Ukraine's first innovation park, UNIT.City, is one of the biggest centers of innovation in Central and Eastern Europe. With a comprehensive ecosystem designed to drive rapid development in business an innovation, the UNIT.City campus provides an all-inclusive environment where high technology, innovative and creative businesses develop and thrive.
The ambitious entrepreneurs that drive this unique business community are at the forefront of today's most exciting industries. From Fintech and VR/AR to Cybersecurity, Agritech & Foodtech and Energy & Cleantech—not to mention Digital Healthcare & Healthcare, IoT and Blockchain technologies—UNIT.City is an ideal environment for every business innovator.
UNIT.City boasts over 110 resident companies, more than 500 events annually, 4 accelerators, 2 laboratories and over 900 students. With acess to regular events and meetings that unite businesses, experts and accelerate employee growth, Ukraine's first innovation park concentrates cutting edge technologies and streamlines business development in the heart of one of Europe's most exciting capital cities. With such a diverse and growing community, UNIT.City is poised to become the leading center of innovation and a one-point entry into Ukraine for global investors, partners and new technologies.
Being the CEO of UNIT.City
Hello, I am Dominique Piotet. I am the CEO of UNIT.City, and I have been in Ukraine for two years.
First, every morning I try to go to the gym. I drop my kid at the bus stop, because he goes to an American school, KIS, at 7:30 sharp, in fact at 7:26. When you have kids you're on a schedule, right? Then I go to the gym, and then I arrive at UNIT.City, usually at about 8:30, and I have a lot of meetings.
I have regular meetings every week. Working with the teams, the construction team, the ecosystem team, the marketing team. We have a lot of those. Then there's a lot of events. UNIT.City is known for its events. We organize them, I participate, I open them. We have a lot of delegations, embassies, and clients. And then there's a lot of planning, because UNIT.City is a startup. We are a small team, to manage the park, to manage the development, to manage the financing, to manage the construction. So we rely a lot on our own energy and the way we build things. We really work as a startup, so long hours, very long hours, but it's fascinating because we're building. You know it's always what I say, there's two ways of doing things in life, "You can build, or you can enjoy". A lot of people enjoy building, I enjoy building, but this is what we're trained to do, so there's no two days that look the same. You know it's like, we're building!
As you know, we have opened Kharkiv, so there is a UNIT.City in Kharkiv. It's really cool, it's super cool, I love the architecture. It's very different, very different architecture, very different feel, very different vibe, but same mission, same vision. And we will open Lviv later, hopefully this year. The first building is almost finished, and then we will see.
Our goal is not to conquer the world, because I don't believe in that. But our goal is to share our mission and our vision. What we're trying to achieve here to create local companies that will go global. But that will keep their culture, that will keep their European vision of things. It's completely different, it's a different proposition, it's a different design, and I think that's why we are unique, because we are unique. We're not trying to duplicate what they're doing, we're doing it our way.
Moving to Ukraine
There is one thing I knew: Talent. I knew about the quality of the tech talent, because I have Ukrainian friends in Silicon Valley. They were developers, working for FaceBook, Google. The co-founder of WhatsApp is Ukrainian. I knew about that, I heard about it. The second thing I knew, and it's going to sound stupid, but I'm French so it's important to me, I knew about the quality of the food. I knew that Ukraine was an amazing agricultural country. The products are great, the food is great, and honestly that's really about it, I knew nothing else about Ukraine.
So I flew in. I came to Kyiv for the first time. Beginning of the spring, there were some leaves, and parks were beginning to open. I was like wow this is pretty cool, and then I came to UNIT.City for the first time, and I was like…what? This is so cool, and I fell in love. Instantly I knew, wow, I'm home here. I feel at home.
Life in Kyiv
Well first, I mentioned the food. I love the restaurants. Honestly I think there's amazing restaurants in Kyiv. The second thing I love is being able to walk. You forget about those things. In San Francisco you can walk, but San Francisco is probably with New York, one of the only cities in the US where you can walk in the street, I mean try doing this in Los Angeles, try doing this is Las Vegas.So here I can walk everywhere, we have all those beautiful buildings those amazing churches. The third thing I think I love and it's hard to measure it, is the energy of the city. It's a city with a lot of energy. You have all those cool bars, those small galleries, those underground artists. I like the size of the city in Kyiv because you can find everything. I love that. And that energy, you know, I feel it everyday. They're not smiling at first but as soon as you start interacting people are super warm and welcoming. People are inviting you to their house! And they bring all that food on the table and I love it. Honestly people don't invite you to their house in the US, but here they invite you, and you have a table full of this amazing food and salo and sir (cheese). Oh my god, I love it!
