The Complete Odessa Startup City Guide

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Odessa is one of Ukraine's "big five" when it comes to IT talent and business opportunities. But Odessa has a lot more to offer than "just" its IT talent. Get all info on this vibrant startup city:

Odessa is one of the largest cities in Ukraine and has recently been ranked as the most favorable city for business in the country 2015 (Forbes via Odessa Gov). Together with Dnepropetrovsk, Lviv, Kharkiv and Kyiv, Odessa forms the “big five” of the cities with the most developed IT-infrastructure in Ukraine.

First and foremost, why Odessa? Why would someone even want to set foot in this place, or,
what is far more important, would desire to build their business there? As usual, it is all about the right vibe. Spoilt by easy access to beaches and a marine resort flair, Odessans appear to be a great deal more chilled than people in the capital.

Also, they are widely known as a folk with a true knack for joie de vivre. With the passage of time, it formed its identity into the “happy city”. Also, conveniently stretched along the Black Sea coast, Odessa has been accommodating a tremendous diversity of ethnicities since the day of its founding. This is why it will be much easier for newcomers to mingle with locals – multiculti has been the way of life for a gazillion of years in Odessa.

Another competitive advantage of Odessa is it’s business-friendliness; on a less related basis, let’s face the music: not everyone is hyped about the capitals nowadays. It is an unspoken rule of the business world that saving time means saving money. Living in the capital often means having to burn gas while your car is idling in a traffic jam for another half an hour or more. Or reconciling with the fact that your daily journey to work via the subway is a daredevil stunt (pushing and pulling acquires a whole new meaning when you have to do it with your elbows). Also, get ready to hear a lot of annoying nags about expensive rent, expensive office spaces, expensive everything. In the cumulate, all of the aforesaid factors certainly do not unleash the hedonist in you.

From this perspective, relocating to Odessa where the pattern of the urban rush has long since been broken down and shelved (or simply not leaving it in the first place) can be a commonsensical compromise. Especially given that a place like Odessa (according to TripAdvisor’s reviews) brings such tempting epithets as “cultural at its best” or “a great place to socialize”. It will hardly escape the eye of an outside observer that, regardless of the season, Odessa is bursting with events for all tastes. The accessibility of local wholesale markets and reliable supply chains has quickly made Odessa a real magnet for traders, whereas events of international significance (Odessa International Film Festival, International Transport Week, 5T Investment Conference, Black Sea Summit etc.) lure in thinkers, doers, and change-makers in bulk. Now blend it all with a secret sauce in the form of an amazing talent pool with skilled, but unspoiled IT people – and hey, your business is fully sorted!

Besides, Odessa is a home to famous tech product companies such as Readdle, KeepSolid, Augmented Pixels, Vertamedia, Cliccky, Kwambio, as well as prominent startups such as Looksery, which was bought by Snapchat. And by the way, an office of Snapchat is now also incorporated in Odessa as well as one office of Oracle, which has started to work with the Odessa-based company Opower not long ago. So perhaps your company will be the next one to rent an office near the Black Sea shore and start innovating together with Odessa’s talents.

Entering Odessa

Advantages Of Building A Startup In Odessa:

