Lessons from Ukraine: What London can learn from Kiev’s burgeoning tech sector

 
Rustam Gilfanov
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What are Kiev’s secret weapons? (Source: Getty)

When I tell my British business partners that London can learn from Kiev about how to grow as a tech hub after Brexit, I’m met with incredulity.

Maybe London could learn from Silicon Valley, but Kiev? What about the war?

Yet, as I have learnt from my time there, Kiev is a hotbed of technological innovation.

Read more: Ukraine: A country at war returns both to normality and the bond markets

This year, I’ve met businesses across Europe as I look to invest $20-30m to strengthen my tech portfolio, and I’ve observed that London and Kiev have much to teach one another.

London’s strengths are well documented. The city is brimming with innovation and creativity. It has been fascinating to observe how startups have utilised the gig economy and financial technology to transform traditional industries.

Moreover, London’s status as Europe’s main tech hub ensures it attracts overseas talent.

But while London attracts the world’s best and brightest, Kiev looks to its own world-class tech workforce. Mathematical education in Ukraine, starting at school and culminating with strong departments at universities, is amongst the best in the world. The emphasis on STEM proficiency survived the hard post-Soviet times, and is now bearing fruit.

As Britain prepares for Brexit, and businesses worry about reduced inflows of international talent, the UK should learn from Ukraine and do more to nurture its own tech talent. After all, investment usually follows talent. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, London attracts more than double the investment of any European city, and this will continue if it can train its own bright, entrepreneurial, tech-savvy individuals.

Kiev’s secret weapons? I would point to two: the high proportion of women in tech, and the range of transferable skills in the workforce.

First, women are far more represented in software businesses in Ukraine than in the UK. At Lucky Labs, a company I co-founded and one of Ukraine’s largest software businesses, women make up 35 per cent of workers, and the firm is seeking to achieve gender parity.

In more traditional branches of the Ukrainian economy, the “glass ceiling” is noticeable, and women do not feel equal in terms of income or career prospects. But the IT sector is different – the number of female applicants for tech roles has grown by 150 per cent in the past five years.

Second, Ukrainian IT specialists demonstrate a constant readiness to learn and develop their STEM knowledge. Ukrainians are not afraid of a challenge, and are willing to retrain and keep pace with industry trends.

Finally, London can learn much from Kiev on navigating political uncertainty. Recently, London’s tech industry has lost some of its self-assurance, following Brexit. Kiev has confronted far more testing times in recent years, and emerged stronger. Its underlying strengths ensure that its tech sector thrives despite geopolitical instability.

London’s will too, if its businesses can learn to see uncertainty as an opportunity to adapt, rather than clinging to the status quo.

As the UK seeks trading partnerships with non-EU countries, it need look no further than the thriving city just beyond the EU’s border.

Read more: Digital London: How we can remain a capital of innovation

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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