After a successful pitch at the Startup Central Eurasia Venture Day 2021, the founders received funding from Farid Ismayilzada, an invited partner, and founder of Technovate Investments.
Elven Technologies is a Georgian startup that has created a fireproof and self-cooling fire suit. Their main goal is to invent a new type of space suit, in which heat resistance is one of the key elements. The startups are now in California, obtaining a patent for their technology and finding potential buyers. We talked to one of the project's founders, Vamekh Kherkheulidze, to find out how the project idea has evolved and how the investment has helped them.
A new type of spacesuit has to take into account six components: it must protect the astronaut from fire and radiation, maintain the temperature and pressure of the man, help him breathe, and protect him from dust in space. As the founder explains, working on a space suit requires, first and foremost, ongoing funding. And in order to get that funding, you need to monetise the technology that people need now, on Earth. And that's when the startups focused on perfecting the firefighter's uniforms.
The company's fireproof suits feature an internal cooling system that automatically detects an increase in the suit’s temperature and cools the firefighter down to the right level. The combination of the technology of the matrices themselves and the tailoring ensures complete protection from direct flames and very high heat resistance, keeping firefighters safe.
In 2019, the startups received their first $100,000 grant from GITA. Then they created a suit sleeve as a prototype and tested its resistance at 1,200 °C. The team was then joined by a designer who developed a unique tailoring technology, at which point they succeeded in creating a full-fledged uniform. Compared to other suits which could withstand this temperature for no more than 8 seconds, the Elven Technologies suit kept the temperature inside for a full minute. Thus, its level of protection was five to six times better.
— What development strategy are you pursuing after successfully testing the suit last year?
Our strategy is not to produce suits: we want to sell the license to the manufacturing company so that they either pay us a share for each form sold, or buy the technology outright. And to do that we need to get a patent.
— Do you agree that investors are more likely to finance a project that can be applied on Earth than one that needs to be conquered in space?
It's a very complicated question. I have been pitching for about a year and usually rebuild the pitch after every event. For example one day I concentrated on the idea of a spacesuit and I did this speech excited about space. Then I got feedback from the investors like: “We understand your spacesuit staff, but it is so far away. Go out with the things that you have already done – concentrate on the firesuit”. I said: “Okay!”. My next pitch was devoted to the advantages of our firesuit. However in that case investors asked me to tell more about the space suit. So, it depends.
— Do you need additional investment right now?
We always need investment. When we close round and get money for the next year, in six months we need to start the process of fundraising again. And this circle can't be stopped until we sell our firesuit technology. Sometimes it looks like hell as we are engineers and we need to build things on our own. We don't have time to do it. So we decided never to close the round. This way I don't have to spend lots of time searching for investors. I just talk to people all the time and say that we are open to investing. So current investment gives us a runway until the end of next year.
— In the summer of 2021, our Startup Central Eurasia platform held a venture day. Can you share how that day went for you?
I remember that day very well. It was July, we had no money at all. Also, the COVID was going on, and the only thing I could technically do was try to find the money for Elven through the Internet. I was pitching 5 times a day, the same 5-minute pitch. Irakli Kashibadze advised me to go to that event as well. It was my last pitch. Before that, on the same day, I pitched to Paris and Silicon Valley and I thought: “Come on, who is gonna listen to me here?”. I was planning to miss it. But I came. Very surprisingly after my speech, I got the message from Farid Ismailzada. He is a very nice person and it was my first time when I talked to an investor as a human being – it was really easy to talk to him. Actually, he decided to invest after 2 zoom calls. I have never met him physically until we built the first wearable suit with Technovate money. Now we are good friends with him and we work together in the USA. I can say that meeting Farid changed lots of things for the better.