  • Entrepreneurial spirit, non-discriminative and conducive startup environment.
  • Tech talents abundance – boasting 11 Institutes, 2 Faculties, 64 Departments Odessa National Polytechnic University is annually producing over 1000 graduates. ONPU alumni’s fitness for serving the IT industry is attested in numerous International Collegiate Contests and Student Olympiads.
  • Private and non-formal IT learning opportunities for any ages – through enrolling in the Odessa IT-Step Academy, Hillel IT-School or LITS you may equip yourself with all essential workplace (and startup) skills.
  • International IT-Hub via 150+ R&D companies
  • Qualified tech mentors available
  • Low-cost rate, cheap living costs
  • Relaxed rental market
  • Shopping malls, constantly expanding the community of designers, access to various inexpensive, eco-friendly locally crafted products – from clothes and perfumes to furniture.
  • New/renovated office spaces and coworking areas near the city center
  • Simplified procedure for paying Internet bills and making account refills – you may use an e-payment cabinet or look for the nearest street terminal.
  • A wide range of opportunities for a new business.
  • A city with freelance and outsource opportunities
  • Startup registration procedure is no different from registering an ordinary business
  • Airport, sea-port, international railways and inter-city bus station in close proximity to the city center – everything is reachable in around 30-40 min driving during rush hours – at max.
  • Good connection to Kyiv (hourly budget flights (1 hour), comfortable buses (5 hours), fast trains and night trains)
  • Family-friendly city – Mamafest, Yard Food Fair “Tsimes” (Цимес), organized family weekends, Museum of Interesting Science for kids, summer book reading in the City Garden, contact zoo.
  • Sports-friendly city – healthy living promotion, vegan and vegetarian cafes, beach and indoor yoga, annual bike riding/running marathons.
  • SEA – pardon us for the pun, but Black Sea serves as a NATURAL ecosystem connector all year round. Beach mecca chill which Odessa happens to possess is a precursor to a long-lasting love affair with the city. A moving image of water lapping on the sandy shore brings out a romantic in everyone – including startup founders.
  • Tremendous leisure opportunities – clubbing districts, outdoor clubs, horse riding, art museums and galleries, fishing, one-day trips to wine producing plants. Local nature wonders such as the catacombs and therapeutic salt lakes.

Yevgen Berberyan, an independent Java Developer who recently accomplished a major pilot project, confirms:

“Odessa, Ukraine’s third largest city is one of best places for startups, considering price vs. quality ratio. The general cost of living is lower than in the EU. Education is free [Startup Odessa comments: not entirely free, but state funding possibilities and student stipends do exist] and more than 75% of the population has a Bachelor or Graduate degree. It is not unusual when people are overqualified for the job they are applying for”.

Denys Dmytrov, CEO of Fines.UA (Штрафы UA) – a startup which enables automated payment of traffic fines via an app – admits:

“The main advantage of Odessa lies in the fact that it is a shore city. The morning sea, the murmur of breaking waves, a breeze, light and warm – what could be better? All of this helps me to think, to invent, to create! Frankly speaking, I dream of a seafront office – or at least an office with a large window facing the sea – I mean a genuine seaview, not just a tiny patch of blue”.

What Founders Have To Consider:

  • Startups and municipal authorities are not on the same page yet. Mr. Dmytrov, 90% of whose managerial tasks in Fines.UA lies in dealing with the government, elaborates on that point in more details:

“Be it the city level or the state level, in 80% of cases authorities refuse to embrace the startup movement – in spite of all the praise singing in the TV-interviews.  A startup is the first stage in the lifecycle of a business, and running a business means getting profit. When it comes to profitability, you face a sobering reality check: government or the upper crust can no longer take credit for your efforts. When they are done with your project as a PR means, more and more doors will be slammed on you. However, I work with open data, which cannot be uninteresting. Passion for change and improvement lies at the core of my motivation to do business here”.

  • A predictable legal environment for startups as a new segment of the industry is yet to be achieved. The registration of companies is a bureaucratized process and often takes longer time than necessary.
  • State services are not digitized yet. Many state service workers are in their senior age and thus turn a blind eye on rapid industry changes. Simple processes such as obtaining a tax certificate may require your personal presence.
  • The brightest local talents may not be available for hire, as they are already busy outsourcing for big corporations.
  • There is no consolidated community of Angel Investors and VCs at the moment. With rare exceptions, startups are running in a bootstrapping mode.
  • Local startup founders are inactive on the international scene: new startup trends and ideas reach the community belatedly.
  • Every startup founder is a pioneer in their industry for now – at least, on a local level.

