Great companies often started with inventive passion and scarce resources. The trend began exactly 100 years ago when Walt Disney, drawing early in his career in his uncle's garage, was picked up by HP, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and several other companies that changed the world. They developed their passion and started building their businesses in the garages and basements of their parents or friends, not realizing that they would gain such momentum.
Meanwhile, ordinary Transcarpathian cuisine awaited an honorable place in the list of first offices. Six years ago, the Releaf Paper company, which later became one of the world's most famous Ukrainian green startups, was born precisely from the home experiments of a schoolboy. And this story sounds no less fantastic than the stories of the already legendary brands!

The story of Releaf Paper is a part of the series "The Cream of the Crop of Ukrainian Cleantech". It features 10 cleantech champions who received Climate Innovation Vouchers at a critical stage of their development. Climate Innovation Vouchers is one of the largest grant programs in Ukraine for innovators in green and climate-friendly technologies. It was initiated by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and funded by the European Union. Greencubator implements the program in Ukraine.

A Passion That Became a Startup

The founder of Releaf Paper, Valentyn Frechka, was 16 when he started developing the technology to produce paper from fallen leaves in his home, and later in a school laboratory. Motivated by passion, his realization of an idea which, in all senses, always lay on the surface occurred during the first climate strikes, "Fridays For Future," and within the first years of the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
In just three years, Valentyn found himself on the Forbes "30 under 30" list. 2 years after, in 2022, his company, which experienced entrepreneur Oleksandr Sobolenko joined as a partner and CEO, was recognized by Google as one of the best startups in Ukraine. That year, Releaf Paper received funding from the Google Fund for Startups and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Production volumes continued to grow, as did challenges, and L'Oreal, Samsung, and Louis Vuitton have already become the company's clients, just to name a few.

CIV Grant and Investments

Releaf Paper's world-first sustainable technology of paper and packaging production from fallen leaves requires 15 times less water and three times less energy compared to the traditional production process, based on wood pulp raw materials. At the same time, not a single tree dies, and CO₂ emissions are reduced by approximately 78%. The Climate Innovation Vouchers (CIV) program, created by the European Union and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and implemented by the Greencubator team, aims to support such climate-friendly technologies. At the end of 2022, Releaf Paper received this grant!
"Any award, including CIV, is, first of all, a confirmation that our company is engaged in a significant business," recalls Oleksandr Sobolenko. – “Startups (especially Ukrainian ones) work in a very stressful environment and conditions of uncertainty. Therefore, grants are not only financial support for projects but also a psychological charge of confidence, for which we are grateful to CIV."
(Releaf Paper receives the award of the grant program Climate Innovation Vouchers from the CEO of Greencubator, Roman Zinchenko)
On the eve of this event, Releaf Paper received an investment of €2.5 million from the European Innovation Council Accelerator (EIC) program of the European Commission. One of the company's recommendations from members of the European Commission was to strengthen patent protection because, at that time, it covered only Ukraine, and they considered the risk of losing the technology significant.
"Patenting abroad costs a lot of money, so the support from CIV's grant was timely and appropriate," recalls Oleksandr.
After receiving the voucher, Releaf Paper confidently began the necessary international patenting, which later allowed them to expand in scale and territory, positioning themselves in a higher tier of business.

