Pure water and sound business
Here is how a programme funded jointly by the EU enabled an innovative SME to develop an environmental procedure and successfully introduce it into the markets of its neighbouring countries.
In Estonia, the governmental agency Enterprise Estonia (Ettevõtluse Arendamise Sihtasutus / EAS) is one of the institutions responsible for managing Structural Funds in the EU. With the help of the European Regional Development fund (ERDF), it is piloting various business support programmes, aimed respectively at research & development, exporting and start-ups. EAS offers advice on all issues regarding patents, technologies and innovative services, business development, competition, etc., be it at the preliminary studies stage or before the main project is submitted. In 2005, EAS provided support for 30 preliminary studies (0.3 million euros) and 34 projects (7.8 million euros) ranging from low-cost integrated telephony systems to energy cocoons for baths, via blocks of flats made of wood. The programme’s beneficiaries focusing on R&D include the company Fixtec.
Established in 1992, Fixtec is a small company working in the field of environmental technology, which it develops in-house or imports. It recently started producing small organic waste water purifiers, called “BioFix”, for private homes, retirement homes, hotels, etc. This idea originated from the identification of a very high demand in the Finnish market. Well-known for its very strict environmental regulations, Finland has imposed biochemical waste water purification since 2003, including for private homes. However, Fixtec noted that most manufacturers didn’t offer this type of purifier, hence its project to develop the product and export it to the Finnish market.
The initial tests were begun in 2003. The aim was to optimise the purification process (currently 95% effective), and operating costs. The most important advantages of the BioFix technology include the low quantity of residual sludge and the simplicity of nitrogen extraction. The initial pilot equipment was assembled during the first half of 2006 and production of parts began straight afterwards. The product promotion will take several years. Finland is the main market for the moment, but Fixtec is working also in the Estonian and Latvian markets, both countries in which waste water has to be treated before being released into the natural environment.
Two Estonian consultants (a researcher and an engineer-designer) were recruited to pilot the project. It worked in close cooperation with a number of foreign companies: WatMan Oy, Pumppulohja Oy, Y-Laite Oy, Ekofinn Oy, Ekspo-Net, Reshetilov and Co., etc. Water analyses were conducted by authorised laboratories in Estonia. The requisite tests to obtain the EC label are being conducted in Finland (Suomen Ympäristökeskus and Valtion Tutkimuskeskus) and should be completed in the summer of 2007.
The BioFix initiative, which is only just beginning, is an example of the way funding can be put to good use in a regional context. With the help of a programme funded jointly by the EU, Fixtec successfully developed this new product and new processes, whilst entering new markets. “We have already sold BioFix to several hundred customers in Finland in 2006 and sales should expand rapidly,” predicted Mait Põldemaa, director of Fixtec. EAS helped work out the business plan to export the product on a large scale. The BioFix project should generate turnover of nearly one million euros in 2010.