First Stop: Discover The Tech Expertise Of Odessa’s Startup Community

The Complete Odessa Startup City Guide

Odessa and Ukraine are known for its vibrant tech community and sometimes seen as an entrepreneurial haven. Connect with communities and hang out with local tech gurus:

Find Info About Upcoming Events, Meetups & Other Occasions:

Another hidden gem of Odessa is that it fosters a natural networking habitat. Believe it or not, but in a Ukrainian megacity counting over a million in population, it is nearly impossible to remain incognito. Out for a casual stroll in your ancient trainers at 6 a.m. in the morning? Well, you better brace yourself because the stakes are high you’ll literally be running into your former boss or high-school sweetheart. Theoreticians who set-off the “6 handshake theory” would die of envy here in Odessa: usually, not more than one handshake (intermediary connection) is needed to reach whoever is needed at short notice.
Everybody somehow knows everybody. Join the vibrant community and take part in the local events:

Regular Events & Meetups:

  • Pitch-n-Pizza is a monthly event for local startups to pitch, test their ideas and just have fun.
  • Odessa Maker Fair is a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement.
  • Garage48 Odessa is an early stage startup Bootcamp and hackathon style event series to build new web and mobile services/prototypes in just 48 hours.
  • NASA Space Apps Odessa is an international hackathon to share ideas and engage with open data to address real-world problems, on earth and in space.
  • Microsoft.net Meetups is a series of .net meetups for developers.
  • OdessaJS is a tech conference for Javascript developers.
  • Apps Conference is a tech conference for mobile app developers and designers organized by Provectus.
  • FOSSSea is a tech event for open-source developers.
  • #ITNonStop is a series of conferences organized by DataArt. Each of the conferences is focused on a particular aspect of IT development but all of them are dedicated to specific projects and practical solutions.
  • Startup Battle is a pitch competition with experts and judges, an event for local startups.
  • Ruby Meetups is a series of meetups for Ruby-on-Rails developers.
  • FeatIT is a business conference for CFOs and business analysts in the software business.
  • Lohika Tech Talks is a series of meetups on all ranges of technologies organized by Lohika.
  • IT-Talks are meetups on different tech topics organized by Dataart.
  • Expert Days is a series of meetups for developers hosted by Provectus.
  • Wings Odessa is Odessa’s community of makers interested in space models building.
  • HillelEvo is a program for creating projects from scratch, developed by Hillel IT School. Teams of students create working prototypes of startups.
  • Business4Teens is an acceleration program and business course for children.
  • CodeClub is an international worldwide network of free volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 7-13. Easy to follow coding projects which help children learn Scratch, HTML & CSS and Python by making games, animations, and websites.

Yearly Or Major Events, Festivals, Conferences:

For many years in the row, Odessa has been living up to its image of an epicenter for entrepreneurial & cultural gatherings.

  • Black Sea Summit is one of the large international events in technologies and innovations near the Black Sea. About global trends of the IT-industry, effective networking and discovering the new IT-opportunities in Ukraine.
  • Mobile Beach Conference is one of the largest mobile marketing events in Europe and the unique opportunity to discover everything about the mobile marketing industry’s latest trends and tendencies in a non-standard conference format.
  • Eastern European Computer Vision Conference is a unique opportunity for computer vision researchers and developers to meet, share their knowledge, learn about new trends and find like-minded people.
  • 5T Investment Days was created to promote effective meetings of domestic and foreign investors and entrepreneurs. Tourism, transport, technologies, trade and trust are five basic directions of perspective and effective investment into one of the main economical center of Ukraine.
  • The 8P conference is a large annual specialized conference on Internet marketing for business owners and online retailers.
  • Odesseya is an annual conference on digital marketing trends.
  • Odessa Innovation Week is a series of tech events, conferences, meetups on different aspects.
  • WebCamp is an annual tech conference covering practical aspects of web development.
  • Dribble Meetup is the largest event for designers in Ukraine to socialize, talk shop, and foster their local design communities.
  • International Film Festival and Digital Day is an international audience film festival with a focus on art-mainstream cinema held annually in the middle of the July.
  • The International Book Fair Green Wave Fair serves as a bridge connecting writers, publishers, booksellers and readers in Odessa in summer.

