Ukrainian startups are critical to rebuilding the Ukrainian economy and supporting Ukrainian society. They stand as a powerful example of resilience and courage in the face of extreme hardship and upheaval. Prior to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Ukrainian startups were on the rise, recording $832 million in venture capital and private equity investments in 2021, a 45 percent yearly growth. Ukrainian startups were worth around $21 billion, and the tech ecosystem was one of the country’s most dynamic and promising sectors.
But as we know, that all changed. The world was shocked by images of war, loss of life, and human suffering. Like every other sector, startups were affected; immediately following Russia’s full-scale invasion, investment volumes declined, and fundraising became nearly impossible. Many early-stage entrepreneurs had to put their projects on hold. The Voice of Ukrainian Startups survey released in August 2022 found that nine out of ten startups needed financial support to continue operating or expanding.
Despite these challenges, Ukrainian startups are showing incredible resilience – they refuse to give up. I am very proud that OES is supporting Ukrainian entrepreneurs through our Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) initiative. Since the war began, GIST has provided over $400,000 in support of Ukrainian innovation. GIST has sponsored 31 startups to travel and attend five international conferences and trade shows, like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, so they can establish and maintain critical linkages with international science and technology partners.
Thirteen Ukrainian entrepreneurs visited Washington, D.C., from March 6-10, as part of the GIST Business Incubation program. They met with the State Department and the Embassy of Ukraine, received training and mentorship, and presented their businesses to a large network of businesses and investors here in D.C.
Their week in D.C. is part of a much bigger opportunity. Thanks to GIST, these entrepreneurs are spending up to six months in the United States at incubators in Chicago, Phoenix, and Tucson to grow their businesses and contribute to a strong and vibrant Ukrainian economy.
I am truly inspired by each of their stories and what they’ve shared about the program. For example, Alona Kushnir is the Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of AirLaw.Pro. Alona shared, “It’s been an honor and a great pleasure to be among some of the best innovators here in the United States. Participation in the GIST Business Incubation program allows me to network with incredible, smart, and kind innovators, who are striving to change the world.”
Yaroslav Tsyhanenko, the CEO and co-founder of Dots Platform, a SaaS for Food Delivery and Q-commerce business, told us that “These past three months of the program were challenging but exceptionally productive and insightful. Entrepreneurship courses, one-to-ones with mentors, big tech shows like CES 2023 and startup events, in-person access to real customers, and innovations – all these things help us a lot with business development in the USA.”
These are just two examples from this very talented group. Their resilience, creativity, and tenacity exemplify that of the Ukrainian people.
As I reflect on the incredible work of these GIST entrepreneurs, I am reminded of President Biden’s words in his recent speech in Poland: “Our support for Ukraine will not waver…Our commitment is to the people of Ukraine and the future of Ukraine — a Ukraine that’s free, sovereign, and democratic.” Through programs like GIST, we are helping deliver on that promise.