Forty-two entrepreneurs from all over Ukraine successfully completed studies at the Stanford Ignite Ukraine program, organized by Ukrainian Catholic University’s CfE Accelerator and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Participants of the Stanford Ignite Ukraine program represented Ukrainian small and middle-sized businesses from various parts of Ukraine. The program consisted of two parts – online lectures and then three weeks of in-person studies at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. During the three weeks, with the mentorship of American professors the entrepreneurs worked on projects to develop their businesses.

On April 26, the program participants met in Kyiv to summarize their studies and share ideas of how to development enterprises in Ukraine in conditions of war.

Stanford Ignite Ukraine participant shaking hands

The Stanford Ignite Ukraine program was executed by Ukrainian Catholic University’s CfE Accelerator and the Stanford Graduate School of Business with the support of the Ministry of Economics of Ukraine and USAID’s Competitive Economy Program in Ukraine.

Stanford Ignite Ukraine participants

Program participants

Ukrainian First Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Economics Yulia Svyrydenko met with the program’s participants. She emphasized that proactiveness and leadership are two key traits which are needed today, both in business and in government administration. “I hope that in the seven weeks of study with the Stanford Ignite Ukraine program you were inspired and left with even more proactiveness. We saw that the program works effectively and truly helps entrepreneurs develop, so that in the future Ukrainian businesses will be able to become part of the world supply chain and globalize,” stated Yuliya Svyrydenko.

Minister of Economics Yulia Svyrydenko speaking in front of participants

Minister of Economics Yulia Svyrydenko

Rector of Ukrainian Catholic University Taras Dobko addressed the program’s participants with a word of greeting: “Certainly, participation in the Stanford Ignite Ukraine program and interaction with leading professors of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and investors from Silicon Vally was a wonderful opportunity not only to learn something new but to share one’s own experience and teach others how to conduct business in wartime. Because we in Ukraine are particularly sharply aware that business is not only about money, dividends, or profits. It is also about the value of creating workspaces for people, about respect for the client through an uncompromising position about product quality, even with all the limitations which now exist, about the value of work, which is important for the psychological well-being and endurance of our people, about the common good of the whole country.”

UCU Rector Taras Dobko speaking in front of participants

UCU Rector Taras Dobko

Theodora Dell, Acting Director of the USAID Mission to Ukraine, encouraged the program’s graduates to use the acquired knowledge in practice and develop their own enterprises. She said that the general value of Ukrainian startups in 2023 totaled almost $25 billion, ten times more than three years ago: “Ukraine, like the USA, is a country of entrepreneurs. I’m glad that our program with Ukrainian Catholic University was able to help Ukrainian entrepreneurs grow even more and develop. Ukraine now has one common goal – to win the war.”

Theodora Dell speaking in front of participants

Theodora Dell, Acting Director of the USAID Mission to Ukraine

The next admissions campaign for the Stanford Ignite Ukraine program will begin in fall 2024.

panel speaking to participants

“Stanford Ignite Ukraine forms a unique community of gifted Ukrainian innovators which fosters the active exchange of ideas and mutual support in the development process. This program not only provides the participants with new skills, but it inspires them to achieve new heights in the business world. We expect that the program’s next admissions campaign will be even larger and give a new impulse for the development of business in Ukraine,” stated Ivan Petrenko, Executive Director of CfE Accelerator and Executive Partner of the Angel One Fund.

Ivan Petrenko speaking in front of participants

Ivan Petrenko, Executive Director of CfE Accelerator and Executive Partner of the Angel One Fund

As part of the meeting in Kyiv, there was also a panel discussion about the development of businesses in Ukraine in conditions of war.

Sophia Opatska, UCU Vice-Rector for Strategic Development and Founding Dean of the UCU Business School, emphasized the importance of education in developing an entrepreneurial culture. She also explained that Ukrainian Catholic University not only provides knowledge: it forms a whole educational ecosystem. The university offers elective courses in the development of businesses, which can be taken by students of theology, culture studies, philology, and other programs. “Through such introductory courses, young people find out about many great opportunities and get acquainted with the business world. And then the whole ecosystem continues to operate – the university should be a place where you can talk about your idea, receive feedback, and meet successful people, entrepreneurs who can give advice and share the experience of their own successes and failures. No less important is the activity of foundations which can provide funds to start, if the idea has already been tested.”x

Sophia Opatska sitting on a panel in front of Stanford Ignite participants

Sophia Opatska

We note that CfE Accelerator works for the development of entrepreneurship and the startup culture at UCU. Its mission is to raise the competitiveness of Ukrainian startups in the global ecosystem. The Angel One venture capital fund, created by the UCU Foundation, also operates at the university; it provides startup capital for the expansion of startups.

Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Economics Oleksii Sobolev during the discussion stated: “Ukraine needs to become self-charging. All our taxes go to support our soldiers. We need more resources to defend Ukraine from Russia.”

Olesya Zaluska, head of USAID’s Competitive Economy Program in Ukraine, gave advice on how to receive support from international donors: “Submit your campaign for grants transparently and honestly. Grow. For USAID programs oriented to middle-size business, also micro and small business, it’s necessary to think about consolidating. Build your business honestly, legally. This will give you the opportunity in the future to attract not only grant financing but also investments. A global campaign is not about grants but about investments and corporate leadership. I hope that the enthusiasm that you received at the Stanford Ignite Ukraine program will transform into concrete plans of action, to grow and expand.”

Olesya Zaluska sitting on a panel and speaking to the room of Stanford Ignite participants

Olesya Zaluska

Entrepreneur and investor Igor Liski talked about communications between business and the government: “A good business is not only about money; it’s also about the desire to change the country for the better. We can’t separate business from the government. We have to take responsibility for our country. I want Ukrainian entrepreneurs to feel this responsibility, so they aren’t afraid to interact with the government, even criticize it. The only possibility for us all to survive is to learn to trust. The government needs to trust business and vice versa. This begins with interaction and understanding.”

Kateryna Glazkova, Executive Director of the Union of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs, stated: “The task of the Union of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs is to create and develop a favorable climate for business in Ukraine. We are working so that it will be easier, more convenient for business in Ukraine, so that our country will be attractive to foreign investors. It is also our role to be partners for the government. We are always ready to lend a hand, to propose our vision and expert view on legislative initiatives.”

Kateryna Glazkova speaking to participants on the panel

Kateryna Glazkova, Executive Director of the Union of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs

At the end of the meeting, the participants of the Stanford Ignite Ukraine program talked about lessons learned and plans for future expansion of their own businesses. We share some of their comments:

Andrii Rodkin, CCO & co-founder of Glamping UA: “After the program, I understood that we will really change Ukraine with the knowledge we received. What motivated me to apply to this program? The desire to move forward. Fear in an emotion which only lives in the future. Sometimes, to conquer this fear, it’s necessary to take a step forward. So, I sat down and wrote an essay. And then I re-wrote. And then I again re-wrote. And again for two weeks. And then I submitted it. I took this step, though I was scared. When I received the acceptance letter, I thought: ‘God, what do I do now?’ And then I got acquainted with incredible people, and I’m very grateful for this.”

Andrii Rodkin speaking on the panel

Andrii Rodkin, CCO & co-founder of Glamping UA

Anna Knyzhenko, founder of the Dukachi brand, maker of fine jewelry: “The main lesson I learned was global understanding. When we came to study, we had certain limitations on our development. The professors at Stanford helped us understand that limits are only in our heads. We can do everything. We have no upper limit, so I’m sure that in five years we will really build international businesses with great turnover and not even recognize ourselves.”

Vyacheslav Zhyla, Supertask Theatrical School: “When I ended up at Stanford, I thought it would be incredible there. But believe me: We here in Ukraine sometimes have more experience. Yes, the Stanford Graduate School of Business is truly one of the best, but the knowledge and experience that we have here is on a super-high level. I’m convinced of this because I had the opportunity to interact with graduates of the Key Executive MBA program of the UCU Business School. UCU is a leader in the educational market. For me, the most important thing in the program was the people: classmates and the professors who gave master-classes. Everything depends on them.”

Vyacheslav Zhyla and Ivan Petrenko holding a certificate

Vyacheslav Zhyla and Ivan Petrenko

Graduates of the Stanford Ignite Ukraine program also initiated the founding at UCU of a number of scholarships for future students. The idea for creating this educational opportunity for Ukrainians came, in particular, from Nataliya Anon, a Director of the Ukrainian Catholic University Foundation (USA) and one of the benefactors of Stanford Ignite Ukraine.

Stanford Ignite participants

“Finishing my MBA at the Stanford GSB 23 years ago, I had a dream that Ukrainian entrepreneurs could also receive from the professors of one of the world’s best business schools knowledge and experience which would help them not simply develop their own businesses but give them the ability to compete in international markets. I believe that this program will help start new businesses, develop existing ones much more quickly, and create more new workspaces. This will help strengthen Ukraine’s economic force in such a difficult time,” said Nataliya Anon.