Startup Defence Builder to build drones and technology requested by the army

Startup Defence Builder to build drones and technology requested by the army
Ukraine has witnessed a surge in defence tech innovation initiatives and a new startup, Defence Builder, is aiming to build drones and supply the military with the technology it needs. / bne IntelliNews
By Adrien Henni in Barcelona April 29, 2024

In recent weeks, Ukraine has witnessed a surge in defence tech innovation initiatives, signalling progress in this crucial sector. Among the news was the launch of Defence Builder, a startup accelerator aimed at fostering collaboration between Ukraine’s military, business and startup communities to develop technologies requested by the army.

Defence Builder’s four-month programme, tailored each time for 15 teams, offers 100 hours of online lectures as well as physical meetings, fundraising assistance culminating in a demo-day with 70 investors, and more. The accelerator focuses on such technologies as unmanned aerial and surface vehicles, ground-based robotic systems, cybersecurity, avionics and sensors.

Co-founded by Ivan Kaunov, who also heads Buntar Aerospace and serves as an officer in the Ukrainian army, Defence Builder boasts support from key investors like Genesis and Sigma Software Labs, as well as the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) and various stakeholders in the Ukrainian tech ecosystem. Notably, it involves engineers and military personnel with battlefield experience, ensuring alignment with frontline needs.

In addition to Defence Builder, other accelerators contributing to Ukraine’s military innovation include ‘Military Innovation Technology Solutions,’ launched in February 2024 by American University Kyiv and Arizona State University, and ‘D3’ (Dare to Defend Democracy), which secured significant funding, including from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Last year, the Ukrainian government introduced ‘Brave1’ as an online platform to streamline and support defence technology innovation efforts.

Record drone production This month also saw the inauguration of a drone production facility on Ukrainian soil by German company Quantum Systems. The event, held on April 18, featured the participation of Vice Chancellor and Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Robert Habeck during his delegation trip to Ukraine, alongside Ukrainian Minister of Strategic Industry Alexander Kamyshin.

Quantum Systems’ reconnaissance drones have been operational in Ukraine since May 2022, and the newly opened plant marks the company’s second site in the country, complementing its existing local service, support, training and logistics centre.

With €63.6mn in funding secured last year, Quantum Systems has announced an investment of up to €6mn over the next two years in its Ukrainian drone production facility. The company aims to deliver 500 reconnaissance drones in total this year, with plans to ramp up production to 1,000 drones annually, including spare parts.

As reported by Forbes, President Zelenskiy has set the target for Ukraine to manufacture amn drones of various types this year. Though extremely ambitious, this goal seems attainable given the recent developments: according to Hanna Hvozdiar, Deputy Minister of Strategic Industries, drone production in January and February 2024 alone reached approximately “200,000 FPV drones.” This achievement is partially attributed to a new approach involving crowdsourcing assembly to a volunteer workforce, as noted by Forbes.

More AI for the army Meanwhile, Ukrainian-founded startup Byne secured a funding round of $325,000, the Ukrainian tech blog AIN reported. Co-founder Borys Nadykto said the round was led by an unnamed “well-known British venture fund.” Byne positions itself as a Ukrainian firm specializing in artificial intelligence (AI) solutions catering to both defence and civilian sectors. While the startup is headquartered in London, the bulk of its team operates from Ukraine.

Founded in 2022, Byne initially served as a non-commercial project to support a secure infrastructure for large language models (LLMs) for the Ukrainian army’s partners.

The fresh capital injection will primarily fuel the company’s efforts to “major partnership with one of Nato’s largest defence contractors,” with the goal of “creating a secure infrastructure for LLM deployment.” In his exchange with AIN, Nadykto expressed Byne’s ambition to become the foremost provider of intelligence solutions with Ukrainian origins for Nato member countries.