November 25, 2022, Startup Jam – presentation of students’ startup projects – took place at the Faculty of Electronics and Computer Technologies of Ivan Franko National University of Lviv (IFNUL), Ukraine. The event was organized by Ihor Katernyak, Associate Professor of the Department of Radiophysics and Computer Technologies. “This is a rather informal event for startup teams where they can generate ideas, improvise with well-known business models and offer new products and services,” says Ihor Katernyak, the author of the Startup Jam. The event took place in a remote format via Microsoft Teams.
As part of the Startup Jam, 20 student teams who had successfully completed their learning trajectories during the courses “Innovations and Entrepreneurship in the IT area” (taught by I. Katernyak), “Technologies for Creating Software Products” and “Robotic Systems Programming” (taught by O. Kushnir), presented their startup projects; and each project offered original solutions to today’s urgent needs. Students presented their specific business models and prototypes of innovative products and services, which had already been validated by potential customers. The uniqueness of the event was that the student teams had the opportunity to speak (make pitch presentations) in front of investors, entrepreneurs and experts from the USA, Sweden, Germany and Ukraine, who shared their experience and gave valuable feedback on each of the announced projects.
The event took place in the format of two sessions. After the pitch presentation of each team’s startup, some time was allocated to questions from the jury. The experts were able to offer students ways to further improve their projects, highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each startup, and specify details related to the practical implementation of the presented ideas. The expert jury included specialists who have been cooperating with students and IFNUL faculty staff for a long time, in particular: Mary Shepard Spaeth, PhD, MSC, MA, Professor of entrepreneurship and international business at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie (USA); Markiian Tsymbalista, Managing Partner of boutique technology consultancy TageSpot, Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder of AI-powered B2B2C platform of inDest company (Ukraine); Thomas Karlsson, CEO of Sörmlandsfonden AB, Venture Capital Fund with Business Angel Network active in the County of Södermanland (Sweden); David Tenser, a senior leader with 15+ years of experience in the Silicon Valley tech scene; Andreas Nilsson, an entrepreneur, researcher and investor at Spring AB, Stockholm (Sweden), and others.
The startups presented by the students were innovative and applied in nature. The ideas were aimed at effectively solving urgent problems, improving the existing services and creating new ones to optimize various spheres of life. In particular, many startups were focused on the needs of society that have arose with the beginning of the war. For example, students developed special services for the military, a chatbot with useful information for forcibly displaced people (IDPs), an online platform for seeking psychological help, etc. While developing and implementing their ideas, the teams have analysed the activities of competitors on the market, assessed the demand for a specific service among the population, improvised with already known business models or created their own, described the set goals and ways to achieve them. Interestingly, the prototypes of these startup projects created by students had already passed preliminary testing by the target audience.
The jury were offered specially developed criteria by which they evaluated each startup. Based on the results of that evaluation, two winners were selected who can receive mentoring support from international experts. In particular, in the first session, the winner was the volunteer project “PawMate”, the goal of which is to find new owners for pets that lost their homes due to the war. The team offers a web service for people or organizations who want to adopt animals and care for them. In the second session, the winner was the project “Green Point” – a web service that gives people the opportunity to plant a selected tree in a certain place/location on an interactive map, and thus to join the greening of the planet.
At the end of the event, the jury shared their impressions of the presentations they had heard. Mary Shepard Spaeth thanked the organizers for inviting her to be a part of such an extraordinary event and emphasized that the students managed to present their ideas very well, despite the tight timing of the event. “Some of the proposed projects were more familiar to us, while others, on the contrary, were more complex, associated with a large number of challenges. And I do hope that in any case the students will continue to work on their ideas and develop them in the future”, she added.
Eugene Krentsel, Founder and President of innoVEK, LLC (USA), expressed his admiration for the enthusiasm and perseverance of Ukrainians who continue to create and work even in times of war: “Thank you for holding this event despite everything that has been happening in the last few days and during the last 10 months. It’s just amazing, and I am impressed by your enthusiasm and drive to innovate. Nothing can stop you.” Addressing the students, he emphasized how valuable this experience is – being in the role of entrepreneurs – because it leaves an imprint for the rest of one’s life.
Stefan Schandera, CEO and founding partner, Gigahertz Ventures GmbH, Dresden (Germany), also highly appreciated the enthusiasm and indomitability of Ukrainians. “This event proves once again that Ukrainians are very creative, they cannot be stopped; and these are the traits inherent in entrepreneurs. Be sure that the world will support you in the future, so you should seize this moment. It is important to keep creating and improving your ideas: this is an inevitable process on the way towards true success”, he said.
Teams participating in the Startup Jam thanked the experts for their qualified advice, for the opportunity to generate new ideas and exchange experience, and expressed hope that the cooperation between students, professors and entrepreneurs will continue to expand in the future.