Volunteering Possibilities:

Social dynamics in Odessa have lately gained a great deal of traction. The tides of social change and regional activism have been churning for a decade at least. So, the people who emerged as student leaders in the 2000s will most likely be the same people who were taking first steps in entrepreneurship in 2010s and are now getting ready for the role of “vanguards” in this nascent startup community.

You can both participate in the events as a volunteer, help us with the local tech ecosystem development, or participate in social projects together with Impact Hub Volunteer Service – the largest youth movement in the south of Ukraine aimed at the popularization of volunteering. Use your expertise and connect with the young generation.

Second Stop: Park At A Coworking Space In Odessa

The Complete Odessa Startup City Guide

In Odessa, all the IT venues, business centers, and coworking spaces are strategically scattered around the city center – a 15-min walk distance from each other at the most.

Terminal-42, IQ Space, Impact Hub and HubLiving room – accommodated in renovated buildings at the heart of downtown – have successfully cultivated the atmosphere of trust and camaraderie in a collaborative space. An atmosphere which provokes you to create something – just look at all those books on entrepreneurship on the shelves, all those people heavily concentrated on their tasks and yet ready to offer a helping hand if needed. Maybe these are minuscule details – but they give you a taste of sophisticated modernity, a sense of belonging to something whole.

  • Impact Hub Odessa is a center for social initiatives and a coworking space. It provides a platform to work, attend and organize public educational events, make social projects from idea to implementation. The team and the community will help you to apply a business approach for solving social problems in the areas of education, health, environmental protection, people with disabilities.
  • Hub Living Room is a cozy place for work and for visiting lectures and meetups on cinema, art, literature, and urban design
  • Terminal 42 is a large and comfortable coworking in the heart of the city and a place where a lot of interesting things happen: lectures, master-classes, meetings with celebrities, music concerts. It’s the favorite place for tech people and startups.
  • IQSpace is a big space in the center of Odessa with a vibrant community, coworking space, conference center and IT-school.
  • Hub Lab is an open maker space with the modern equipment like 3D printer, laser cutter, drilling machine to make your prototype.
  • Green Theatre is a summer space under the open sky in Shevchenko park, which works as the place for events, fairs, concerts as well as a great сoworking place on sunny days.
  • Stalkanat-Art is a creative loft for high-tech and design events in the industrial part of Odessa.

Third Stop: Tank Your Finances In Odessa

The Complete Odessa Startup City Guide

The ways to fund your entrepreneurial dreams in Odessa are not much different to anywhere else:

  • You rely on family & friends.
  • You launch a crowdfunding campaign via a local or global platform (Ukrainian startups have already had a number of super successful campaigns on Kickstarter and beyond – check the story of Senstone, a Ukrainian still having 10 days to go before the campaign’s end, has gathered over USD 190.000, tripling the initial funding goal of USD 50,000).
  • You apply to all-Ukrainian startup competitions and challenges (Vernadsky Challenge 2017, EGAP, SeedStars, etc.) or participate in “home-based” acceleration programs. Ranging between USD 1.000 and USD 15.000 in average, offered grant amounts are not astronomical, but still sufficient to set-off some of your operational expenses.
  • You find a way to get involved into the city startup community (for example, by attending hackathons, startup meet-ups and HubLab faires). Then your agenda may take on the following shape:
    • You pace around the City Garden like a nervous lunatic – hoping to spot a lucky clover (Odessa City Garden is a jewel – ask anyone! but the option is WRONG).
    • You master the art of elevator pitching and truly impress the reps of locally operating VCs. Having a ready-for-market product and a proven business grit can eventually fetch you a good offer.
    • You focus on getting into a foreign incubator (Starta Accelerator, Y Combinator, Virgin Media, Startup Chile, Startup Sauna, Dubai Future Accelerators already have teams from Ukraine among their alumni – to name but a few examples, the list is not exhaustive).

