Ukrainian Business Leaders
The San Diego Diplomacy Council had the immense pleasure of hosting a Ukrainian Business Leaders Promoting Innovation and Entrepreneurship (UBL PIE) delegation in mid-March. We hosted a total of 18 delegates for a week-long professional and cultural study tour, where many spent time in the US for the first time, and some others left Ukraine for the first time since Russia’s full invasion in February 2022. The delegates had a wide variety of business backgrounds—in tech, IT, public relations, sustainability, manufacturing, political affairs, wine education, marketing, community development games, among others.
Our Program Manager, Lulu Bonning, and Program Intern and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Ukraine, Andrew Steck, accompanied the group throughout the week and were able to hear about the immense challenges Ukrainian entrepreneurs are facing at home. Here we’ll highlight some of those challenges, and also the delegates’ best business development experiences during their time in San Diego.
Oleksandr Bohachyk, co-founder of BRUSHME, arts and paint supplier company, felt his head was buzzing from the new information. He noted that the U.S. is a network of companies, and not only individual entrepreneurs. He compared the stronger competition, marketing, and customer retention to that in Ukraine, and observed the difficulty to scale even “small” business to a larger market. Oleksandr appreciated the involvement of incubators, venture capitalists, and other opportunities that specifically scale and develop small business in the U.S, and will try to replicate this streamlined development in his own business.
Iryna Povkh, Business Development Manager of KindGeek, a software development company, was particularly impressed by marketing practices in San Diego and the greater U.S. We met with Red Door Marketing, and Iryna enjoyed learning different tactics of presenting and “selling” your company, with an emphasis on customer relationships and expanding marketing to greater audiences. Iryna’s company works in the UK, Ukraine, Finland, and Norway, so expanding customer bases was a key interest of hers coming into the program. She currently works in Lviv, Ukraine, and has shared her experiences with her team in hopes to grow the business and contribute to the growing IT industry in Ukraine.
One delegate attempted to focus less on challenges, and more on future projects and business potential. Yevhen Popov is the co-founder of PolitScanner, the world’s first technology for voters to learn about a candidate’s politics, wealth, political history, platform, etc. Yevhen’s business mostly focuses on Ukrainian politics, however, through UBL PIE, he hopes to expand and collaborate with other entrepreneurs to bring the technology to the U.S. He especially remembers meeting with Eric Gasser, SDDC Board Member, and their discussion on raisings funds and approaching investors, and how and why investments succeed or fail. Yevhen presented the PolitScanner app to over 100 people during the study tour and was encouraged by the positive feedback and acknowledgement of such an important technology in other political spaces.
Creating Impact in San Diego
Delegates agreed that one of the most impactful meetings was with Amy Duncan and Mysty Rusk at the University of San Diego’s The Brink Small Business Development Center. The Brink advises businesses much like the delegates’, and Amy and Mysty facilitated a robust conversation on small business development in the U.S., from incubation and investment to scaling and returns. USD student, Dominyck Bullard, provided a short pitch of his own business, AthletiVerse, showcasing the start-to-finish business cycle of a growing and competing business. This well-rounded meeting resonated with all the delegates because they all share the similar challenge of growing, sustaining, and serving their customers and communities in a conflict environment that is not conducive to business development.
We felt it was necessary to honor our special guests who came to the U.S. under such difficult circumstances, so in collaboration with Hera Hub La Jolla and the House of Ukraine, we hosted a Global Social Hour for SDDC members and the Ukrainian community. We had a packed house at Hera Hub, and a few delegates spoke of their personal challenges and victories in the past year and how much they appreciated the opportunity to learn and grow in San Diego. It was a truly special night that surely made this program a very memorable one!
We were thrilled and honored to host these brave and brilliant Ukrainians in San Diego. Our partners and staff learned as much from them as they did from us, and most importantly we stand in support and solidarity as they continue to be entrepreneurs in the midst of the invasion. We wish the best to their future endeavors and hope to see their business in the U.S. soon!
By Andrew Steck, Program Intern