The Black Sea SummIT took place last Saturday, the largest IT conference in Odessa. While I rarely write on events in Ukraine, this provides a special opportunity. While the conflict in Eastern Ukraine continues, it is mostly a “contained situation” which does not much impact the rest of the country. It could be said that the conflict has served to catapult Ukraine into the forefront of a lot of investor interest.
Ukraine is a tech-savvy country, having the fourth largest population of certified IT professionals in the world following only the United States, India, and Russia – all with much larger populations. There’s a lot that can be said for Ukraine (favorably), but Odessa is of specific interest as a strategic logistics hub and for its “historical” relationship with corruption and organized crime. There’s a lot more that can be said about that, suffice that it is now center stage in an ongoing aggressive anti-corruption war. To facilitate its economic realignment, a considerable effort is also being made to attract foreign investors, businesses and start-ups.
So, that’s a bird’s eye view of landscape behind the Black Sea SummIT – and “all of that” under the auspices of the EU-Ukraine “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement” (the DCFTA) likely to go into effect January 1, 2016. Opera Mobile Store maintains an office in Odessa started by former Vice-President Victor Shaburov, who started Looksery (also with an office in Odessa) – making the news this past weekend for getting picked up by Snapchat for $150 million.
Getting back to the SummIT, it was partitioned into three areas – 1) Main Speakers, 2) Start-ups, and 3) Tech, each covering a lot of ground making it impossible to cover everything here. Some will make into future posts.
Here, I want to highlight a number of business incubators and accelerators available to aspiring Ukrainian and Eastern European entrepreneurs, with some follow-on notes. Each of these were participants of the Black Sea SummIT.
Simply – these are the people and types of organizations you want to connect with if you are looking to seriously start a business.
Business Incubators and Accelerators help start-ups with office space, facilities, networking, collaborative development, classes and work groups led by experienced business people. Connecting with an incubator or accelerator is almost always a good step for developing your business. These groups help you develop your business plan, refine your products/services, can facilitate access to investors and definitely help with all manner of professional networking.
Access to facilities, including high speed internet access, high quality printers, copy machines, conference rooms, work space and more helps minimize your earliest startup costs, but these all pale in comparison to their networking functions.
While not exactly an incubator, I would like to give a shout out to the Hillel IT School in Odessa (English and Russian) – as a great place for picking up a wide range of tech skills – java, iOS, web project management, QA testing, CC++, Android, etc. For investors and businesses looking to start an office in Odessa, that’s probably a school you want to have on your short list for hiring your entry level technical staff.
Many startups were present, but two of them have my avid, personal interest.
Educator.io – A Learning Management System (LMS). I was pleased to meet Pavlo Grebeniuk, CEO of this start-up, and learn about his company. What makes his idea and company especially promising relates, in part, to the EU-Ukraine DCFTA. A large number of companies will need to educate a very large number of people, rapidly – across a combination of English, Ukrainian, Russian and other European languages. This will involve everything from ISO compliance to language-specific training across almost all business professions. His company has the platform, the specific languages, and the networking backbone most capable of supporting Ukrainians assimilating the relevant portions of the 2,135 page document — and everything else associated with it. Best of luck Pavlo! I will be following allowing, attentively!
MMOne Company - Virtual Reality, 360 Degree, Full Motion Machine. I’ve been following this one for a while, and it is getting significant traction. Ubisoft has gotten behind this start-up and the machine will make its primary debut at the 2015 Paris eSports World Cup featuring game play with Trackmania² Stadium. These work with Oculus Rift to take VR to the next level. In addition to entertainment uses, I see these as being useful for a variety of specialized training for civilian and military applications. Seriously, considering the number of drone crashes we’ve seen over the past year alone, we might want to make sure that the drone pilots have a freaking clue about how to navigate.