CRDF Global’s Technology and Innovation team recently held two entrepreneurship events as part of the ongoing Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Program (STEP) in Ukraine: one, a large startup competition with a diverse group of entrepreneurs, and the other, a female leadership program for startup founders across the region. Both events were adapted into hybrid formats to accommodate the travel and gathering restrictions brought on by COVID-19.
Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, CRDF Global launched the STEP Ukraine program in 2006 to help emerging companies refine their business development strategies and connect with international mentors and investors to bring their ideas to market. Over the past fourteen years, the Ukraine STEP has worked to strengthen the innovation ecosystem in Ukraine by serving as a foundation for innovators to create and launch solutions to global challenges – such as infectious disease outbreaks and food security – while driving country-wide economic growth.
For the third consecutive year, CRDF Global partnered with IT Arena to host the IT Arena Startup Competition, one of Europe’s largest tech events. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, this year’s event took place virtually, streaming from Lviv via Attendify – another great Ukrainian startup. More than 4,000 entrepreneurs around the world watched as 40 selected startups competed for a piece of the top prizes. Attendees enjoyed 78 hours of curated content from 88 speakers spanning four continents. The judges narrowed down the semi-finalists to 10 promising startups, of which three finalists were selected:
- 1st place ($10,000 grant): Tradomatic – an online agribusiness pairing service that helps farmers sell crops, buy inputs, obtain financing and buy/sell land faster by matching their requests with buyers and distributors.
- 2nd place ($6,000 grant): IOON – a portable pocket-sized device that turns water into an alcohol-free, non-toxic, and environmentally-friendly sanitizer.
- 3rd place ($5,000 grant): ORTY – enables restaurants to quickly launch digital self-service (orders from tables, online orders, deliveries) via a restaurant-branded chatbot, web app, or an installable app within the existing restaurant management software.
After this innovative weekend, the CRDF Global Technology and Innovation team moved directly into the long-anticipated Female Leadership Program with partner, Ukrainian Hub. This program provided 120 female entrepreneurs with cutting-edge business training and mentoring sessions led by international experts. Throughout the first four days of the program, 22 IT experts, startup CEOs, serial angel investors, and other successful innovators from Ukraine and the U.S. shared their expertise with more than 70 emerging entrepreneurs. The last two days of the program included an intense bootcamp for 15 selected participants, in which mentors from the U.S., Ukraine, and Europe led pitching workshops and mentorship sessions. At the end, a judging panel selected four winners, each receiving a $5,000 grant from CRDF Global:
- SEMCS by Mosquito Control, represented by Nastya Romanova – A technology that mimics a human being (emitting light, CO2, and heat) to attract and trap female mosquitos, thus creating a mosquito-free zone with the goal of reducing the risk of a vector-borne diseases like Malaria, Zika virus, and Dengue. The system includes a smart feature, which analyzes all insects trapped by the system and reports the findings to partner universities for further analysis.
- AGRO BI/Horos.TECH, represented by Katya Domchenko – This company has addressed the surging Agtech market in Ukraine by creating a system that uses AI and drone technology to analyze farm crops to understand plant population and detect weeds.
- Esper Bionics, represented by Anya Belevantseva – This innovative company creates smart prosthetics that connect to software capable of learning the specific movements of the limb, allowing for enhanced training of the prosthetic.
- Global Innovative Online School (GIOS), represented by Nataliya Limonova – An online, interactive, and engaging schooling platform that implements various learning methods, including gamification. The platform also allows parents/guardians to view their child’s progress through their virtual schooling.
[Photos provided by Ukrainian Hub.]
STEP is one of many initiatives working to strengthen entrepreneurship in Ukraine. Over the past several years, Ukraine has emerged as a leader in producing top IT talent, attracting many global companies (Samsung, Cisco, Oracle) to outsource their Research and Development to Ukraine, according to Forbes and Ukrainian American Media. According to AVentures Capital, Ukraine’s IT service sector exported approximately $4.5 billion in services in 2018. Since then, the IT service and entrepreneurial sectors have continued to expand and garner international attention…and investment. In 2019, investments in Ukrainian tech exceeded $500 million, topping the charts of any year previous. With increased access to mentorship and funding opportunities, the emerging startups outlined above could become the next companies to push Ukraine into the $1 billion investment mark.
CRDF Global would like to thank everyone who served as judges, mentors and moderators, including returning experts Marty Kaszubowski and Warren Haber.