Tech culture & identities
Well actually it's very interesting because now it's been two years of my being here, and I realized I was able to create a culture, a company culture, within UNIT.City, that is very close to what I had in Silicon Valley, or what I like. And that culture is based on trust, is based on collaboration, is based on transparency. I don't know about other Ukrainian companies, but I know about UNIT.City, and those are my values. Those are things that were important for me in Silicon Valley, in my teams, in my companies, in my own company and the company I work with, and those are the values that I'm bringing to UNIT.City to my team. So really, collaboration, trust, transparency, so we share a lot, we share everything. And the first one that is extremely important is empowerment. I want people to own their own projects. So, for example, my marketing director, he knows what he has to do, he doesn't come to me and ask, "How can I spend this budget, can I do this?" No, it's your budget, we agreed on the budget in the beginning, we agreed on a roadmap, we agreed on an action plan. Build it, do it, and if things change, change it, and adapt. To me it's very important in that way. I think it's more of a startup culture than anything else, and I don't think it's like that in many Ukrainian companies, yet. So, that was a bit of a challenge for the team to adapt and that's also an important point, seeing that something I was afraid I would miss was having a little bit of fun. We spend long hours, so if it's not fun it's not cool. In UNIT.City we are not trying to duplicate Silicon Valley. This is absolutely not what we are trying to do, because we do not believe it is possible, and actually we don't believe that it's a good idea. However, we want to learn the key components of a successful ecosystem, and those components like you said are talent, money and rebel culture. Let's call it culture to make it easier. So, talent, we have in Ukraine. Tons of tech talent, it's extremely good, it's a growing community. It could be better of course, and we're working on it. We have a coding school, we have a business school, it's important for us. Second, money. Money is tough, but it's just a commodity, and if you're good at convincing then you'll get money. Culture is a very complex one. The culture of Silicon Valley is a very old culture and everything started in Silicon Valley with the summer of love. People being against the Vietnam War. It's hippies, it's a culture of counter culture. We're gonna break things, we can do things differently. We can do our family differently. We have different values. At the same time in the same place we invented the personal computer. We invented microchips. We invent all those cool technologies, and by the same people by the way. So this is what I mean by culture, and this is really hard to create. It happened to be that way. It also happened that SF was far from the rest of the U.S. On the West Coast, close to the ocean. Those kinds of remote places, usually are good places to create new culture. In many ways Ukraine is kind of a remote place, a little bit disconnected from the rest, at war. Fighting against one of our neighbors. Not completely connected to Europe yet. In many ways we have that zone that is not completely safe, which is actually good for entrepreneurship. When it's safe it's not great for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs love danger. They take risk, risk is part of the life of an entrepreneur. If you cannot take risk, because it's not allowed or there's no space for that, or because you don't want to or you don't have the culture of risk, then you don't create companies. So we have that, we have the talent. I'm not sure yet, but we have to build that culture. And this is what we're trying to do in UNIT.City. This is actually why I always say this, I came here to create a city in the city with no experience in real estate. So someone reasonable should say, "Why is the CEO of UNIT.City, which is a real estate project, not an expert in real estate?" Because this is not what we're creating. Because we're creating a culture, we're creating a movement, we're creating a tech ecosystem, and that is what is important to make UNIT.City, and to make Ukraine unique in that sense.
One thing that's important to understand is that there's a global culture of tech. You take a geek in Silicon Valley, you take a geek in Kyiv - it's the same. They speak the same language, they often wear the same hoodie, they talk about the same thing, they're watching the same series on TV. So there's a lot of similarities in that category of people. In some countries we don't have that, or we don't have a lot of them, because of school.
