Novel business ideas for the Russian winter

Cleaning of snow in Kazan city center.

Cleaning of snow in Kazan city center.

From basic services to high technology, two successful Russian entrepreneurs suggest ways to cash in on the business opportunities that the winter offers.

Yevgeny Larionov, co-owner of the Coffee and the City café chain

Despite the cold, snow and short daylight hours, business in Russia does not freeze in the winter. On the contrary, the more problems that people experience, the more opportunities there are to solve them. Here are five industries that thrive in the cold, creatingbusiness niches.

1. Home delivery

Few would want to go outside in minus 20 degree Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit) weather, though some tough Russians, who live mainly in Siberia, eat ice cream even at minus 50 degrees.

In the winter, people are more willing to pay for the services that let them stay at home, especially in the large cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Vladivostok. Besides home delivery, there is money in dog-walking as well.

2. Clearing snow

Another promising niche is in clearing and removing snow from the entrances of homes, office buildings and parking lots as well as removing icicles from roofs.

Snow also increases the demand for anti-slip coating solutions and for shoe-safe, anti-ice mixtures for the streets. Services for motorists include pulling cars out of the snow, supplying fuel, towing, charging batteries and mobile tire services.

3. Smart clothes 

Smart clothes make life more comfortable in the cold. The most popular winter smart clothes are caps with built-in headphones and smart gloves.

In Russia, unlike in China and Japan, flu masks are not popular, but since nobody wants to get sick, antiviral scarves can be smart substitutes for masks. These scarves, which help block germs and viruses, are infused with active carbon and bamboo charcoal.

Sweatshirts, gloves, socks, slippers and blankets can be equipped with a heating element that operates with wires, USB devices or batteries.

4. Tummy warmers

One of the most promising, but competitive, niches is in street food and drinks. When you are freezing all the way down to your toes, you really want to get warm inside. People will definitely want to consume warming drinks like traditional coffee, mulled wine and punch. 

5. Assistants galore

Russians love holidays and celebrate them in style. The country’s favorite national holiday is New Year and the subsequent Orthodox Christmas.

Those who prefer to go away on vacation are looking for people to take care of pets and water indoor plants.

Interior decoration services for the winter holidays are also in high demand.

An interesting, but still novel, idea in Russia is hiring a gift assistant, who selects the most unique and relevant options for a customer and helps to order and deliver them.
There is an ever-popular demand for all manner of handmade items, custom toys and jewelry. These are sought as gifts for loved ones and colleagues.

Marina Ross, CEO & Founder Nanobarrier

1. Drone patrol

Winter, when accidents and outdoor injuries increase, is the most dangerous time of year. Drones can provide autonomous aerial tracking and safety control for traffic and playgrounds for children and hard-to-reach areas. They can also help save billions of dollars by inspecting large infrastructure such as pipelines or electric power lines.

Security of oil and gas pipelines is an ever-increasing concern in the largest country in the world. Gazprom Group and its subsidiaries, for example, own and service more than 716,000 kilometers (445,000 miles) of pipelines, which is nearly twice the distance from Earth to the moon.

Today the pipeline corridors are monitored by regular foot and vehicle patrols, and by air using small fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. These existing methods are not only time- and money-consuming, but also dangerous, especially in winter. Flying remote-controlled robots made of durable carbon can become a good and reliable substitute that can be used in almost any condition and are a fraction of the cost of existing monitoring options.

Yet currently, the marketplace for drones is practically empty. Only one known company has already developed a ready-to-market system for multipurpose flying drones to be managed from one flight control center. 

Fewer than 20 other drone startups of varying levels of expertise operate in the country. Yet this technology is in high demand in Russia, so many newcomers are expected to enter the marketplace in the not-too-distant future.

2. Smart textiles

When most people think of textiles, fashion comes to mind, not technology. Smart textiles, however, represent one of the biggest technological advances that is going to change the way we think about and use clothes. On a global scale, the fitness industry will be the prime consumer market for e-textiles. In Russia, however, this will be different. With nearly nine months of bad weathereach year (up to 11 months in some regions), people need protective clothing to shield against extreme environmental conditions.

One of the newest technologies, called far infrared fibers, may be used as textile heating elements and can also be applied for therapeutic purposes. These fibers convert body heat into far infrared rays, reflecting it back to the human body. 
Wearing these clothes can help improve blood circulation and energy levels. They are also therapeutic for people with arthritis and similar health conditions, making them ideal in Russia, where senior citizens account for one third of the population.

Few companies worldwide are developing such functional fabrics and portable wearable devices. Yet gloves, socks, jackets, shoe insoles and other e-clothes for cold weather are still unavailable in Russia — a clear call to action for entrepreneurs to develop this technology here and access its many applications. Thanks to smart textiles, it is likely that soon Russian winters will not be greeted with trepidation, but with smiles.

3. Nano-coating

Russians, concerned about how they look, are often willing to spend substantial amounts on trendy clothes. Unfortunately, the country’s weather conditions make it almost impossible to wear Louboutin shoes, Brioni suits or other hi-end fashion items, let alone simply colorful and less-practical ones. Freezing temperatures, wet snow, slush, dirt and puddles are all damaging to clothing and footwear.

Thanks to the German botanist Dr. Wilhelm Barthlott, who discovered and described the so-called lotus effect in 1990s, clothes and shoes can now remain dry and clean in any condition. Barthlott’s discovery is based on the high water repellency(superhydrophobicity) that the lotus flower leaves exhibit. Since this property has many industrial uses, the scientific community managed to find various applications for wood, plastic, metal and glass. Applying this effect on textiles, however, proved to be hard. 

One of the few scientists who succeeded lives in Russia and created a superhydrophobic self-cleaning nano-coating that protects against rain, snow, dirt, mud and almost any type of liquid. His coating is also eco-friendly, hypoallergenic, extremely durable and allows fabrics to breathe. One treatment of that coating lasts for at least three months.

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