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Why the UK tech sector should develop partnerships with Ukraine

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

As an international entrepreneur with businesses based in Ukraine and a range of European countries, I hugely admire the achievements of the UK technology industry. Britain is one of the most dynamic and innovative tech hubs in the world and that is why I am currently exploring a number of investment opportunities in London.

The UK is a centre of entrepreneurial activity and provides a home to innovators from around the world who aim to disrupt the status quo and create growth. This is why I find it so odd that Brexit, one of the most gamechanging political and economic events of our age, is viewed with such concern by the UK tech industry.

A range of senior industry voices have warned of the risks of isolation. During my recent visits to London, entrepreneurs have told me of their fears that the UK will now find it harder to collaborate with European tech hubs and will lose access to skilled European employees. However, in my view, London tech entrepreneurs should not fear Brexit. Instead, they should take advantage of their innovative impulses and make the most of it.

Perhaps because I come from a European country that is not in the EU but enjoys close trading relationships with it through an Association Agreement, I adopt a different perspective on what Brexit means for the UK’s tech industry. I believe that Brexit could be an opportunity for Britain to forge deeper partnerships with a wider range of tech hubs across the world. Already, some in the UK are speaking of potential trading partnerships with countries like the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. But people in the UK should also be looking for partnerships much closer to home.

There has never been a better time for Britain to build a tech superhighway to Ukraine. At this point, I realise that many readers might be sceptical. When asked, “where are the world’s top tech hubs?” most would say Silicon Valley, London and Tel Aviv. Few would say Kyiv, whose fortunes have been overshadowed by Ukraine’s political and economic difficulties.  But hear me out.

As a co-founder of Lucky Labs, one of the leading software development businesses in Ukraine, I know that Kyiv is one of the world’s fastest growing tech hubs. In recent years, it has given birth to over 2,000 start-ups, including internationally renowned disrupters like Paymentwall, Grammarly, InvisibleCRM, Depositphotos and Jooble.

Women as leaders

Ukraine has achieved this position despite being outside the EU, single market and customs union, and, more impressive still, during a time of war. If Ukrainian tech businesses can flourish in these circumstances, you have to wonder how much the country could achieve when things get better. If we ask why Ukraine is able to punch so far above its weight in technology, we begin to understand why it is so important that the UK forms a partnership with Ukraine. 

How has Ukraine managed to do so much in spite of the challenges? Any answer must begin with its talented workforce. The country has long had a reputation for excellence in STEM subjects, dating back to the Soviet prioritisation of science. This focus on education has created a tech savvy workforce that ensures Kyiv’s start-ups can tackle the challenges of innovation with enthusiasm.

Moreover, Ukrainian tech businesses understand that the country’s talent forms the bedrock of their success and do all they can to develop their employees’ skillsets. In Ukrainian technology companies, including Lucky Labs, management is passionate about training employees so that they can address new problems. They regularly implement major in-house training schemes to bring employees up to speed in the latest technologies and programming languages, confident that they will be up to the challenge. Indeed, thanks to the range of talented people who work in the industry, I have been able to focus on developing new products in Ukraine and Europe and invest more widely in growth industries such as healthcare, Fintech, gamification and the internet of things.

The other reason why Ukraine performs strongly in technology is because women play a leading role in the industry. When compared to the UK and US, there are far more highly skilled women employed in the tech sector. In Lucky Labs, there is gender parity at the developer level and I understand that Ukraine’s tech savvy female workforce gives the country a competitive advantage. Other Ukrainian employers adopt a similar approach so that their businesses benefit from a broader talent mix.

With such strong drivers of success, it should be no surprise that Kyiv is fast attracting the attention of Silicon Valley giants: Google and Snapchat have made major acquisitions there and many Silicon Valley icons, such as WhatsApp founder Jan Koum and Max Levchin, former PayPal CTO, are from Ukraine. Attention is also coming from other international sources, as Chinese and Israeli companies, amongst others, seek to acquire a stake in Ukraine’s booming tech industry.

However, so far, the UK and EU have paid limited attention to the growth opportunities taking place right on their doorstep. This is perhaps surprising given that the EU has struggled to achieve the same technological success as rival blocs and has been worried for some time about falling behind in the race to develop innovative tech businesses.

One quality that I have always admired about UK tech companies is their ability to adapt to change and seize opportunities. We hope that UK technology businesses will stay true to this great tradition. As Britain seeks new trading partnerships following Brexit, London’s thriving tech businesses should look to develop synergies with Ukraine. The partnerships that could result would have huge potential: that’s why I’m looking to make investments in London to build my Ukrainian businesses. If we can work together to create businesses that combine the creative acumen of UK enterprises with the talent of Ukrainian employees, we’ll be in a strong position to build tech champions that can compete with the best the US and China have to offer.

Sergei Tokarev, co-founder, Lucky Labs
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible

Sergei Tokarev is an international tech entrepreneur and a co-founder of Lucky Labs, one of Ukraine’s largest tech companies and gaming developers.