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Keyboard warriors: Ukraine’s IT army switches to war footing | Ukraine

“We had a plan for when the war started,” says Bogdan Nesvit, the 30-year-old co-founder of Ukrainian tech developer Holy Water. “We relocated the female part of the team to Poland. With men not allowed to leave the country, we are all working between bomb shelters and hotels.”

Nesvit is now sharing a hotel room with six of his 80 colleagues in western Ukraine (“It is like a dorm”). He is one of the country’s army of almost 300,000 tech workers who have embarked on an unprecedented migration to keep their businesses running during the Russian invasion.

The hotel where he is now based has turned its gym into a makeshift communal office space – Nesvit estimates it is being used by around 100 workers around the clock – as the relative safety of the west of Ukraine has made it the focus of relocation plans put into play by domestic and international businesses.

Nesvit’s well-rehearsed evacuation – buses were pre-booked to leave from the company’s offices in Kyiv, which served as a rally point for staff and family members as soon as war broke out – is typical of plans put into action by Ukraine’s 8,700 IT-focused companies in cities across the country.

Ukraine’s tech industry is a $6.8bn juggernaut that has more than tripled in size since 2016, with 25,000 new graduates joining the ranks of workers annually. It is overwhelmingly young – 80% are aged 18 to 32 years old – and had aimed to grow to as much as $16.3bn by 2025 before the outbreak of war. And it is fighting back.

Nesvit is a prime example. He used to live in London, studied at Oxford and then University College London (UCL), and worked for the UN in New York and British American Tobacco in London and Ukraine before setting up his own business.

“Ukraine is one of the best countries in the world in terms of technical talent, cost and quality of living,” he said. “Salaries in the Ukraine and US are hugely different, but the talent is of the same skill level. It is a shame the war is happening as the IT industry here is growing so fast.”

The industry has been on a war footing since Russia took control of Crimea and stirred conflict in the Donbas in 2014. These so-called “business continuation plans” were dusted off when Putin launched his “peace-keeping” incursion into the east of Ukraine as a precursor to a full invasion.

Sensing the threat, the IT Ukraine Association tested the sector’s readiness at the start of February with a survey question that would be unthinkable coming from a trade body in most countries: “Does your company have an emergency response plan for such cases as large-scale combat operations, lack of internet access, power outage etc?”

More than 90% said they already had, or were developing, plans to keep Ukraine’s tech sector able to continue to service domestic and international clients.

“It is about measures and actions to protect and make operations safe and able to continue,” says Konstantin Vasyuk, the association’s executive director. “Relocating vulnerable workers, ensuring data is in the cloud, alternative internet connections, transferring staff and specialists to western parts of Ukraine and countries in Europe. Things that can, and have, to be implemented very fast.”

And so far, the plans to maintain digital resilience have helped defy expectations about the level of disruption expected from the full-scale invasion by Russian forces.

Tech consultancy Star, which employs about 600 of its 1,000 global workforce in Ukraine and counts blue chip firms such as Lufthansa, Toyota and WPP as clients, says it is running at 60% of pre-war levels.

Star Founder Juha Christensen.
Star Founder Juha Christensen. Photograph: Star

“We hadn’t expected operations to stay at anything like that level,” says Star founder Juha Christensen, the former senior Microsoft executive who also founded software company Symbian and is current chair of Bang & Olufsen. “It has been one of the real surprises.”

Christensen says that the approach taken by the company, which paid staff two months’ salary in advance of the invasion in case the banking system was hit, was partially inspired by Israeli companies which, given local tensions, always have contingency plans in place.

He says that 18% of its Ukrainian workforce has moved to Poland and Germany, mostly the female employees, a further 49% are scattered through western Ukraine, and a third remain in Kyiv and central Ukraine, “mostly by choice”.

In addition to employees, Star has relocated about 2,000 family members into western Ukraine, Poland and some into Germany. About a dozen staff have chosen to join the military effort.

“We are going out of our way to make everything voluntary, including whether or not you continue to work on client projects,” says Christensen, who has turned over a house he owns in Germany for use by refugees.

“Kyiv is a large city, about half the size of London in population, and probably square kilometres too, and there are some that live in safer neighbourhoods and have an infrastructure around them. It is a big decision to get up and move, and a lot of patriotic people don’t want to move.”

Nazar Sheremeta, solutions architect for CloudMade, a joint venture between Star and French conglomerate Valeo, has decided to stay in Kyiv, effectively waging what has become akin to a form of internationally-backed corporate resistance across the country, with workers refusing to allow their businesses to capitulate in the face of the invasion.

“I want to help as much as possible in retaining our customers, since financial stability of the company affects my financial stability, which is hugely important in such times,” he said in a message to the London-based chief executive of CloudMade, who reassured him that the company has “strong support” from its biggest client with “no indication that will change”.

Sheremeta’s sentiments were echoed time and again by companies the Guardian spoke to, but he also gave insight to the mounting mental pressure of trying to work while being at war.

“I am trying to distract myself with working matters as much as possible,” he explains in another message. “Otherwise you are simply looking into the news 24/7, and your nerves end out spiralling out of control. Obviously, I am also monitoring mental health to not burn out people too much right now.”

Sheremeta signs off with a touchingly optimistic and defiant tone. “Hopefully this is just a minor set back, and we could achieve some stability once again,” he says, ending with a half-quip. “Preferably with Russian surrender of course.”

While the idea of the vast Russian army surrendering may be fanciful, it is clear that the invasion has not gone according to plan – with Ukraine’s IT army playing its role.

Alexandra Ganzha works for Ukrainian-based IT company Obrio, which has found itself based in Poland after most staff were abroad on a corporate holiday when the war started. He says most workers now operate on three shifts: working on client projects, helping friends and relatives, and volunteering.

The latter spans the spectrum from finding food sources to sharing news on where to find clean water, driving trucks, sharing petrol and relocating people. It also includes turning IT skills to cyber guerrilla warfare.

“We have a fair portion of our people with PhDs in data science, machine learning and of course cyber security, so a fair number are trying to do everything they can to help out,” says Christensen, who next week is relocating to a Star delivery centre in Poland that now serves as a base of operations and link to Ukraine. “Guerrilla warfare can be very effective. Lots of little projects can add pressure. It goes way beyond distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks on systems.”

The digital resistance ranges from soft-power tasks such as attempting to influence public opinion in Russia via social media, raising funds for the war effort (Nesvit has raised more than $40,000 by selling NFTs – non-fungible tokens – of charity works by more than 200 Ukrainian artists), and direct hacking of systems by joining groups such as Anonymous.

“Not everyone is good with a gun,” says the IT Ukrainian Association’s Vasyuk. “People should be used as efficiently as they can. We are fighting with guns, with laptops, we will keep on going.”

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Culture

Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.


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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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