Kaunas IN
2022 06 09
Light architecture startup has come up with solutions for a warmer and brighter life

“Do you know where the first communal heating system was installed in Europe for the first time? At the Vytautas Magnus University Clinics in Kaunas! It was designed by Urbain Cassan, a French architect and engineer from Paris, back in 1937. Do you see any parallels? I believe that the history can turn around and be repeated,” smiles Dimitri Ionescu, the founder of LightMirror, an architectural technology startup, who lives in Kaunas. Dimitri, who studied engineering in France and developed his entrepreneurial skills in Estonia, chose to stay in Kaunas to further develop his startup – to improve the prototype and create the startup’s visual identity.


The city of light not only by night but also by day

The essence of the low-tech startup LightMirror is simple: it is an engineering solution for heating urban buildings with sunlight. Reflective panels are installed on roof to redirect sunlight to the windows of a nearby building, which direct sunlight to the windows of a nearby building. In this way, not only is the natural light source maximized, but solar energy is also used to heat the premises.

According to the creator of the startup, the idea was born while studying at the Paris School of Engineering. The school ran a partnership with one public lighting systems company, which provided the students with a task: to figure out what innovations could be applied to public lighting in Paris.

“At the time, I was eating pasta in my modest student apartment, and I thought to myself: it has been 200 years since the best architects and engineers had turned Paris into the city of lights. Do they think we can come up with something even better? Paris ALREADY is a city of lights. But it is a city of lights at night, and I can turn it into city of lights by day! And then I immediately had a very clear vision. In 10 seconds, all the images of how everything should be realized, flashed in front of my eyes. Of course, when presenting the idea at the time, my project did not impress the commission and was evaluated as “unrelated to the topic.” But a few months later, I took part in the French Student Startup Competition in 2019 with the same idea and And won the “Grand Prix”,” Dimitri, who holds a master’s degree in urban planning and civil engineering, recalls.


A look at Northern European public sector buildings

In selecting the first objects to implement the LightMirror system, startup developers are currently focusing on hospital infrastructure managers. According to Dimitri, it is in this sector that properly “employed” sunlight can bring the greatest benefits. This is primarily due to the fact that, according to statistics, hospitals are among the most energy-intensive buildings in the country. In Poland, for example, hospital energy consumption reaches up to 611 kW/m2 per year, while based on the new requirements of that country, this number should be six times smaller in the new healthcare buildings.

“In addition, it is easier for us, as a startup, to enter the market in cooperation with hospital management organizations. A hospital usually consists of several adjacent buildings, which will make it much easier to obtain permits and meet other urban requirements,” Dimitri points out the benefits of focusing on this type of client. The founder of the startup notices that, among other things, hospital managers have become accustomed to innovation over the past decades, making this market more ready for this type of project.

When asked who his biggest competitors are, Dimitri laughs and answers that the only competitor is “doing nothing.”

“By choosing the status quo, hospitals and public buildings will continue to consume huge amounts of energy for lighting and heating. What a heavy financial burden this could turn into, hospital managers had a chance to see as early as this winter. So, in the cold season of 2022 – 2023, we will see if lessons have been learned and perhaps, we will see more openness and willingness from them to work together to implement low-tech green solutions.”


Preparing for the first major installations

LightMirror has not yet attracted any funding. Half a year before the end of his master’s studies, Dimitri himself took out a student loan of 10,000 euro so that he would have something to live on after his studies and be able to devote his full time to business development, which he had been doing for the past three years. He has been joined by two Ukrainian cofounders: Aleksandra, a sales manager, specialist of big public tenders in energy and Anna, a design thinker, specialist in new materials development. According to Dimitri, for the time being, such a force is fully sufficient, and the growth of the team will be considered after getting funding for startups.

Currently, having arrived in Kaunas, the co-owner of the startup is focusing on business development. Among the works that have already been carried out are product adaptations and the refinements of target markets and countries.

“We are currently forming a consortium of companies with which we could apply to EU Life or EU New Bauhaus foundations. We are also establishing a subsidiary in Poland. The plans for the coming year are to secure grants and find partners with whom we can install the first major installations the upcoming winter.”


A look at the Kaunas startup community

According to Dimitri, Kaunas appeared to him as a quiet and green city, suitable for those who like to walk, “All my life I have been trying to do without a car and without public transport. Therefore, being able to reach everything you need on foot is a big advantage for me. I spend about 20 euro per week on food and about 500 euro on rent and housing. While living here, I can concentrate completely on work, and I think I’m doing well. Perhaps in the future we will consider moving the production of panels from Ukraine to the territory of Kaunas Free Economic Zone.”

After his arrival to Kaunas, Dimitri was helped to solve bureaucratic issues by Kaunas IN specialists, both in terms of personal registration, residence permit and company’s registration.

“I also found a lot of useful information that helped me decide to move to Kaunas on the Kaunas IN website. In addition, I received help from Kaunas University of Technology’s Startup Space and Kaunas MTP and Startup Lithuania. The latter helped me establish useful contacts and introduced me to the local startup ecosystem.”

Dimitri sees the local startup ecosystem as compact, classic and, despite limited funding, successful in achieving its goals and, most importantly, always finding opportunities to help each other. Kaunas MTP, which is open to international collaborations and has many strong mentors, also has a significant impact on cooperation.

Source: Associative photo.

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