TMT.Ventures'08 Kiev
Remember Soviet Union? 30% of all R&D efforts of USSR were performed in Ukraine. High-tech, space tech, nano, bio – they did it all. This tells you something about local engineering talent. Multiply that by increasing internet penetration, access to business know-how and venture capital. What you get is a vast pool of potential breakthrough businesses waiting to be incubated and cultivated. Cheap.

And that’s as far as global opportunities are concerned. Ukraine itself has a population of 50 mln and is a potential outlet to the Russian 200 mln people market. We’re talking about rather homogenious and isolated market. Think copycating. Think replicating proven business models. Any questions?

Quite a few in fact. Like – how is it there? What are the people like? What about labour costs? Recruitment services? Infrastructure? Political and legislative stability? Infrastructure and business environment?

When flying to Ukraine I had all these questions bouncing in my head. I was hoping to clarify some of these issues during TMT.Ventures’08 Kiev conference hosted by New Europe Events.

Few months back I’ve met an Ukrainian entreprenuer and a great guy Yegor Anchishkin. Based on that experience I was expecting a lot and I must say I wasn’t dissapointed.

Ukraine is an emerging market for sure but apart from its local engineering talent it’s got great connections with Sillicon Valley through numerous ex-USSR inhabitants now living around the world and in the Bay Area itself. They know what’s left back home and they’re taking advantage of it while the global and regional VC funds consider it too early to enter Ukraine.

The conference agenda looked great. So did the speakers list. If that wasn’t enough I was expecting an emotional and thrilling 7 minutes contest. Nice package.

Andrzej Jasieniecki For starters Andrzej Jasieniecki, MCI Investment Director, proved his language skills when speaking Russian and surprising most people in the audience. Because of the big internal market some people know English rather passively which doesn’t stop them from building successfull businesses. Andrzej IMHO is one of the most successful VCs in Poland by the way.

Lidia AdamskaAnother positive surprise for the audience came with presentation of Ms. Lidia Adamska, v-ce President of the Warsaw Stock Exchange. She speaks both Russian and English which certainly helps. Her business English and presentation skills were the best I’ve heard from a non-native speaker. That’s class. WSE’s offerings sold themselves as an alternative to other markets like LSE. Cheaper, closer, equally stable and secure and they speak Russian.

Tomasz Czechowicz Speaking next was Tomasz Czechowicz who is one of the most successful and most distinguished VCs in Central Europe. In fact I think his top-ranked-CEO-style presentation and image is a bit intimidating for most entreprenuers. I’ve seen it at several different occasions and in many countries. He’s all business. All other VCs say that.

Paul Fisher One of the highlights of the event was also a Paul Fisher presentation. Paul represents Advent Venture Partners and a Westerners easy-going personality. And he’s a fun guy to be around. Just like few months back in Warsaw he raised great interest and did a lot of networking after the presentation. Easterners dig Westerners like Paul, Greg or Sean.

Then the most anticipated part of the event commenced. The 7 minutes contest is is a unique competition for innovative entrepreneurs and their projects from the space of telco, new media and new technologies. It is an express elevator up to the community of investors and experienced businesspeople with decision-making power whose recommendations and support are like rocket fuel for the projects aimed in the right direction.

‘7 minutes’ is also a challenge for entrepreneurs trying to make an impression and deliver a convincing presentation in an extremely short period of 7 minutes. It is a test of self-confidence and charisma for the project-leaders standing in front of a demanding audience, their competition, world-class investors, bloggers and media people.

Yuri BoykoAnd it was moderated by Yuri Boyko – an eloquent engineer, hi-tech entreprenuer well known to many venture capitalists, an invited speaker at the industry and scientific conferences and co-organizer of master classes for high-tech start-ups. I must say he was the perfect guide for the young and not-so young Ukrainian ‘7 minutes’ finalists. Very involved and really supportive. And he flew over from the States to do this job. Just like in previous contests I was the moderator’s side-kick running the 7 minutes clock and viciously stopping the finalists presentations. That was fun. Hopefully most people got the idea of self-improvement and polishing their presentations.

The ‘7 minutes’ presentations … I’ll update this piece later.

Then the discussion panels followed. Since they were in Russian and the simultaneus translation wasn’t too accurate I didn’t get much of it but one thing is sure – these folks mean business.

Denis Dovgopoliy All of this couldn’t have happend if it wasn’t for Denis Dovgopoliy of BayView Innovations – the local business angel and investor relations consultant. Denis knows everyone, pickes the most promising start-ups and flies to San Francisco several times a year to get them going. He’s the local go-to-guy if you want to invest in Ukraine. And he’s smart to stay independent from any particular VC fund too dispite many employment offers. That’s how emerging markets work.

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