Intensive 2023

Meanwhile, prices for traditional paper continued to grow worldwide by 2-4% per year. Ironically, the fight against plastic and the growing consumption of paper packaging has led to an increase in deforestation. On the other hand, Releaf Paper, produced from leaves collected in urban spaces, is not inferior to wood pulp paper, and 1 ton of such paper saves 17 trees from being cut down. Therefore, in 2023, Releaf continued to attract B2B customers who realized this difference and the advantages of such an alternative paper source. A young company from Ukraine has become a locomotive of changes in the global market.
(Pulp pellets extracted from fallen leaves and converted into paper and packaging, using the unique Releaf Technology)
In 2023 alone, Releaf Paper reached the finals of the Innovation Award from the French corporation LVMH, and was shortlisted for the Sustainability Award from the English media Packaging Europe for the second time. They achieved a double triumph at the Design Educates Awards, winning gold in product design and the title of "Winner of the Year". At the same time, the company shipped its first test batches of paper to Spain, Italy, Germany, and Poland, entered the EU market with their #Releafbags brand, and opened e-commerce for European customers.
The Releaf Paper team has grown to 10 people. Thanks to the help of LVMH, the company opened an office in Paris, in Europe's largest startup incubator Station F. Oleksandr calls 2023 the most intense year in their history. At the same time, they do not think that they made a breakthrough the past year, but say that they simply worked productively for the perspective of next year.
(Valentyn Frechka, CTO Releaf Paper, presents Releaf Paper innovations at VivaTech in Paris, as a finalist for the prestigious 2023 LVMH Innovation Award)

Support from Brussels

In 2022, as the winner of the EIC Accelerator from the EU, Releaf Paper received investment to create a pilot production line. At the same time, the EU undertook additional investments into further scaling the project. So now Releaf Paper is building a plant in France for 3.5 million euros and plans a new round of investments of more than 8 million euros, half of which will come as the next EU grant investment. The support of the European Union has played, and continues to play, an essential role in the growth of Releaf Paper.
In addition, the company acquired a distinguished ambassador. In November, while visiting Kyiv, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, visited Kyiv and spoke in the Verkhovna Rada. She dedicated two minutes of her speech to Releaf Paper.
"Let me tell you the story of a young Ukrainian talent called Valentyn Frechka. He was only 17 when he invented a new technology to make paper from fallen leaves,” began Ursula, enthusiastically talking about the emergence of Releaf Paper.
She mentioned the law to ban plastic bags under the European Green Deal, which was passed by the Verkhovna Rada, giving a boost to businesses like Releaf Paper, and concluded:
"Now, despite the war and thanks to EU funding, this promising Ukrainian company is expanding and selling its products all across Europe. This is just a snapshot of this country's immense talent. Ukraine is a nation of innovators. Not only a country of big farms and heavy industries but of bright young minds who are already shaping Ukraine's clean and digital future."
By the way, Greta Thunberg also has a Releaf Paper notebook, and the British Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, took some other products of the company as souvenirs during his visit to Kyiv.
(Sustainable paper products by Releaf Paper)

New Horizons and Ukraine

The company's story, which in just six years grew from experiments in the mother's oven to offices in Kyiv and Paris, millions in investments, and recognition from the world's leading figures, will become the subject of a biopic. In fact, this is all just the beginning, and Oleksandr and Valentyn are in no hurry to write memoirs.
"We traditionally have many plans and ideas but not so many resources for their implementation," Oleksandr shares. – "That's why, dreaming big, we still aim to successfully launch a pilot production in France and achieve the set economic results. But at the same time, we will continue our global communication campaign to popularize our technology and products."
A lot of work awaits this tireless team at home as well. At one time, Releaf Paper's attempts to open a store in Ukraine failed, but at the beginning of the year the company resumed sales. The founders hope the Ukrainian business customers will also appreciate their sustainable innovative products, which can be purchased at
Meanwhile, Releaf Paper is collecting valuable awards. The company became the "Breakthrough of the Year", and its CEO Oleksandr Sobolenko "Founder of the Year" according to the Ukrainian USF Startup Awards. Recently, Ukrainian Forbes recognized Releaf Paper as one of Ukraine's 25 most promising startups.
(Oleksandr Sobolenko, CEO of Releaf Paper, receives two USF Startup Awards 2023 for the company's contribution to sustainability and innovation in the paper industry)


«The Cream of the Crop of Ukrainian Cleantech» is a series of stories about 10 Ukrainian companies that received the Climate Innovation Vouchers grant at a key stage of their development. They've risen to prominence in Ukraine's cleantech sector in a short span. Climate Innovation Vouchers is one of the largest grant programs in Ukraine for innovators in green and climate-friendly technologies. It was initiated by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and funded by the European Union. NGO Greencubator implements the program in Ukraine.