UK-Ukraine partnership boosts startups for dronetech innovation

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When contemplating expanding your business, Ukraine may not immediately come to mind as a place of business.

Today, the UK-Ukraine TechExchange launched after operating in stealth mode for a couple of years. 

The private pro-bono program is the first non-profit startup support programme of its kind specialising in defencetech and agritech. 

The program serves a dual purpose for both defence and agriculture startups.

It supports Ukrainian companies working to help the military grow their business opportunities in the UK, helping them scale, access international funding and build networks.

In turn, UK-based businesses developing drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), sound-based missile detection and other counter-drone tech can access live testing in the fields of battle or agricultural applications.

I spoke to founder and Principal Andriy Dovbenko to learn more. 

Dovbenko, a Ukrainian-born and UK-based former lawyer, has invested heavily in agriculture and technology over his long-standing career. Like many, he has fundraised to help provide the Ukrainian military with drones and counter-drone equipment. 

And he sees some distinct advantages for both Ukrainian and UK startups and scaleups in the TechExchange. 

“Defencetech is an immediate priority, and agritech will be a key part of rebuilding Ukraine post-war. 

That’s why TechExchange is continuously scouting for innovative startups that meet our criteria and providing them with direct access to investor capital.” 

Dovbenko believes that Ukraine has always had excellent engineering potential.

“But in many cases, Ukrainian startups are not usual startups.”

Especially over the last two years. Many companies succeed with healthy venue streams but lack the business acumen and behind-the-scenes infrastructure necessary to scale a business internationally.”

Working with the UK startup environment helps them establish organisational structures and think of the future where, hopefully, the war ends.

Specifically, the program assists with the business infrastructure through mentors, things like marketing and investor pitchdecks, access to potential new customers and business networks, and introduction to international investors. 

Having a UK base also offers security that is only present in some European companies. Even the production of dual-use drone technology requires export licences, including the right to export your tech to Ukraine. 

Dovbenko provides the example of Slovakia. It offered great potential as a locatio for Ukraine businesses until the government planned to withdraw aid from Ukraine. 

“They will not interfere with sales, which is good, but no one knows what will happen.”

A presence in the UK also offers a greater incentive to potential investors, as Dovbenko notes:

“Ukraine is quite fashionable as a cause, but not so many people want to invest in a company in an embargoed country. So many startups may want to have a United Kingdom footprint to increase access.”

The first cohort includes: 

  • Pilotechnika: A customised UAV company that responds to Ukraine’s specific military requirements.
  • Skyeton: A Ukraine-based manufacturer of unmanned aerial systems, providing accurate aerial data for precise ground intervention. 
  • Zvook: A Ukrainian AI-powered acoustic sensor company used for detecting drones, missiles and other artillery. 
  • Transimpex: A Ukrainian demining startup clearing land affected by armed conflict.

These startups all have real-world, dual applications to Ukraine, and their commercial success and innovation will provide life-saving solutions to a nation at war and help accelerate the rebuilding process.

The Exchange also provides a great opportunity for UK drone tech companies to test their tech in Ukraine where “the rules are far more relaxed than places like the US because it’s a far less densely populated country with lots of space and lots of arable land.”    

UK companies can visit safer areas of Ukraine or send over their dronetech for field testing in real warfare conditions. 

“You just need to provide your products and all the instructions and you will get feedback and recordings.” 

As part of the initiative, companies can donate their tech to the war effort or arrange for its purchase for donation.

To be a part of the TechExchange programme, companies must be developing defence or agricultural technologies, be funded to at least Pre-Seed, be UK or Ukraine-based and deliver impactful innovation that saves lives. To apply for TechExchange or for further information visit: 

Lead image: Skyton. Photo: uncredited. 

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