The СfE accelerator of Ukrainian Catholic University together with the Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford GSB) is launching a new educational program, Stanford Ignite Ukraine, for representatives of Ukrainian small and middle-size businesses. On February 19, there were 42 participants from Ukraine who began their studies. The program is intended to be a bridge between Ukrainian entrepreneurs and the Silicon Valley community and a catalyst for change and development in small and middle-size businesses in Ukraine.

“Uniting the missions of UCU and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, we hope to help Ukrainian entrepreneurs grow and implement ambitious and innovative ideas in their businesses, which will increase their competitiveness in the global ecosystem. The Stanford Ignite Ukraine program has a global goal: to give confidence to Ukrainian entrepreneurs and strengthen their businesses.” So explained Ivan Petrenko, acting director of UCU’s СfE accelerator.

In his opinion, the experience and knowledge gained in Silicon Valley will allow these Ukrainian entrepreneurs to re-think their businesses and direction of growth. The entrepreneurs will receive practical management instruments for introducing changes and a systemic approach to overcoming challenges which Ukrainian businesses now face.

Ivan Petrenko sitting and leaning forward with his elbows on his thighs

Ivan Petrenko, acting director of UCU’s СfE accelerator

The program has online and offline components. Online, the participants will work in teams on venture ideas, conduct interviews with the target audience, and prepare their first presentations. Offline will be a traveling module at the Stanford Graduate School of Business: study under the direction of professors, dedicated to developing a successful enterprise. There are also plans for sessions with invited speakers and meetings with representatives of venture funds, investors, and experts. In addition, the whole time they are on campus the participants will have the opportunity to interact weekly with the community of the Stanford GSB and Silicon Valley.

The Stanford Ignite Ukraine program is being organized by UCU’s CfE accelerator together with the Stanford Graduate School of Business, with the support of the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine, the USAID Competitive Economy Program in Ukraine, and Ukrainian Catholic University.

“The Ministry of Economy supports the Stanford Ignite Ukraine project because this is a unique opportunity at no cost to study at one of the world’s best business schools. We believe that Ukrainian entrepreneurs who strive to develop their businesses and, in parallel, receive new knowledge will have a truly invaluable experience.” So said Yuliya Svyrydenko, First Vice-Prime Minister of the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine.

How did the idea for the Stanford Ignite Ukraine program come about?

Ivan Petrenko explained that it all began with personal contacts. Nataliya Anon, a Director of the Ukrainian Catholic University Foundation, partner of UCU, and member of the Angel One Fund’s Advisory Council, helped start the program. She has lived in the USA for over 20 years, where she founded her own IT company.

“Earning an MBA at the Stanford GSB 23 years ago, I dreamed that Ukrainian entrepreneurs would also gain knowledge and experience from professors at one of the world’s best business schools, which would help them not simply develop their own businesses but also give an opportunity 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 workplaces. This will help strengthen Ukraine’s economic power in such a difficult time,” said Nataliya Anon.

Natalia Anon posing in front of a Svitla logo

Natalia Anon, founder of Svitla Systems

Understanding that Ukrainian entrepreneurs are constantly working with the challenges of war and have a great need for development, Anon shared the idea with her former professor, Charles A. Holloway, who, even at the age of 90, continues to work at the Stanford GSB. Prof. Holloway gladly supported Anon’s idea and advised her to turn to Prof. Yossi Feinberg, responsible for the Stanford Ignite program. The professor immediately supported the idea: “The resilience, ingenuity, and perseverance of the Ukrainian people inspire the world, especially how business innovates in war conditions. Stanford Ignite Ukraine is exactly the Program that will help Ukrainian leaders and their businesses thrive while minimizing possible risks.”

He also presented Anon to Jonathan Levin, Dean of the Stanford GSB, who saw enormous potential in creating this kind of “bridge” between Ukraine and the Silicon Valley community. And so was born cooperation between UCU and the Stanford Graduate School of Business for the next four years. Anon is financing the entrepreneurs’ studies. Grant funds from the USAID Competitive Economy Program in Ukraine are covering other expenses.

Stanford Ignite Ukraine: Contents of the program

Then the formation of the program itself began. At first it was developed for startups. However, in the work process, the team understood that there would be a much more positive influence if they could help small and middle-size businesses: “Inasmuch as the startup industry paused somewhat with the start of the war,” said Ivan Petrenko.

The program itself lasts seven weeks. The first month is online study. The participants will then for three weeks go to Stanford for practical work on projects. At the end, they plan to organize a number of meetings with the business community, both Ukrainians and Americans in California. The participants will also have a number of meetings with investors from Silicon Valley, who could, in the future, become potential investors or partners in their businesses.

“We want to help owners and directors of enterprises make their businesses more successful and build effective business models and products/services. Many of them are looking to go to outside markets; they want to release new products or improve already-existing ones. We will help them do this. The Stanford Ignite Ukraine program will focus on those items which need, as a rule, the most attention: sales, marketing, and distribution. We will also talk about leadership in conducting business and attracting investments,” said Ivan Petrenko.

