Astana, Republic of Kazakhstan
Nazarbayev University Research and Innovation System (NURIS)

October 23, 2018
Start-up of Nazarbayev University Student Received Foreign Investment of $ 110,000
We interviewed the alumni of the ABC Business Incubation Program and the ABC Quick Start Acceleration Program, a 3rd year student majoring in Electrical Engineering at Nazarbayev University, Miras Sovetov
It is a matter of great pride and joy for us, because his startup originates in the Incubation and Acceleration Program of Nazarbayev University, for which he has achieved extraordinary results to date.
Miras as an independent participant joined us in February 2018, when he had only one idea, and now he has an amazing team.
But how does Miras find his start-up idea? What you will have to go through for building a successful start-up? How to market your idea to potential foreign investors?

All answers of these questions may be found in the interview
Let's begin our interview by telling me about yourself? What do you do? And how did you choose your profession?

— I'm a 3rd year student in Electrical Engineering at Nazarbayev University. I'm engaged in developing a start-up called Spot Spray System (hereinafter "SSS"). It is a smart system of spraying herbicides on agricultural plots, which allows reducing costs and increasing yields using computer vision and machine learning technology. We have recently attracted the first pre-seed (early) investments of $ 110,000 from the ARTISAN Hong Kong Venture Capital Fund and in a couple of weeks we will go to Hong Kong to study at Brinc hardware accelerator. "SSS" start-up solves the huge problem of use of herbicides with enough frequency in agriculture. Herbicides are chemicals designed to control weeds. Weeds also reduce the yield by 50% annually. Today, the use of herbicides is extremely inefficient, as not only weeds are sprayed with herbicides, but also bare soil and crops. And thus we reached a decision to create a camera based on artificial intelligence technology, which is able to distinguish between weeds and crops is order to just spray the row with weeds.

As of today, my "SSS" start-up has received tailored mentorship at the Google's Tel Aviv Office in Israel, where our product was further developed for two weeks. We were the first from Kazakhstan and the youngest participants to receive such an opportunity.
Start-up "SSS" attracted the first pre-seed (early) investments of $ 110,000 from the ARTISAN Hong Kong Venture Capital Fund and in a couple of weeks we will go to Hong Kong to study at Brinc hardware accelerator
Miras, your achievements are very impressive and as far as we know, you are the first Kazakhstani student startup to receive investments from the ARTISAN Venture Fund, as well as you will get experience with Brinc - one of the best hardware accelerators in the world, which is located in Hong Kong. Tell our readers, where did you get the idea to create "SSS" start-up?

— I have been working on "SSS" startup since February. At that moment, I just had the idea that I wanted to do something cool. I did not know how I would build it, where or how.

The irony is that my grandfather and father work in the agriculture sector: my grandfather was a shepherd, and my father breeds horses. I wanted to become the first engineer in our family, and break this vicious circle. But as, they say, what goes around comes around, and that's why I, like my father and grandfather, pursue a career in farming.

How did you come to the idea to apply artificial intelligence and computer vision technologies in agriculture, as well as technologies you know in the fight against herbicide spraying?

— My father decided to raise wheat. As a result, financial resources were invested in order to get a good profit. But alas, the harvest was poor and the result was deadly. One of the reasons for the lack of success was weeds and the high cost of herbicides. And then I wondered why it necessary to spray the whole field when this chemical is used to control only weeds. And the idea came from this thought. After we created the first version of prototype together my team, we decided to combine efforts and translate the idea into reality. It seemed to me possible, moreover, likely that this idea has a great future. We became really motivated to implement the idea in the prototype, product and, finally, business.

Miras, you are alumni of the first ABC Incubation Program at Nazarbayev University. Moreover, in February you, a 20-year-old second-year student, came one without a team. And we well remember that you did not willingly share your idea with others. Did you want to protect your idea from being stolen or what was the reason for your isolation?

— Initially, it seemed to me that if I could quickly create a prototype, then anyone else would be able to put the idea to any use. Later, when I faced the greatest challenge in implementing a startup, I realized that not everyone is able to bring this idea to fruition for completely various reasons. And if, having overcome the difficulties, he or she can bring the idea to the prototype, this is just too cool. Therefore, I totally changed my perspective and became more sociable and open.

In fact, you have obtained ordinary results for your half-baked idea in 9 months. Building a hardware start-up in agriculture is not easy, but you have made great progress, which is almost impossible for a Kazakhstani startup. Tell us how did you get there? What motivated you and what helped you the most?
— It is important to note that the main thing is to set up a team. No man is an island, and I would never have gone that far if it was not for the team that able to translate the idea into the finished project. I have united people who are much better than me in this or that sphere, who have some missing me competencies and experience. It turned out some kind of synergy, which produced effective results.

Now, two of the students from Nazarbayev University Otanioz and Daniyar are coming with me to Hong Kong. The engineers were responsible for the hardware direction, the professor was in charge of integration issues, the students completed the processes of artificial intelligence, and I coordinated the work process, as well as filled the paperwork. My engineering education helped me a lot, because when you understand and know about working principle, you set goals and deadlines correctly.