So one of the differences in Ukraine is that we're lucky because we have a culture of engineering. So we have that background, we have those people that look exactly the same in every county. I strongly believe that they wear the same thing. But the difference is the opportunity. I really have that strong theory, that "brains", or the smartest people, go where the opportunity is. I'm not saying I'm a "brain" by any means, but In 2004, for me, working in tech in France, there was no opportunity. The ecosystem was not there, the financing was not there. So I had to go, I had to leave, and I moved to San Francisco. So if we recognize that we have this talent, which is the case in Ukraine, and we don't create a platform for them to consider this as their home then we fail, then they will leave to San Francisco or they will leave to Tel Aviv or leave to wherever. Where they will feel the opportunity. Because they fit in the landscape. So this is our duty, it's what we have to do to create those opportunities here.
Building an ecosystem
The best definition to me of an ecosystem is imagining the rainforest. The rainforest is the most complex biological ecosystem in the world. To have the rainforest work, you need all the components of it. You need the canopy, the very high trees that are going to be in shade so the lower trees can grow up. You need all the little animals, insects, etc. You need the birds. So it's very complex. You need the humidity, but more humidity under, less on top, etc. So an ecosystem is diversity, but diversity of people going in the same direction. Building a forest. So the forest is "tech". Having an ecosystem means what? It means that we need students, running codes, and talents. We need accelerators, we need incubators, we need startups, we need larger companies doing innovation. We need funds, bringing money to us. We need events because we need networks and we need people to be together. We need a certain size. A very small tiny forest will not thrive, and that's why actually UNIT.City is big. I'm obsessed with this idea of scale. We need something very important, and it's really hard to create, that is, accidents. Because innovation always happens by accident.
Very simple, money. We need financing, we need to finance this, and because we are in Ukraine it's hard to convince people. It took us more than two years to convince the European Investment Bank to loan us money. Two years! To get that first 50 million that they loaned to us. It's so much work, such hard work. So finding the financing to build this to make our vision real is an everyday challenge. It's extremely complex. It's extremely complex not only because of the project, but because of the country. Money was (an issue), but we are financed, we are very well financed now. It was definitely one of the biggest challenges ever, but it's a challenge of every entrepreneur.
Personal challenges, there's a lot. I moved my family here. I had to convince them to move to Ukraine. We have business in California, so it's a lot of back and forth, it's a lot of travel. To me, honestly the biggest challenge is the language. Because I don't feel like I belong as long as I don't speak the language. It's hard to have a deep meaningful conversation with someone when you don't speak the same language. Of course everyone speaks English, but it's not the same thing. If you want to understand the culture of a country, you need to understand the language.
It's hard to measure success in anything you do. For me my personal KPI is: Do I still want to wake up in the morning and go to work? Do I still have that passion? Is this project still my passion? Am I ready to sacrifice my nights, my weekends for the project? As long as I am doing that I feel like I'm successful. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing with my life. The day I don't feel that anymore then it's time to move on.
I'm building that, and this is the path. I hate that, for me. I'm not interested in that. I don't care about a career. I want experiences. I want to meet people. I want to feel alive. I want to be passionate. To be that you have to follow your instinct more than anything else.
How Anze started in Ukraine
Hello, my name is Anze Jereb. I'm an executive creative director in BBDO Ukraine and Central Asia. I have lived here for 20 years. I enjoy it, like it, and I hope I spend 20 more years here.
I came to a big international advertising agency, I stayed there for almost a year. Then I didn't want to change the country, because I fell in love with a girl who is now my wife. So I opened my agency with my local partner, and we did business together for 12-13 years. We had a creative agency, media, web, PR, digital and BTL agencies. It was a big company with different companies together. It was like a small holding.
The Revolution of Dignity started in 2013-2014, I was out of my project because I sold it. I was looking for a new job. I met Viktor Ishkov. He asked if I wanted to go for a coffee, I said, "Okay". And he offered me a job. After I spoke to him, I decided to go to this project. Now I'm here in BBDO for 7 years.
Three or four years ago, Viktor and I also got Central Asia besides the Ukrainian office. And now we're a little hub for Ukraine, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. We do almost everything in Kyiv and Almaty.
