Russians still actively invest in Ukrainian startups; Western VCs eye the market, too

Amid political turmoil, Russian investors have been involved in four of the five largest investment deals on the Ukrainian startup scene since early 2014. This trend was revealed by an analysis provided by Yevgen Sysoyev of AVentures Capital, a Kyiv (Kiev) based international fund.

A $3 million deal involving Gillbus, a bus-ticket software developer, took place in June. Investors included Russian funds InVenture Partners and FinSight Ventures, as well as global fund Intel Capital. Launched in 2010, this Ukrainian company has offices in Russia and South-East Asia, and is exploring new markets including Africa.

The largest deal of this year was concluded in April, involving AVentures, Russia’s ABRT and Almaz Capital, an international fund operating from Moscow and California. These funds injected $3.25 million in Starwind, a developer of solutions for data storage virtualization. Founded by two Ukrainian entrepreneurs, Artem Berman and Anton Kolomentsev, this startup is now hedquartered in the US but has its R&D team based in Ukraine.

In January, a capital injection of $1.62 million went to Keen Systems, a developer of web-to-print solutions created by Vitaliy Golomb. Golomb left Ukraine in his childhood, but is now actively working to develop the country’s startup ecosystem. The funding was provided by IDG-Accel, a venture fund from Asia, and Russian serial angel investor Igor Ryabenkiy.

The investment by Russian fund Life Sreda in Kyiv-based Settle, a service for paying checks at cafes, also attracted attention. That transaction, which amounted to $1.5 million, was concluded in August.

The only deal without Russian money concerned, a service providing deliveries from supermarkets, which picked up $2.5 million last month from CIG, the fund of Leonid Chernovetskiy. By the end of the year, this fund – which is the first classic example of a family office in the Ukrainian venture market – plans to complete another pair of deals in Ukrainian projects.

Business far from politics

The investors interviewed by Ukraine Digital News are, indeed, distant from political considerations. “Ukraine has a strong high tech sector due its traditionally high educational level and to its openness to international exchanges,” said Alexander Galitsky, founder of Almaz Capital.

“Our fund’s policy regarding this country has in no way been affected by the recent political turmoil. The first reason is that investing in Ukraine is part of our mandate. The second reason is that, in our industries, project development and investment cycles are counted in years, which keeps them aside from political ups and downs,” added the prominent VC, who was born in Ukraine.

An international venture fund with Russian origins, Runa Capital has included Ukraine among the target countries of its second fund, which launched recently.

“The technology business should be outside of politics, and we are sad about what is going on and about the negative emotional background created by the recent events in Ukraine,” said Dmitry Chikhachev of Runa Capital, in a recent exchange with East-West Digital News. “But discriminating in business or science by country of origin is equally irrelevant, and our goal is to find the best teams [no matter from which country].”

Pioneering VCs from the West

Intel Capital’s participation in the Gillbus round and the recent acquisition of an e-commerce startup by a Ukrainian affiliate of Naspers have been the only significant moves from western VCs over the past few months. True, interest from western players in Ukrainian startups was just emerging when the revolution took place last winter.

But some other Western VCs are eyeing the market, too.

“We think talented founders and innovative technology can come from anywhere in the world. Ukraine was always an area of interest for us from this perspective. The political situation hasn’t changed our attitude, although it’s certainly introduced an additional layer of risk to any investment,” said Brian Feinstein, partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, in an exchange with Ukraine Digital News.

Michael Treskow, Vice President at Accel Partners, lauds “the breadth of ideas in the Ukrainian entrepreneurial community — from consumer to enterprise, and from local execution of existing concepts to fundamentally new ideas.” He adds that, “Interesting meetings are guaranteed.”

  • Later this month, in partnership with Ukraine Digital News, AVentures Capital will release “The Deal Book of Ukraine,” the first-ever report on this country’s venture and startup industry. To receive a free copy, please send your request to [email protected].
Topics: Analysis & opinion, Finance, International, Startups, Ukraine-Russia, Ukraine-USA, Venture/Private equity
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