Seeing the enthusiasm with which German firms are run and the support they have was really inspiring,” Sergiy Shakola recalls about the time he spent in Germany during the Manager Training Programme. Then the deputy head of a Ukrainian bank office, in Germany he discovered a desire to strike out on his own.
A health food enthusiast, he was determined to found a firm to promote healthy lifestyles. In 2011, he was finally ready to quit his job at the bank and open an online shop for nuts, dried fruits, grains, organic laundry detergents and more. An organic grocery shop followed the year after. In his free time, Shakola organised festivals, presentations and seminars to draw attention to his favourite topic in Ukraine. At one presentation, an attendee shared his plans for developing a healthy snack and a start-up to market it. That was in 2013.
As it turned out, 2014 thwarted the entrepreneur’s best-laid organic plans. The armed conflict in Ukraine pulled his home city of Donezk into the melee, and Shakola was suddenly faced with nothing but ruins. With a heavy heart, he left his home behind and travelled to Kiev with his wife and children. In the capital, he regrouped, and contacted the person he had spoken to at the presentation the year before about healthy snack options. Shakola joined the newly founded company Futurefood, where he was soon made partner and took over running the firm as managing director. Since 2015, the company has produced “Futurechips”, crisps made entirely of flaxseed with no added chemicals. The goal was to create a healthy snack that tasted as much like potato chips as possible. Although the start-up is not even a year old, it is already generating enough income for the founders to live off and they have even hired their first employees. The crisps are sold primarily on the domestic market, in organic grocery shops and supermarkets.
The Manager Training Programme is what enabled the economist to expand his skill set and to become an entrepreneur. He is now hoping another project will help him achieve an international breakthrough. The free trade agreement between the EU and Ukraine includes an assistance programme to help agricultural companies enter the EU market, and Futurefood was selected to participate. “The average European consumes six kilos of snacks each year, Germans three kilos, and a Ukrainian only manages half a kilo,” Shakola says. Despite the lower consumption levels, he has his sights set on Germany as the first market to conquer. “Thanks to the MP, I know my potential customers. And I know my idea will be well received on the German market,” the young entrepreneur says with confidence. Over the coming months, the EU project will assist him with issues like the legal framework conditions for food imports and tips for finding a partner.
At 120,000 bags of crisps a year, Futurefood's production is still pretty modest. “So far we have managed to get the ball rolling using only our own capital without external loans,” Shakola reports with pride. Two new flavours are scheduled to come on the market soon – herb and sweet crisps, the latter being based on dried fruits. Shakola has patented the recipe, and says the production and formula are unique on the market. His four children are his biggest fans and most loyal customers, by the way, and they can hardly wait for the new flavour sensations to hit the market.