ECO, not EGO, an inspiring interveiew with Sergiy Kovalenkov, founder of Hempire UA

2021-02-05 08:30:00 Jacek

Hempire is a dynamically developing Ukrainian hemp startup that allows dozens of people to fulfil their dreams of their own ecological home. The company is dynamically developing in Ukraine and on international markets, it has a branch in California, recently in India and is considering entering Poland. We talk to the founder of Hempire UA, Sergiy Kovalenkov, about the opportunities that are being created before our eyes all over the world.



Sergiy Kovalenkov
Sergiy Kovalenkov

What turning points led you to your position today?

I went to Australia in 2010 to pursue my construction engineer career and by chance got introduced to the person that owned a hemp cultivation and processing business. He has told me about the first ever hempcrete house that was being erected in Australia at at time. As the professional from construction industry, I was really surprised that one could build houses using cannabis sativa plant. He offered me to participate in construction, I agreed almost immediately, and in a few days I was flying on the plane from Melbourne to Tasmania. As soon as I got introduced to this incredible technology, I realized a huge potential of hempcrete. It was a truly fascinating adventure - beyond belief. And I actually participated in the construction.

After returning to Europe, I helped build such houses in France and Switzerland, and I gained more and more experience. Finally, I realized that it was time to develop something of my own, using only Ukrainian materials, so in 2015 I returned to Ukraine and founded Hempire UA.

Initially, Hempire UA was a company that developed an all-natural binder called “Fifth Element” for hempcrete technology using only local raw ingredients. The Fifth Element created on the lightest hempcrete mixes on the planet, and really simple to work with. One could remove formwork instantly after compacting the mix inside a formwork. We started off with various projects, mainly building and insulating houses, but gradually transformed into a company dealing with the development of new materials from this plant. We are investigating the possibilities of developing hempcrete insulation panels, hemp-based insulation panels, various types of plaster. Our company is also turning to hemp processing. We work with different producers and gain knowledge about hemp decortication processes, harvesting, etc., nowadays we are no longer just a hempcrete company, but one that actually develops materials and provides consulting services in various aspects of the industry.

Hemp at construction site - how do you perceive the potential of the Ukrainian market?

Realistically speaking, there is no real market here yet. Even if we were to build 1,000 houses a year, it would still be a drop in the ocean of needs. Now it is more about increasing awareness of sustainable consumption, the problems of our planet and its climate. We are entering an era where people realize they are part of an ever-growing problem. Take into account how much of everything is produced every day and how much waste we generate in every industry. It all leads to really unpleasant consequences. It's scary seeing how many products are made. Some of them are recycled, while others simply end up in landfills - its a huge problem.

Construction sector is one of the biggest polluters on our planet. But this is where new trends are formed: people choose sustainable technology that is not much more expensive than traditional building materials. A house insulated with hempcrete is around 15 - 18% more expensive that gasbeton with mineral wool insulation. The process by which consumers really start choosing eco-friendly materials is slow but definitely is gaining traction and I am very happy to see it. The number of our projects is constantly growing every year.


In fact, despite the pandemic, the number of orders has increased last year precisely because people have started to value life in private homes much more than inside apartment complex. Nowadays, people want to have a piece of land, be able to go outside, play with their children. At the moment, new and very interesting patterns of behavior are emerging before our eyes.

During the last five years, we have completed about 60 - 70 projects in Ukraine, EU, USA. We have consulted on many more across the world. This is just the beginning of a new industry for us.

Where are you getting with your projects internationally? Russia? Western European markets? Do you have any experience with Poland?

We have a separate entity in North America called Hempire USA, a company that has been operating for several years and specializes in the supply of our binder to the US construction market. Our Fifth Element binder is available in California, where we are based. We also plan to start operating in Asia. Literally last week we registered the Hempire India company and we are also going to start a cannabis processing plant in Eastern Europe, inside EU. Poland is one of the locations we are looking at. Such a new facility would process hemp and develop various types of hemp-based construction products, and would certainly produce our binder. A multifunctional facility for which we are currently raising capital.

Do you have a specific location in Poland in mind?

There are a few locations we are looking at, and I would not disclose this information at this stage.

What's so special about cannabis plants? What do you personally see in it?

The versatility of this plant, the number of different products that can be produced from it - it is really fascinating. Hemp can replace many non-recyclable materials, parts and products! They grow in just four months and require no pesticides. It is an incredible plant, literally given to us by God, that has many uses - it can provide us with food, clothing, housing, medicine - that's a lot for just one plant. I don't know any other plant that comes close to cannabis. It is also remarkable that cannabis grows practically all over the planet: Alaska, Mexico, Africa, Australia, Asia, northern Europe - it's just fascinating and amazing. At the same time, it is a very ecologically sustainable plant, it does not deplete the soil. Fantastic.