In each culture where I worked — Ukraine is the 7th country where I worked — before that I worked in Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia. Each nation has its cultural peculiarities which are interesting, funny, and sometimes difficult. But that's the joy of life. The difference between nations when you travel to different countries to feel and see that people live pretty much the same, but there's some stuff different. For example, how we spice fish in Slovenia, and how people do it here. It's pretty much the same, the same fish but different spices. It's very interesting to observe, to taste, to try, to see new staff. That makes our life richer.
On life in Ukraine
What I really like lately is the boom of restaurants. I like good food, I love when chefs are trying to make my one hour in a restaurant a gourmet exposure of tastes and feelings. That changed a lot, and that changed the way I spend my free time. When I came (to Ukraine), there were not a lot of good restaurants. The food was okay, but it was just okay. Now it's superb.
I like a lot of places in Kyiv, Podil, Sagaidachnogo street to Kontraktova ploshcha. It's beautiful. In summer, I like to go from Podil walking to Lybidska metro station. There are these beautiful buildings that are different from what you see in Europe. The architecture of Kyiv is unique. It has this European oriental style. It's beautiful. Especially from the first of May and June — it's the best time in Kyiv.
Romantic perception will remain forever. It's easier to live when you remember the great history of Ukraine, the great things that were happening, the historic moments. Kyiv was one of the biggest cities in the world thousands of years ago. Kyiv is extremely beautiful. It has old parts where you can feel history for thousands and thousands of years. And still it's a very beautiful country, there are a lot of places that haven't been discovered yet - castles, rivers, lakes, mountains. It's easier to live here — with everyday problems you have here in Kyiv — it's easier when you're staying romantic about the country.
Working in Ukraine
What I'm surprised about is, if we take a look at how people work. I heard that Ukrainians aren't hardworking. No, it's not true. Ukrainians are very hardworking. That's a myth. I worked in many countries. People in Ukraine really work hard. Another problem is the lack of quality control of all aspects of our life. But what I said with these restaurants — the owner or the chef takes control of the quality, it changes the society. That's what we do in our agency, that's what many Ukrainians are doing now. We're changing society in terms of doing a better job.
I see one thing when a Ukrainian young person achieves some level or result, they become happy with it and they don't want to grow anymore. Maybe because there's not enough competition among young people. But from the other side, it's a big problem that we have — we're not growing as fast as we could. People stop on their way to growth. They're happy with themselves but we should try harder, we should change, adapt, and grow all the time. I'm following not just the Ukrainian market in terms of creative achievements and results at international advertisement festivals — we're at the end. And we're not going further. While there's Albania, Pakistan, they get bigger awards at the huge international festivals than Ukraine. We're satisfied with the way of life that we have. That's one particularity that I don't really like but I hope it will change with time.
There's one funny thing that I can't change with me and I won't change it. I'm from Slovenia which was part of the Austra-Hungarian and German empires for a long time. I'm very punctual. If a meeting starts at 10 o'clock, I'll be there five minutes before 10. That's what I'm spreading among all my colleagues because usually everyone tends to be 15 minutes late. But in my personal life, I would like to forget my punctuality because I'm always too early when I'm invited to somebody's home. But in terms of work, I think punctuality is very important, because of tempo, the rhythm of work is getting faster and faster. If you're not disciplined it takes a lot of time.
On his projects and creative approach
Of course, a lot of stuff that I do is similar to everything else on the market because that's what people want to get. But as a creative person, with my colleagues, I always try to do something different to be interesting. That's the point of marketing communication, to be noticed. Not to be spam, shooting a person with a message for so long that he cannot get it out of his brain.
I want to do different communication — a piece of communication, content, commercials, an ad when you see, you feel emotions about it, and it remains a bit longer with you — that's my job.
For example, one of the projects we did was for Karpatska DZherelna, a producer of mineral water. They were regional water for the Lviv area. They had big plans and ambitions. We made a commercial for them that made them come from 12th position to the 3rd position on the national market.
We showed a grandfather that looked very nice drinking the water from the Carpathians. This is one of the projects I'm proud of. You know why? The production plant had been hiring around 200 people. I don't remember the exact numbers. They said after the extremely good commercial in one season the company became much bigger and they hired much more people from the Lviv area, where we know there are many people unemployed. So we also helped a lot of people to get a job with a good advertisement.
