TechUkraine Changemakers: Andriy Zaikin

Andrii Zaikin – Founder and CEO at YEP™, Founder of the Platform of Innovative Partnership NGO

“Elevator pitch” – ID (short resume – who, what, where) 

YEP is a platform for youth development in Eastern Europe, which provides young people with opportunities for personal and professional development through entrepreneurship.

We carry out our mission through the development of a network consisting of entrepreneurship clubs in universities, startup incubators, accelerators, and funds. We build effective relationships and partnerships with stakeholders and ecosystems around the world, create a large community of mentors and experts to provide more opportunities for young people.

On the base of universities, YEP creates an infrastructure for supporting young entrepreneurs in the early stages of their projects’ development. Such an environment will make conditions for the creating of new ideas, knowledge sharing, free access for experts and mentors, technology transfer, development of commercial, public, and academic initiatives.

In the course of three years, we’ve had 7 batches of incubation program, more than 2500 students applied and around 100 graduated startups.

“Bootstrapping” – When did you start “tech&innovation life” and why? What was the challenge of the sphere?

 Before YEP, I had 12 years of expertise in the business sector – B2B, communication, networking, partnerships, and international relations. 

Last 5 years, since 2015, I have been developing projects aimed to improve the educational system, to support students, and to inspire young people to become entrepreneurs. What was the reason?  

Nowadays, in Ukraine, there is a great problem of inconsistencies of knowledge and competencies that students acquire in educational institutions and relevant requirements of the labor market. One of the main challenges is to create a new quality of the educational process and to consolidate the efforts of the private sector, educational institutions, experts’ community, and government around the problem. On the other hand, developing the entrepreneurial culture and mindset among youth is one of the key directions, because free development of entrepreneurship is the main driver of the economy of any country and an important feature of developed civil society. However, not all Ukrainians, especially young people, have initial conditions for starting their own business, moreover, a sufficient level of required knowledge and skills. 

In 2016, when I was in a study visit to Estonia and Poland, I discovered and explored the ecosystem of youth and academic entrepreneurship development. I figured out back then – I want to create and develop something similar in Ukraine. It was a big vision, like a dream – to build the whole ecosystem supporting young people to create their startups, which eventually will become one of the key parts of the Ukrainian economy development process.

So, in several months I launched YEP – the network of startup incubators. The main mission of YEP is the development of the startup ecosystem within universities and supporting early-stage students’ startups. 

In 2017 I was selected from Ukraine to attend the MASHAV Program “Development Accelerators in the Entrepreneurial Ecosystems” in Haifa, Israel. Looking back, it was actually one of the key points for my further personal and professional development. Two weeks in Israel gave a lot of insights and new knowledge and connected me with tens of people from all over the world, who were developing startup ecosystems in their countries. Attending the course, I’ve got a vision that YEP should become an international platform and provide opportunities not only in Ukraine but for young people from other countries. So, 5 months after, we were already launching YEP in Moldova. For now, there were already conducted 3 batches of incubation programs in Moldova, and we plan our expansion to other eastern European countries. 

There are many young people with innovative ideas on how to address societal challenges and the motivation to create their own jobs through entrepreneurship. However, they often lack the capital, network, and skills needed to build their businesses. As a result, there are growing risks of the loss of the most talented and active young people. For Ukraine, this means further human capital outflow and loss of intellectual capacity. This is where the supportive for scale-up and innovation ecosystem should play a role.         

“Ninja/Rockstar” – How do you change the ecosystem?

YEP platform is established as a comprehensive ecosystem (kind of Pyramid structure with different levels), encompassing as many young people as possible at the initial “awareness level” and inspiring them to try out entrepreneurship, develop their innovative ideas and grow.

Such Pyramid model leads, on the one hand, to the creation of a powerful pool of “qualitative” young talents ready for the modern labor market demands; and, on the other hand, to the production of the new startup-teams with innovative products that have great potential for growth and investments attraction. All levels of the Pyramid are connected and interact with each other; none of them can be removed. Each level is a basis for the next one and an essential part of the effective operation of the entire ecosystem. 

Promotion of entrepreneurial culture, development of competitive human capital, and entrepreneurial skills are defined as strategic objectives of the state in the Ukraine-2020 Sustainable Development Strategy within the framework of new economic future formation. 

YEP has a clear vision and strategy for the development of the youth entrepreneurial ecosystem in Ukraine, as well as for forming a new generation of young professionals. 

This is a long-term strategy! And we are highly motivated to develop and scale up our platform and would be happy to contribute to the growth of Ukrainian creative and digital economy.

“Moat/Value proposition” – The most prominent projects, achievements you are proud of.

For now, YEP has a huge network, which unites a lot of universities throughout the country, and we continue to scale it further. Currently, there are more than 40 universities, which would like to build their local startup ecosystems with our support. Besides that, as I already mentioned, in three years, we’ve had more than 250 student startups attended to YEP programs, and around 100 of them graduated and presented their startups on the Demo Days.

Also, I’d proudly mention that in 2017, within the joint contest of Western NIS Enterprise Fund and Startup Amsterdam, YEP was awarded as The Best Initiative, which builds up the startup-ecosystem of Ukrainian cities and represented Ukraine in Startup City Summit in Amsterdam.   

‘Tech for good” – The next big thing you predict in the next decade for Ukraine

Ukraine has great potential in terms of youth, talents, and innovation. Now we can see a strong trend in entrepreneurship development. Different stakeholders contribute to the Ukrainian startup ecosystem. I believe that in the next 5-7 years, it will grow in times. We will get more young entrepreneurs, more innovators, more growing startups. And my personal vision and desire – a lot of Ukrainian universities will become entrepreneurial.

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