At the end of the program, UCU’s СfE accelerator will continue to work with the participants in Ukraine and monitor their success, above all with qualitative indicators: the number of investments made, the creation of workplaces, outside markets they manage to reach, and increase in sales. This, in Ivan Petrenko’s words, will give the organizers an opportunity to understand how effective the program was and what should be improved in the next admissions campaign.

How were the participants selected?

The organizers decided to focus on the owners of small and middle-sized businesses who already have at least three years of entrepreneurial experience. It is important that the company was registered in Ukraine, has no less than eight hired and officially employed workers, and also that the owners are fluent in English.

After the contest was announced and promoted, 977 applications for participation in the program came from various regions of Ukraine: Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Ivano-Frankivsk, Dnipro, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia. Those who met the technical requirements sent letters in which they described their motivation and expectations.

Among the 42 participants who were selected are representatives of various areas, in particular: a service for finding and shipping medicines,; Athlon Avia, unmanned solutions; the Gres Todorchuk communications agency; the JUL clothing brand; Rekava, a CleanTech startup which creates biodegradable products from coffee grounds; Gorgany, a network of stores with tourist and sports clothing and equipment; Spell Chocolate, a producer of Belgian chocolate; Dukachi, a brand of jewelry products;, a service to compare and form insurance products online; YedynkaDGTL, a company which specializes in marketing and web development; and others.

Strong business is one of the supports of our freedom and security in the future: participants’ expectations

One of the participants in the Stanford Ignite Ukraine program is Andriy Bandrivskyy, producer and distributor of equipment and clothes for hiking and sports at Gorgany and a graduate of the UCU Business School.

“For the last two years, our mental resources have focused on the struggle with the challenges of war: how to remain steady, support the team, be of use to clients, earn money, and help the army. We all dream of freedom, of a strong Ukraine, which will be able to defend itself from any aggression. For this, we need to become a wealthy country. And there is no other way than to build outstanding companies, brands and products known worldwide. This already needs to be done, but you need to learn how,” explained Andriy Bandrivskyy. “I applied to the program because, I think, this is a unique opportunity to study at the world’s top business school. I am very interested in better understanding how in 10 years US companies become global. I want to see how they think and gain this experience in order to get involved in the process of developing my company so that it also can grow and become known in the world. In my opinion, strong business is one of the supports of our freedom and security in the future.”

Andriy Bandrivskyy holding a piece of metal in his hand

Andriy Bandrivskyy, producer and distributor at Gorgany

Olesia Yedynak-Khoma, founder and CEO of YedynkaDGTL, a company which specializes in marketing and web development, shared her expectations.

“I decided many years ago that, absolutely, I will study at Stanford sometime. So when I read about this opportunity and that the program’s goal is to help small and middle-sized businesses become more innovative and enter new markets, I saw it as a sign. It’s also important to me that the UCU CfE accelerator are organizers. I share common values with them,” explained Olesia Yedynak-Khoma. “Our goal at the company now is to develop an export strategy to build systemic sales abroad. But in current conditions, this has to be done very quickly, considering the influence of world stagnation. In connection with entering outside markets, we as a company are beginning work with new types of organizations and launching new products for them. Earlier we worked more with large companies and organizations. This time, entering new markets, we’re aiming at startups, accelerators, venture businesses and companies that create innovations. In the longer perspective, we plan to launch our own products and Startup Studio. I expect that the Stanford Ignite Ukraine program will give the opportunity to get into the needed environment, to talk over and test my hypotheses. But new knowledge, acquired in one of the world’s best business schools, and corresponding acquaintanceships will certainly significantly speed up my transformation as an entrepreneur and also my company and open new horizons.”

Olesia Yedynak-Khoma

Olesia Yedynak-Khoma, founder and CEO of YedynkaDGTL

Business in the context of war

Ivan Petrenko emphasized that Ukrainian small and middle-sized businesses, which continue to work with high quality, are one of the discoveries with the start of the full-scale invasion: “When foreign entrepreneurs travel to us and see with their own eyes that business continues to work, create workplaces, launch new products and services, and enter outside markets, they don’t understand how this is possible.”

Small and middle-sized business is the basis of any economy. Entrepreneurs need support in the conditions of war. And launching a program like this is also an educational contribution to the future victory.

“It’s important that this program not be a one-shot. So the next admissions campaign for Stanford Ignite Ukraine will start in fall 2024. Later on, perhaps, we will be able to organize studies for professors and students of UCU. It will be very interesting for us to monitor the community which is formed through this program and how Ukrainian entrepreneurs will introduce this new, high-quality experience into their businesses and institutions,” sums up Ivan Petrenko.

We add that the USAID Competitive Economy Program in Ukraine supports Ukrainian business with the goal of increasing the competitiveness in Ukraine’s internal market and also in international markets and also provides Ukrainian companies with opportunities to enjoy the benefits of international trade.