I watch people. I look how they live, I listen to what they say. That's the fun part of my job besides being creative, it's understanding how people talk, what they think, what they like, what they don't like, how they're changing.
I was listening to the young skateboarders close to my home. I heard them speaking "You see these guys that are delivering food." I was a delivery guy in the university and it was negative. But I heard these youngsters speaking about the delivery guys as something really cool. "I also want to try this when I'll be old enough. I want to earn my own money." It shocked me a little bit. And with my friend, a young director, we went to different points where these people are hanging out. We found out that there are stars, legends among them. We wrote a script and started interviewing them, following them. We made a small movie. It's something new that happened in society, and I told myself, "Let's make a picture of it."
I would not say I'm this foreign person who's bringing new stuff from abroad. Everything is here, you just have to know how to use it.
BBDO and UNIT.City
We had a nice office at Podil, but it was too small, too loud, people could not concentrate. There was not enough room for sitting down, thinking. We needed a new office and our managing director and finance director were looking for a lot of options in Kyiv. And we found this thing, remodeled it, redesigned it completely. We moved in three months before the quarantine started. But now we are back in the office.
It's a funny thing, we had a great idea and when we were discussing it, we met a girl from the BOLT company that is located one floor lower. So we spoke to them, and they liked the idea, and then it won a lot of awards. We recorded chanson songs. It was playing in the Bolt taxi cars very loudly screaming until you fastened your seat belt. As soon as you plugged your seat belt, the music stopped. So this is a nice project that's still winning awards worldwide.
Opportunities in Ukraine
There are a lot of cool Ukrainian companies. I know a lot of guys who are doing projects here that are sold to the whole world. For example, Ajax security systems. At Unit.City, there's a guy who does robots for the Canadian and Israel armies. Petcube, the camera that follows your pets at home. MacPaw that produces software for Mac. I saw a company that's doing ultra-light planes. Their share of the whole world market is 10%. There are guys who are producing buses for off-road. A lot of interesting stuff that's going on. Besides it, Ukraine is one of the biggest steel exporters in the world, it has third or second place. Aluminum, steel, and stuff like that.
I think the potential is in added value. Heavy industries have small added value. IT companies have huge added value. So I believe it's better not to destroy the environment but to do high-margin businesses, IT.
Ukraine has great tourism potential. I saw so many beautiful places in Ukraine, where I think investments would be needed. Lakes, tourist infrastructure, clean, pristine, not spoiled by buildings and hotels. But certain investments are needed. I think Ukrainians now during quarantine discover many Ukrainian places, the same as our family did.
I would not say that Ukraine is somewhere at the end of the world. In advertising, unfortunately, it's quite far. But we're fighting to go on. So I believe in young progressive motivated Ukrainians who want to do business here. And there's more and more of them. I hope they pay taxes.
On moving to Ukraine
Hello everyone! I'm Volodymyr Kozynets. I'm the manager of the rapid prototyping lab - FabLab Fabrikator. In 2016, I moved to Kyiv and have been living here for 5 years.
In 2006, I moved to Milan, Italy. I lived and studied there. I studied interior design at one of Milan's prestigious universities. We had a FabLab there as well, where we did our modeling works. There were also machine tools and 3D printers that also helped us with our projects. Considering that Milan is a popular city for tourists, I started working in tourism after university. So the travel business brought me money, but my hobby was 3D printers and additive manufacturing.
I wanted to leave Italy. When you're a tourist, you see one side of Italy, but when you're a local, you see everything from the inside. It's not always easy there. You always need some kind of documents. When you're from Ukraine, you are treated differently. I wanted to go home. I am from Luhansk region, but I often traveled to Kyiv. I like it here.
After some time, I met an investor (of Fablab) and he invited me to Kyiv. We opened the first FabLab (in Kyiv). We built it completely by ourselves. All the equipment was delivered. Six months after we completed the project, I moved to Kyiv.
I wanted to radically change my life, I wanted to move to Ukraine. And then I was invited to Ukraine. I thought, "why not?".
The history of Fablab Fabricator
Our FabLab community is when people from Kyiv and Milan work together. They do all the work in open source and put it online. I can write to Barcelona or Berlin saying, "Hi, I'm a FabLab manager, can you send me a draft for the printer?". This is how creators communicated with each other.