Also, we do not want to hold anyone back from their Silicon Valley Dream pursuit, but Odessa Accelerators are actually known to deliver good results. Having opened the doors less than a year ago, pre-accelerator Experiment42 has already given a leg-up to the first batch of startups – paving an avenue for such key market players as Trading Hub, Fines.UA(Штрафы.ЮА) and Arhouse.

Incubators:

  • Noviy Vidlik is a business incubator for internally displaced people. Its aim was to facilitate socialization and adaptation of migrants from Donetsk and Lugansk regions through the development of their own business. In 2016, not only internally displaced person, but ATO veterans were involved in the “Noviy Vidlyk 2.0″.

Accelerators:

  • Experiment42 is a six-week intensive program, which includes lectures, mentoring sessions and a lot of independent work for each participant. Each team will be able to check his idea on the strength, to confirm the hypothesis of the project viability and create a MVP. Topics: mobile apps, hardware, lifestyle, productivity, sustainable living, AI and AR, bid data analysis, and technology of the future.

Grants & Subventions:

  • EGAP Odessa is a program for e-democracy and smart city startups. The E-Governance for Accountability and Participation (EGAP) program which is funded by the Swiss Confederation, will be implemented in 2015-2019, with an aim to strengthen good governance, modern public service delivery and social innovation in Ukraine, using new information communication.

Crowd Investing Platforms:

  • Na-Starte is a crowdfunding platform and a completely new approach to the financing of business ideas. The platform supports creative projects in the field of culture, art, and technology.
  • Moy Gorod is a platform to discuss, create and implement social projects that help improve Odessa with the help of active citizens, thus creating an organized civil society that actively participates in the development of the city.
  • Kickstarter and other international crowdfunding resources also work great.

Investment Opportunities:

  • Wannabiz is an angel seed fund, focused on seed stage global projects in ad tech and SaaS.
  • Ukrainian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (UVCA) was established to spread the word about Ukraine’s achievements and opportunities and to support investors in every aspect, from providing reliable information to establishing international connections at the industry and government levels.

Fourth Stop: Seek Further Advice & Opportunities In Odessa

The Complete Odessa Startup City Guide

The culture of business in Ukraine – and we are talking about any kind of business, not only IT – is distinctively individualistic. Having boomed with huge (and manifestly uncontrolled) growth of small enterprises in the early nineties, Odessa is no exception to the rule. Entrepreneurs of the 90s learned a painful lesson: if you have a plan to survive in the fiercely competitive local market, keep your mouth shut. Otherwise some hefty newcomer will capitalize on your idea in a blink of an eye. Overcoming this legacy of mistrust is no simple task: even in 2017 people are somewhat reluctant to talk about business aspirations outside their circles of acquaintance. Though, in the startup scene the ice gradually begins to break: StartUp Odessa is now working on consolidating all grassroot startup initiatives in the city. Meanwhile, founders get to know each other and start hanging out together. Although most of the interactions between startup enthusiasts here happen in a non-formal, friendly format, the tech community itself is no way a secret fraternity. Anyone interested to find their startup soulmate or ask for advice can simply make a shout-out in the Kambala Community.

Epilog: Putting Odessa On The Map Of The Ukrainian Startup Ecosystem

A ship is safer in the harbor, but that’s not what the ships were built for. If we were to reduce the narrative on Odessa’s startup community down to one sentence, this conventional wisdom would fit squarely.
For sure, you can master the art of maneuvering in the narrow waters of the corporate world and float there forever. Or you can straighten up and jump into the rollercoaster of a startup life.

Apparently, Odessa is full of people who chose option number two (otherwise we wouldn’t have been writing this review, right?). Every time a new product is rolled out to the local markets and a startup is behind it, we touch wood and say: [Gotham] Odessa has finally got the startup heroes this city deserves.

 

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The guides are like startup communities – they constantly change and grow. Make sure to check for updates and if you have something to add to one of them or want to publish one for your city, get in touch right away! And don’t forget to enrich the startup ecosystem by creating your company profile at StartUs!

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