Claiming VAT refunds on shopping when travelling to Europe can be a very stressful experience for many and that is exactly why Sonya Baranova and Ilya Melkumov decided to start Inovat. 

Here’s a look at their entrepreneurship journey with Inovat, starting at university and going strong presently. 

Sonya was an early employee at Revolut Legal and Operations teams, and then an Investor at Fuel Ventures while Ilya was investing in start-ups at an early-stage VC fund FOM Capital, and sold his first business in gaming at the age of 19. Both enjoy travelling but have encountered the problem of claiming VAT refunds numerous times which led to missed flights and a lot of stress.

They both believed that the outdated VAT refund process, which included high fees and often required paper forms and a lot of manual work, could benefit from technologies that are helping many industries to improve and modernise the processes today. They mapped out currently available solutions and figured out what the industry didn’t yet have and where they could fill the gap. They then quickly started building the actual product, resulting in Inovat, a digital solution that allows travellers to save thousands of pounds on shopping stress-free. 

When asked about their business and personal motivations, they mentioned that they are not the only ones who suffered from the problem of getting tax refunds while abroad. Many travellers are still not aware of the fact that they can save more than 20% on shopping and many struggle with obsolete processes which involve wasted time in queues and high hidden fees. Both Sonya and Ilya, are motivated to allow travellers to easily get their tax back from any purchase, through Inovat, thus saving them money and their valuable time. They state that making customers happy is the most satisfying and rewarding part of their job as Inovat founders.

Currently, Inovat is live in Belgium and Austria, and they are in the process of expanding its operations rapidly by adding more countries to its offering. They are planning on launching their service in France and Spain soon and working on signing partnerships, such as one with MasterCard. However, they have faced problems along the way due to the regulatory changes from Brexit and then the pandemic. They have tackled these problems head-on and adapted their solution to a B2B2C model, allowing for a ‘one click’ integration with financial institutions which allows travellers to receive refunds directly to their banking apps. Inovat has already started the integration phase with a Tier 1 bank in Europe. 

Both founders wanted to give a big thanks to NatWest Accelerator for helping them through its mentorship and support, and for making it possible for Inovat to start discussions with NatWest on the integration of the solution into the NatWest banking app.

They acknowledge that running a start-up is a learning curve that can be both exciting and hard, but it is important to be adaptable, be open to feedback and continue learning from your successes and mistakes. They also mention two key things to keep in mind when starting a start-up: 

1) Customer is the King. Building the technology that brings value, makes lives easier, and is needed is crucial. 
2) Team. Choosing the right people is very important as they set the speed for the start-up development – and the speed has to be fast.

To end, they had one ask for the people reading this. “If you are travelling to Europe anytime soon, save money on shopping with Inovat. Simply sign up on and get your Tax Free stress-free”.

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