What are your values in business?

Nature. When establishing Hempire, I decided that the product must be completely natural. That it will only contain Ukrainian ingredients so that it will not be dependent on imports. Transparency: We are always honest with our customers and the trust we build is very important to us. We see a lot of scams all over the world, especially in the construction industry. For us, customers are partners, not money bags. They entrust us with their money, their energy. Sometimes customers save money for decades to build a house - so they're actually entrusting us with a piece of their lives. We understand that we must build a home of the highest quality where they should be living a happy and healthy life with their children.. This is the driving force behind Hempire: the gratitude we receive from our customers. You can't just do this with money. We are always open and transparently provide contacts to our future customers who already live in our hempcrete homes. We can pick at random any of our former clients, and we are sure they will share a good opinion. They literally become our friends and help us sell more houses. Many companies do not understand that you should not only build houses, but relationships and partnerships. Our clients are our partners. It is trust and honesty that drive business, not cost optimization and delegation of tasks. This is the crux: relationships. I really enjoy seeing happy people living in hemp houses, listening to them while they share their experiences, pride living inside a cozy, energy efficient, sustainable home.

What would be your advice to young people who are about to make career choices, should they consider the cannabis industry?

I would suggest them to look carefully and explore the possibilities. The cannabis industry is like a big green ocean, and it's not too late to get in. There are so many different opportunities and challenges to take on! My suggestion is to be creative and focus oа solutions oа problems that humanity is currently facing and on how to solve them. Regardless of whether it is production or services, we should always solve a problem. For example: there is a huge housing problem on a global scale. The construction industry lacks environmentally friendly materials; only this small segment can create hundreds of possibilities. Insulations, acoustic panels, all kinds of finishing materials, plasters, waxes, etc.

Or another example: diapers. Diapers disintegrate after hundreds of years, so why not design a diaper that degrades much faster? There are millions of problems, and over the last hundred years as a species we have proved to be very ignorant. So there are many things that can be fixed with hemp. Therefore, I would suggest to young people - just look around and enjoy your ideas. Think what you can solve with hemp. And don't think the market is overcrowded, in fact there isn't much competition and market .We should be forming the market by collaborating not competing. Competition exists only in our heads. We, as humanity, are best at building ... barriers and obstacles. So just go ahead and crush them.

What's the hardest part of your business?

Again: ignorance in the industry. Architects, builders and potential future customers know little about hemp. Of course it was much worse in 2015 when we started Hempire, now it's a little easier. We have executed projects in Poland, USA and other countries. So we have much more to show and it is easier to break the shell of misunderstanding. So the lack of knowledge is the main obstacle. It's relatively new material, so people are skeptical about it. It will take another ten years to build trust. In the past, this has happened with other materials, and the same will happen with hempcrete. Therefore, it is very important to disseminate knowledge about cannabis.

Where do you see your company and yourself in ten years?

I know that Hempire will grow and that we will be present in many countries manufacturing and selling our materials . The best way to do this is to have local partners in different countries. If you are in New Zealand, why import products from far away, use local natural resources. We also have experience in consulting and helping other companies to develop cannabis processing facilities. This is what we are focusing on now, and we will be helping other businesses over the next ten years as well.


Would you like to be number one in Ukraine?

We were the first company to launch in Ukraine, we appeared on television, but I must admit that I am not egocentric. We have already gained recognition, we have received grants, international awards, and we have established a branch in the USA. Everything was fine, but here we have a global housing crisis to solve. I am not concerned with the evaluation, but with the effectiveness of our services. We would like millions of such houses to be built all over the world. And of course we would like Hempire to be involved in many different projects. We prefer to give the fishing rod rather than a fish. We are now creating several projects with education in mind. ECO, not EGO.

How do you see your role in educating people?

We never stop educating. Each interaction is also an educational project for us. We suffer from a lack of literature: there are few books on this subject. The ones that are there can be very helpful. Our company is also one of the founders of the US Hemp Builiding Association - the main goal of this organization is to educate and develop the curriculum and create the entire knowledge base related to the industry.

And CBD in Ukraine?

Still very slow progress. Let's hope that the medical cannabis draft Law will be voted on by our Parliament this year, will allow patients receive cannabis based medicine. High hopes, low expectations.

Thank you for the conversation.

The Hempire UA site is at

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