Engineering is like chess: both require the right move at the right time
HeatConsult OÜ is a company that mainly operates in the field of heat and gas supply system design; heating, ventilation and cooling system and boiler house design as well as owner supervision and providing expert opinions. Igor Krupenski and Aleksandr Ledvanov talk about the idea of starting their own company and the results achieved so far.
What mainly drove them to setting up a company was the scarcity of work due to the economic recession and the fact that working for the employer presented no challenge. Igor and Aleksandr both studied heat power engineering at Tallinn University of Technology and worked together in Eesti Gaas AS and K-Projekt.
“At first we performed technical tasks in our area of expertise for Eesti Gaas AS, and then went to work for the K-Projekt design company together. We got practical experience and also learned how designing should be done. In addition, we acquired useful contacts and acquaintances, and after a year in K-Projekt we felt that the projects we had been managing had become too narrow and did not pose sufficient challenges. Then we realised we needed to do something new. We felt we had the energy, knowledge and skills to set up our own company and make sure we get better and more interesting work. And this is how HeatConsult OÜ was born,” says Igor.
Aleksandr and Igor had a home office for half a year, but in the end they decided they needed room for a separate office whereas fixed charges had to be low because a small starting company cannot exactly afford luxurious office space. This was how they found the Incubator in their search for an office. “The Incubator has supported us and given advice all the time. We recommend other starting companies turn to them as well: prices are sensible here; you can find a suitable office and you get other support services as a bonus.”
Success due to good value for money
Naturally, winning through without knowing the market well was difficult at first. The company managed to prove itself in one sphere first and, in half a year, in another. Now Igor and Aleksandr believe they have outperformed themselves at heat and gas supply system design compared to their previous works. The company is operational, and there is enough work: at the end of January two years passed after it was founded, and a long list of designs is in progress at the moment.
“Still the amount of work depends on your field; Estonia is so small that everything rests on acquaintances. Our previous work experience helped us establish relationships and contacts with potential partners, and we have managed to prove to them that our still small company can provide high-quality services at slightly lower prices,” Igor says contently.
“The price of design work does not have such a great effect on the final price of the objet as it does on quality. Provided the design job has been performed correctly and it is of high quality, the construction company will be able to build the object properly. This is our goal: we always try to pay more attention to quality,” adds Aleksandr.
HeatConsult cannot complain about the lack of competition. “Ours is a very narrow and competitive field, and there are 5–6 competitors, depending on the field and, of course, the location. There are those who operate in Viru County, in Tartu County and so on.” So, competitors are plenty and that, in the first place, because they have been operating on the market long before HeatConsult. However, Igor and Aleksandr are sure that knowledge and skills are their advantages and strengths, “We want to win due to quality; in case we are not competent enough in some field or direction at the moment, we involve other partners, for instance, university professors etc. We develop, we learn and we go on. We believe it is rather good value for money that we offer, and we keep telling our new employees that attention needs to be paid to quality and this is what we cannot compromise.”
Bringing up new strong engineers
At the moment, the team of HeatConsult consists of six people; in addition to Igor and Aleksandr, two excellent engineers were hired; two other employees are students right from university, who have by now developed greatly, and the company intends to “bring them up” as competent engineers. As there are few companies that operate in this field, specialists are always scarce. There are two opportunities: to tempt them away with higher salary numbers or educate them in the company. “We choose both ways: we want to recruit good engineers to offer them an opportunity for working in our enterprise and development, and, on the other hand, we want to teach new people,” Igor explains.
School-leavers used to go to university and choose the so-called popular professions: information technology, economics, management. “As a university teacher myself, however, I have noticed a trend of the latest years: technical professions are in the focus of attention again. Graduates majoring in technical fields now have a definite competitive advantage in the labour market as it is specialists and good engineers that it lacks. If you can do as much as get a proper education, you will be able to compete in the labour market,” Igor thinks. Igor and Aleksandr give the following advice to students, “Think about the future and which profession will provide better opportunities. It’s easier to get your foot in the door in technical professions, but you will have to study well first, and you can’t help it.”
Ambition to expand to Finland, Sweden and Russia
Today, HeatConsult’s customers are mainly state-owned firms, but there is also cooperation with the international group Nordecon and technology companies: it is exactly at this moment that one project for the VKG is in progress. However, the lion’s share of works is ordered by network owners.
Last November, the Incubator helped to organise a visit to Finland for a meeting with potential partners there, and the negotiations with them are still going on. “Our ambitious plan is to receive orders from abroad one day and set up subsidiary companies, first of all, in Finland, Sweden and Russia,” says Igor. This will pay off as the services provided will be of the same high quality that Finnish and Swedish engineers offer, but their design services are 3–4 times more expensive than in Estonia. An essential aspect of designing is that it can be done, so to say, remotely: you do not have to be on site, but you can accept the work here in Estonia to be done and design somewhere else in the world.
Contribution to decreasing energy consumption: almost entire Estonia has been covered with environmentally friendly designs
HeatConsult has designed around 20 kilometres of heating mains all over Estonia, and about 15 km are in progress and will have been finished in a couple of months. Soon the entire country will have been covered with designs, which is rather a significant achievement.
The design of the 54 kilometre Kiili-Paldiski gas pipeline, which is to become the first step of the gas connection between Estonia and Finland, is also a matter for pride. “We can’t wait to have finished it so that we can go further. There is no certain completion deadline at the moment as there are numerous problems with execution, but we expect it to be finished this year,” Igor hopes. The biggest issue is that the pipeline goes through numerous land plots from Kiili to Paldiski (six rural municipalities in all), and an agreement must be reached with each land owner for the gas pipeline to be located on his or her land. “We would like to be able to design at least a part of the next stage, the gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea,” Igor introduces HeatConsult’s vision of the nearest future. “As our designs are environmentally friendly and we focus on minimising energy losses, we hope they are our contribution to decreasing energy consumption.”
The importance of sports for youth drives us to be a socially responsible company
Supporting young sportsmen is important for HeatConsult. Unfortunately, profits and opportunities are not as large and many as the company would like, but there must be a start. “One day, when we have become a major group, we will have better opportunities to support sports for youth, but now we are the main sponsor of the ‘Vabaettur’ chess club. This summer there will actually be an international chess tournament with the title related to our company: the HeatConsult Open. This will be the largest youth chess festival in Estonia that will host chess players from Finland, Lithuania, Poland and Russia as well, and HeatConsult will be supporting them because we would like to develop this area. It is said that chess and engineering go hand in hand: both require the right move at the right time,” Igor sums up.