic is offered, however, as a hybrid solution that can be integrated into existing illuminating systems to compensate with artificial lighting when there is not enough sunlight.

There is an added health benefit to illuminating interiors with Solar Optic, too. Unlike artificial light technologies such as LED, the transported sunlight maintains the entire color spectrum of natural daylight, thus preventing the side effects that prolonged exposure to the dominant blue and green frequencies of artificial light would have on people.

Youth Start-Up Competition encourages innovative business models

The Youth Start-Up Competition was inaugurated this year in place of the Young Essay Competition, which ran from 2012 to 2022 during SME Week.

“We wanted to keep up with the times a little bit,” said Igor Kalinic, Head of Sector, EISMEA, and member of the jury. “We are not asking anymore for innovative ideas just as ideas, but for innovative business models to be presented to us.”

“Also, the format changed,” Kalinic added. “Instead of asking for long description documents, written words, we ask the young wannabe [start-uppers] to present a short video, 2-3 minutes long, pitching their business idea, always in line with what…the priorities of the EU [are and] digital and green transition.”

The three finalists of the European Commission's Youth Startup Competition 2023.
Mariia Alipatova from Ukraine, center, winner of the European Commission’s Youth Start-Up Competition 2023, with co-finalists Pauline Bellec from France and Julien Lanssens from Belgium. Credit: European Commission

The initiative forms part of the European Commission’s ongoing efforts to promote enterprises and support entrepreneurship across Europe, as well as to recognize the important role that young people play in shaping the future of the European Union.

Hence, YSC is open to young entrepreneurs aged eighteen to twenty-five from across the EU or the COSME (program for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) who may have innovative ideas that demonstrate potential for significant impact.

The four criteria that projects are judged upon are the originality, operational and financial feasibility, geographical impact, and presentation of the project, said Yolanda Alcala, SME Envoy of the Kingdom of Spain, who is also a member of the jury.

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