When most people think about their ideal weekends, they probably don’t think about spending a day and a half on a train rocketing across Ukraine going from Mariupol in the east all the way to Lviv in the west while doing a Hackathon. However, after coming back from doing just that, I have to say that it definitely was one of my best weekends ever and an absolutely unique experience that I’ve never come across before. I want to give a special shout out to Garage 48 who organized the Hackathon and made it an incredible weekend, not just for me as a mentor but also for all the participants who created companies over the course of a weekend and a 1,000+ km, 30-hour journey across the country.
Why was the e-Residency team in Ukraine at all? Well for one, we have a full-time team member, Alexey in Kyiv. But mainly, it’s because Ukraine has been an important part of the e-Residency program from the start. As of April 2019, Ukrainians had created the most e-Resident companies of any nation with over 700 companies being owned by Ukrainians and with Ukraine being in the top 3 for the total number of e-Residents with over 3,000 having joined since our launch in December 2014.
With such incredible growth and a great community in Ukraine, we’re always looking for more ways to get involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and be supportive which is why we work with organizations like Lift99 (who is opening their new location in Kyiv soon) and the 1991 Civic Tech Center, so when we saw that there was a Hackathon focused not only on supporting female entrepreneurship but also supporting smaller and often overlooked communities in the east of Ukraine, we jumped at the chance. To kick things off, we traveled to Mariupol, a city of about 450,000 in the Donetsk region of Ukraine with most of the workforce focused on industrial production in steel and iron works, canneries, and mining. Starting there, we joined a panel discussion on how to create and sell products internationally hosted by Beetroot Academy (an amazing social enterprise that trains people to become developers at more than a dozen locations in Ukraine) at local coworking hub Spalah and held a small mixer independently for e-Residents who wanted to learn more about the program.
The next day we began our journey across Ukraine and started the Hackathon. At the start of the day, participants pitched their ideas, got together to make teams, and began developing their products. Hackathons in comfortable facilities are usually stressful and frantic affairs, so you can only imagine how much more difficult developing a product is while you’re rocketing between towns in Ukraine with almost no space in a tight train car, and to top it off, no internet! I’m still in amazement at the team that decided to build a hardware product and managed to build a prototype despite having to hide their soldering iron every time the train conductor walked by (although the Ukrainian railway was extremely helpful and a gracious host, we were pretty sure that building electronics would be a little much, even for them). But despite all this, by the time we arrived in Lviv the next day, the participants had made incredible progress on their ideas. Most of them started off the trip with nothing more than a vague idea about what they would be working on, but by the time they arrived in Lviv, most knew exactly what they needed to get done in the last hours before they pitched to the judges on Sunday. Arriving at the train station at our destination groggy and train-lagged, the participants immediately picked up steam again and headed to our final venue, N-iX where they hacked the rest of the day, and most through the night as well.
In the end, there were some incredible products created, from two environmental focused companies to a startup focused on augmented reality for shopping and even a hardware product made to help keep food and drinks warm while you’re on the go. One of the top-ranked teams actually turned out to have a few Estonians on it who had decided to travel down to Kyiv and then on to Mariupol to join the hackathon and launch their idea, a local news application starting with the Estonian market. e-Residency was excited to be able to support the participants throughout the weekend by mentoring, but we also got to do a bit more and will be bringing some of the participants up to Latitude59 in May so they can get even more traction for their companies and hopefully get more exposure to the Estonian startup ecosystem.
A big final thank you to Garage48 for hosting, to Beetroot Academy and N-iX for being awesome sponsors, all the other mentors and people who helped out, and especially to all the participants who took time out of their lives to hack an idea together on a train over the weekend.