UKRAINIAN IT INDUSTRY: New open data initiative aims to provide a boost to Ukraine's growing startup culture

UKRAINIAN IT INDUSTRY: New open data initiative aims to provide a boost to Ukraine's growing startup culture
Courtesy photo
Denis Gursky
Tuesday, 08 March 2016 12:32

February saw the opening of the 1991 Open Data Incubator initiative in Kyiv. Supported by the Western NIS Enterprise Fund and Miscrosoft Ukraine, the incubator is Ukraine’s first non-commercial development programme for IT startups based on open government data. Business Ukraine magazine spoke to incubator co-founder Denis Gursky about the goals of the initiative.


What is the concept behind the Open Data Incubator?

In today’s world, big data is no longer a mere trend – it is everywhere. Your car tracks your route, your phone tracks your calls, and your browser tracks your behavior online. This is also the case when it comes to open government data. The government owns the data infrastructure that taxpayers pay for. The time has come to share it. Open government data grows very quickly as the amounts of data stored by the government are incredible. When you combine this amazing information with over 100,000 coders in Ukraine, you have the start of something big.

Ukraine desperately needs new applications and data services. We have a talented army of IT professionals so it is time to stop outsourcing and to concentrate instead on creating products for the internal market and for export. This is how the idea for 1991 Open Data Incubator began. We wanted to make the results of hackathons more sustainable and keep people focused on their ideas rather than letting them slip back into study or everyday work. The process is simple: after a selection process that takes slightly more than a month, teams gain access to a six-week incubation programme including lectures, mentorship and customer development periods.


What are the key goals of the incubator?

The incubator aims to create local jobs and startups based on open data and involving local teams that are engaged in addressing specific problems. As the incubator is non-commercial, it can serve as a model for similar initiatives in many other places including universities and city halls. One key message behind the incubator is cooperation between government, IT companies and civil society. It is a good case study where all participants have found something important for themselves. Depending on the specific concept of each project/startup, there are three possible exits from the incubator. If it is a commercial enterprise based on open data or PPP, then the goal is to find seed stage investors. New NGOs will seek to continue working with donors. Other initiatives can seek incorporation into the state or state-owned enterprises.


Who can participate in the incubator and how does the selection process work?

Anyone can apply. The process involves an online application reviewed by a committee of judges. After passing this process, teams move on to the hackathon stage, where judges assess teamwork, delivery and motivation. There is then a pitch session at the end of the hackathon.


What are the key zones of focus for the incubator?

It often seems like Ukraine’s key industries (energy, agriculture, infrastructure and the public sector) were making money for all these years with no focus on optimization, better decision-making, or providing additional services. This approach is no longer suitable. Customers want more and growing competition demands more. These sectors are the least digitalized in Ukraine and are the most profitable. We expect them to develop. They should expect to feel the impact of the data revolution currently taking place in the EU. According to research by the Economic Institute of Warsaw, the EU economy will benefit by as much as 2% of GDP by 2020 because of the extensive use of data in these key sectors.


Who are the partners of the incubator providing training and potential funding?

1991 Open Data Incubator is backed by SocialBoost, a tech NGO that pioneered the open data movement in Ukraine 4 years ago with the launch of the service in Ukraine. The incubator partners with the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine as this provides direct access to ministries. The incubator has strong cooperation ties with other donors and a variety of IT-focused NGOs including BrainBasket. We also partner with members of the investment community such as UA Angel.


What is the desired impact of the incubator on the Ukrainian business environment?

The incubator’s mission is to spark the further development of startup culture by providing a model for university incubators and city hall incubators. Many mayors now support the idea and the first city pilots will be launch as early as April 2016. We have also started getting calls from neighbouring countries and we are happy to share the experience that we have.


About the interviewee: Denis Gursky is co-founder of the 1991 Open Data Incubator

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