Whether building social apps that teach kids compassion or launching initiatives that support technology infrastructure in schools, Ukrainian entrepreneurs are boosting the country’s economy.
Despite ongoing Russian aggression, in 2015, Ukraine counted more than 2,000 startups, more than 100 global R&D centers and 500 outsourcing companies. And there is evidence that Ukraine is becoming a more attractive business climate, with companies like Samsung, Boeing and IBM adding more than $5 billion to the economy.
Meet a few of Ukraine’s top tech entrepreneurs who are inspiring the next generation of business-minded Ukrainians.
Oksana Borysenko, Enable Talk
Oksana Borysenko is the chief executive of Enable Talk, a product that has the potential to change the way deaf people communicate with others. Developed by 20 programmers from Ukraine, Enable Talk consists of a pair of gloves with sensors that can translate sign language into speech via a mobile application.
Borysenko met the Enable Talk team when she was a partner of GrowthUP, Ukraine’s first accelerator dedicated to helping entrepreneurs launch tech startups. When she saw parents whose children were deaf, she knew she wanted to be part of the effort to break “the walls of communication between deaf and hearing people,” Borysenko said.
Dmitry Sergeev, Depositphotos
Dmitry Sergeev is the founder of Depositphotos, a Ukrainian stock photo agency. Launched in Kyiv in October 2009, Depositphotos allows anyone to buy and sell high-quality stock photos, vector images and videos. In December 2015, Depositphotos announced the receipt of a combined $5 million in funding from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the U.S. venture fund TMT Investments. Depositphotos offers sales from among 40 million royalty-free images, videos and vector graphics and boasts 10 million monthly visitors to its website. The company serves customers worldwide, providing round-the-clock support in 20 languages.
Although Sergeev is Russian by birth, he has lived in Ukraine more than half his life. He believes Ukraine combines the best qualities of East and West. “Everything in this country leans towards common sense and a modern way of doing things,” he said.
Vladimir Liulka, BrainBasket Foundation
Vladimir Liulka is the director of BrainBasket Foundation, a nongovernment organization that hopes the information-technology industry will drive economic growth in Ukraine. A group of leading Ukrainian IT companies launched BrainBasket in April 2014 in cooperation with Ukraine’s Ministry of Economy and Kyiv’s city administration.
BrainBasket’s goal is to develop Ukraine’s educational infrastructure and facilitate the training of 100,000 new IT specialists by 2020. BrainBasket recently announced “Technology Nation,” a free pan-Ukrainian IT educational program supported by Ukraine’s presidential administration that will be launched in 22 regional centers across Ukraine on March 1. Through the program, any Ukrainian will be able to take free courses on computer programming developed by leading universities, including Harvard, MIT and Stanford.
Mikhail Stepanskiy and Ruslan Kosarevych, KidAppers
During the Maidan demonstrations in late 2013 and early 2014, Mikhail Stepanskiy brought food and medicines to protesters on the front lines. Ruslan Kosarevych, with whom Stepanskiy co-founded the Kyiv-based app startup KidAppers, stood in the front line when the protest was peaceful. Their motivation was a desire to live in a country free of corruption and with working laws.
During this period of political upheaval, the duo released their app, Son of the Sun and Wizard Lizard. Available on iTunes, the app tells children an interactive story that teaches people can change and forgiveness can make the world a better place. Through what they call a “fun, informative and interactive format,” Stepanskiy and Kosarevych make products to help parents lay a good moral foundation for their kids.
Roman Zinchenko, Greencubator
Ukraine’s energy sector, historically, has been the most corrupt industry in the country, dominated by oligarchs, plagued with inefficiency and lacking innovation. Roman Zinchenko wanted to change all that. In 2009, he started a series of solar-powered “hackathons” in fields around Kyiv and invited computer coders, developers and entrepreneurs to program solutions to Ukraine’s energy sector problems. Zinchenko then co-founded Greencubator to connect the developers of these solutions with funding sources.
He sees Greencubator as a supporter of energy innovations that are the key to Ukraine’s competitiveness. To foster innovation, Greencubator brings together nongovernmental organizations, businesses, the media, local citizens and schools to create communities focused on reaching a common goal.