There were also difficult stages associated with the team. Just two months ago, the situation was not the best. There were no enough funds, and I had to disband the team consisting of two electrical engineers, Former Chief Engineer of NURIS PI and Chief Engineer at ABC Fab Lab, Professor of the School of Engineering and three students.

Now, it is the middle of October 2018. In just 2 weeks you will go to Hong Kong to receive your first pre-seed investments. What are your short term goals and plans for a startup?
— In the near future we plan to make a prototype and product. The next step is to receive the seed fund between $ 200 thousand and $ 500 thousand and expand the team by which we will be able to create a full-fledged product. In this way, we will enter a new round, and deliver products with mass production. And of course, the end point is the sale of our company to foreign herbicide sprayers manufacturers.
These are very cool plans. In addition, you are the founder of a startup from Kazakhstan, who received first investment from Hong Kong, where you will visit a hardware accelerator soon. It is clear that you will most likely create and enhance a prototype in Ukraine or China. But where will you develop your start-up? Will you develop a start-up for the local market or are you aimed at the global market?
— Definitely, we do not plan to focus only on the Kazakhstan market, our goal is the world market, we want to start working with such countries as Russia and Ukraine. In addition, a favorable ecosystem to build a start-up business is now being developed in Kazakhstan, and I think it will be possible in the near future to actually implement our project on the territory of the country in specific regions. It is very important for me to support the Kazakhstan ecosystem, because it helped me and my team to implement our start-up.
You have completed two programs: ABC Business Incubation Program and ABC Quick Start Incubation Program at Nazarbayev University absolutely free: Please, tell me what helped you the most?
— First of all, the ABC Incubation Program helped me a lot, this is a great program in terms of quality business education, in the context of which we gained important knowledge and experience.

Unlike the ABC Incubation, the ABC Quick Start Acceleration Program is aimed at sales, whereas we have not yet matured enough to be able to monetize our product at the stage of creating the first version. It is important to note that thanks to the acceleration program I was lucky to meet and have a very cool mentor, Roman Baranov, who helped me to perform a serious task in attracting foreign investment.

In your opinion, how difficult it is to be a student start-up founder?
— It always seemed to me that time was passing by, that I was missing the opportunity to do something very important. Later, I started to build a start-up in February in the last semester, I so engaged with my work that I didn't have enough time to study. As a result, my GPA had dropped from 3.4 to 2.5, roughly speaking I received grade 3. I practically stopped thinking about getting a master's degree, because at that time I thought it was impossible with my grades.

It was very difficult, because it seemed that you sacrifice everything, but you get nothing in return. At some point, when everything was overwhelmed concurrently, that time was the peak of workload: the exams began, which I hardly passed; I wanted to quit everything and go home to Aktobe just to sleep and rest. And when I came to Aktobe, opened my email and received the first mail from the Brinc Accelerator Hardware, saying that they invite me to Hong Kong, the second mail from the National Agency for Technological Development (NATD) stating that I won KZT 800,000 for the best student technical project, the next mail concluded that our project won the student competition at Nazarbayev University with the grand prize. The prize was a trip to the UAE in order to present a startup to foreign investors and venture funds. All the good news came at once, and it was very cool. And this is when a long period of time seems to you that nothing is working out, but you continue to try in spite of all difficulties, you look for it, you hit a wall, and then when you least expect a miracle happens.

You do not call your project a successful startup, but in general you have achieved great results. Lease, tell me how important it is to be able to properly distribute your time? After all, you applied for Kazakhstani grants, for various programs, international accelerators, you were looking for local investors (business angels). If you had the opportunity to go back, would you review your actions and decisions?
— I cannot call our start-up successful, until we create a product to be proud of. The main thing is to be prepared for difficulties, because at first people will not believe in asking complex questions that are not always answered. It is still very difficult to find a balance between personal life, study and creating a startup. Personally, I could not immediately find this balance because of my bad time management. In the end, realizing my mistakes, I came to the conclusion not to be distracted by unnecessary things.

Regarding your question, would I change my views and decisions? Most likely not, I would not change anything in my experience, because thanks to my mistakes I understood how to organize my time wisely.
Please tell us at is the difference in obtaining investments in Kazakhstan and abroad based on your experience
— Foreigners are very skeptical, and they are ready for the risk that 9 out of 10 start-ups will not get their successful access to international markets. Therefore, they are willing to share risks and responsibilities with a start-up and, to a greater extent, with its founders. It turns out that you are together in the same boat.

If we compare foreign with Kazakhstani investors, the difference will be very large, since our investors perceive poorly the possible failure of a startup. And in case of failure, the investor himself painfully suffers failure, including transferring his experiences to the founder. This may have a negative impact in psychological terms.

What can you advise start-ups like you?

— It is probably very important to understand that hard work does not always work (, because most people who want to do something for themselves are those who are ready to work like a galley slave. So I would advise to people like me:

1.Working smart not working hard, working without adequate rest breaks a person.

2. Something stake time, since this is a startup, the result will not necessarily appear in 3 to 9 months

3. Do not expect anything, there can be no deep disappointment where there is not great hope.

4. It's a journey, any work is a journey, and you need to go through it from beginning to end with interest in your work and pleasure.
Contact of the Communications Department NURIS
Zhanetta Yessekenova
t.: +7 7172 70 66 43