Why open source? You download and finalize a project, and then re-upload it to the network. Then we can download and finalize it. That means you can continue to make improvements on a product.
The first Fablab was created in the U.S., at MIT University. It was a place where any student could come and do their work, so they didn't have to sit in a garage or wherever. It's a workshop where you have everything, so you can work on implementing your ideas.
FabLab in Kyiv - How it started
When we started, we had a team of three people: Marina (the communication manager), Igor the designer and I. Before opening, we planned to design the program for children. To completely test all the equipment, we selected 50 kids and let them use the laboratory. We simply told them to work on their projects. For three months they came to the lab and carried out their projects while we helped them. After the end of the training period, they handed over their projects. Three or four of them were given the opportunity to study at university for free. They saw that the children were gifted, that they had great projects. As it turns out, we were like a stepping stone for them.
When we started, nobody understood what we were doing. We went to every exhibition we could - not only in Kyiv, but in Kharkiv as well. We went to universities, schools, and contacted various manufacturers. It was difficult for them to understand why they needed FabLab at all. Now we have customers who understand that this is profitable, cool, fast and cheap. It used to look like we were telling people to buy a new iPhone. In fact, printing is fairly cheap, but they thought it was expensive. We proved to people that it isn't expensive. We also organized free training for people. Anyone could sign up and we taught them how to work on the devices. It was difficult at first but it's easier now. People come with a purpose and understand why this is beneficial for them.
In general, we intend to work with startups. Because if you have a startup, you typically need to make a prototype. They come here and do it themselves. We have the equipment, we have the software and since we are an official FabLab, we are given free software as a learning platform.
How FabLab works
FabLab is a place where anyone can come and implement their ideas in real life. There are three steps to this process. The first step is training. We teach people how to work on 3D printers, lasers, frasers, lathes, and electronics.
The second step is having an idea, but not knowing how to implement it. You give us a technical task and we implement it.
The third step is small manufacturing production. We have a small collection of about a hundred 3D printers. In practically no time at all, we can sell the product you need for your business.
Why FabLab - Is it important?
First, you need to come and see us. In any other lab, no one will give you access to the equipment. But here, if you're interested in how it works, we can teach you that, and about speed and ripping prototyping.
Nowadays, there are many companies that need parts for their production, but they cannot order them from China, for example. Because Chinese production facilities require them to order 100,000 pieces, but maybe they only need 1,000-2,000. You can't order them anywhere, and 3D printing is the most useful in cases like these.
FabLab and UNIT.City
UNIT.City found us.They told us that they were making an innovation park, and asked if we'd like to be a part of it.
Our first location was only 80 square meters. It wasn't just small for us there, it was impossible to work. Then we decided to move here. We were given a good room, and it was made specifically for us. There is good ventilation, air supply, and sockets wherever needed.
We are the "screw" that UNIT.City needed. Everything is close here. If you go out and grab a coffee, and say you tell somebody that you have a lab here, they'll say they need to print something and send it to Kryvyi Rih. You show them the lab and they like everything. A huge plus of having a lab is that you have a large supply of equipment here and it's all in one place.
Challenges and interesting projects
Previously, when there were only nine machines, they did not use as much plastic as 100 machines. If you turn on 100 machines at full capacity, they use tons of plastic. We have a problem with plastic waste. Now we're trying to reuse our plastic waste.
Making face shields is the project that's the most fun for us. During quarantine, we've made about 30-40 thousand face shields and sent them for free to Ukrainian hospitals. We made a website where any doctor could write that they work in a hospital where people are treated for COVID and need 100, 200 or 300 shields. Then we would print, pack, disinfect and send everything to the hospital.
We had an interesting situation. There was a field trip and one girl asked me to show her how her project could be implemented. I said I would make her a prototype for free. I made it and she flew to Dubai with this project for an exhibition. Then she came back and wanted to work for us. She was here for about two years.
We're up for any type of work. We are ready for any project. When somebody comes to us, we consider if we can make the project work or not. 95% of the time we'll be able to. I think in a few years we would like to expand in Kyiv and buy even more new equipment.
Many foreign companies come to Ukraine. It's good here in Ukraine, the climate is good here. Costs are low here, and many people are really returning back to Ukraine to live.
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