Not only is Mrs Tigipko one of these exquisitely educated and beautiful ladies one can meet in Kiev, she also is an inexhaustible source of ideas and energy when it comes to innovation and venture activity. In a mere three years, she has transformed a Kiev event, IDCEE, into the international face of the East-European startup and venture scene. Meanwhile, her fund TA Venture has invested in dozens of startups in Europe and as far away as Brazil and India.
Just a few days before the opening of IDCEE 2013, the business woman presented to East-West Digital News a contrasted picture of the Ukrainian high-tech industry and shared her vision of her country’s digital future. She also unveiled behind-the-scene details on how she came to the venture industry and how IDCEE started and grew, as well as key facts and figures on TA Venture.
You manage a venture fund, TA Venture, and a major international tech and venture conference, IDCEE. When, why and how did you start a career in such an industry?
I came into this industry three years ago, after I had already succeeded in the industrial equipment trading business. I have always been interested in innovation projects, and the process of transforming ideas into flourishing businesses excites me. I came to understand that I wanted to invest in Internet projects: Web 2.0, mobile applications, e-commerce and everything related.
So, in 2010, I founded TA Venture and began managing IDCEE, an industry event which had already been held for a few years but in a more modest format. At the beginning, I felt like I had discovered a whole new continent. I had to understand the whole innovation business ecosystem in Ukraine and globally. At that time, the venture industry in Ukraine was close to zero, and we had the chance to be among the pioneers.
The first thing I did was to meet personally with the leaders of this industry in Russia and in Ukraine. Within one year, I had visited virtually all of the major tech events and IT conferences in San Francisco, Paris, Munich, Vienna, London, Moscow… Good contacts and networking are among the core aspects of this business. That is why we decided to make a big networking event in Ukraine, aimed at presenting the CEE market to Western investors and vice versa.
Please tell us a bit about IDCEE: When did it start, what is it about and why does it cover such a large area, from Central Europe to Ukraine and Russia?
The name stands for Investor’s Day Central and Eastern Europe, meaning that IDCEE is the place where venture capital meets startups from the CEE region and aims to be the entry point to theses dynamic markets.
In 2010, we re-launched the event in a larger, two-day format, which is the one that you know today. I am proud to say that since 2010 the conference has become one of the key events for those interested in innovation, tech startups and VC funding in the region.
Last year, IDCEE attracted more than 2,500 people from dozens of countries, including 300 investors and 150 startups.
Is Kiev well placed geographically for such a large ambition?
Kiev is at the crossroads and at the center of the region. Historically Ukraine has been strongly connected to both Central Europe and Russia and still has strong ties to the countries of the former USSR.
Furthermore, Ukraine is the region’s leader in terms of the number of highly-skilled software developers. This is something Ukraine should cultivate – and this is why we have the Tech Stage at this year’s IDCEE, in order to encourage IT professionals to create their own companies. The country is one of the top 30 outsourcing destinations in the world, according to Gartner.
In the field of digital innovation, Ukraine is just starting. A few years ago, the local venture and startup ecosystems were close to zero, but this young market is already very dynamic in spite of legislative opacity, an underdeveloped entrepreneurial culture and consumers’ low revenues.
But the future looks bright with the number of Internet users growing by 19% annually and the e-commerce market increasing by 45%. Mobile penetration already reaches 126%.
Last but not least, citizens from most European countries, the US and Russia do not need visas to visit Ukraine. This kind of detail makes a difference to many businessmen unwilling to waste time with visa procedures.
Taking all of these factors into account, I would even say that Kiev has all chances to become a leading destination in CEE for Internet business and to be the entry point to the vast markets of the former Soviet Union.
Where do IDCEE participants come from?
The majority of participants at IDCEE are currently from Ukraine and Russia, but the international audience is growing every year. We are truly an international event with representatives from 45 countries, including Singapore, India, Western and Eastern Europe and the US.
Indeed, IDCEE has put Ukraine on the radar of the big VCs in Europe and the CIS [former Soviet Union]. Each year, we welcome representatives from Accel Partners, Almaz Capital Partners, Earlybird Venture Capital, Index Ventures, eVentures, Mangrove Capital Partners, Project A Ventures, BV Capital/e.ventures, Ventech and many more.
By the way, major funds like Almaz Capital and Runa Capital first came to Ukraine as IDCEE participants. Now they have made investments in Ukraine. Together we launched a new initiative, the Global Technology Foundation, a grant fund for Ukrainian startups.
How did you attract these funds initially?
First of all, via our partner relations with funds and angel investors, with whom we co-invest in different projects. We have a global network of partners around the world.
Secondly, I regularly visit different conferences and professional forums – no fewer than 20 different events each year from New York to London and Berlin.
What kind of features should participants expect this year?
This year’s IDCEE conference is all about innovative tech startups aspiring to improve our lives in every possible way and make the world a better place. There are three stages — the Main Stage with keynote speeches and panel discussions, the Startup Stage with workshops and pitches, and the Tech Stage where technology professionals from young aspiring engineers to CTOs of international companies will share their experiences and interact with entrepreneurs.
By tradition, one of the biggest panel discussions at IDCEE will be dedicated to one emerging market. Last year it was India, and this time it is Brazil, which stands among the 10 largest online markets and among the top five for user engagement. Its population is the second most active in the world on Facebook and Twitter!
The 150 startups selected by the Expert Committee to present themselves on the Startup Alley — the biggest in Eastern Europe — will also participate in a Startup Competition with prizes of up to €15,000. Three other prizes have been introduced in partnership with Bionic Hill, Bigmir.net and Yandex.
Another new feature is the Startup Toaster, a new shiny stage where startups can do express pitches to experienced mentors from all over the world.
Please note that IDCEE does not charge startups more than other event attendees.
What about TA Venture? Please tell us about its investment strategy, portfolio and track record so far.
TA Venture is focused on investing in innovative seed-stage and early-stage web companies in Ukraine, Russia and other CIS countries, as well as in Europe, the USA, Brazil and India. The fund also invests in growth-stage companies with proven business models that have been successfully implemented in Western markets and which seek to expand their business to Ukraine, Russia and the rest of the CIS.
We invest in innovative web 2.0 consumer-oriented startups in the e-commerce, online travel, online finance and mobile applications fields. We are also looking closely to new trends like SaaS, cloud computing and B2B/enterprise apps. We like projects that are focused first of all on the markets of the CIS, Western Europe and the US or a combination of these zones, as well as emerging markets like Brazil, India and China.
We invest only in projects that we can help significantly during the seed and early stage. Normally, we invest $50-300,000 at the seed stage and from $300,000 to $1 million in the series A rounds, sometimes more depending on the project.
We incubate some projects and build them with Ukrainian teams. Among these projects is Bravoavia, a low cost search and booking service for low cost airline tickets, hotels and car rentals. The service is known in Western Europe under the Bravofly brand.
We made first investments in the end of 2010, and we expect our first exits in 2014.
We have invested in 40 companies so far, among them AdoreMe, SumUp, Auctionata, GetGoing, NU3, WeHostels and many others.
You travel a lot. You have been spotted in Brazil and India… What are your plans there?
We already have investments in Brazil and India and plan to invest more. These are the leading BRIC markets, and Brazil is the number one market in Latin America. In these countries, we principally target e-commerce, online travel and financial services projects.