Belgium technology firms love Ukrainian developers – but not enough to move here

Only a few Belgium technology companies currently have offices in Ukraine. But hundreds of Ukrainians work for the sector in Belgium, either by moving there or working remotely. In fact, according to a survey conducted by popular developer forum Stackoverflow, 31 percent of Ukrainian developers are teleworkers.

“So far there has been lots of interest from Belgium. They come here often to talk with people,” Tatiana Korotitch, the Trade Envoy at Belgium’s Embassy in Kyiv, told the Kyiv Post.

“I know that Ukrainian developers are well regarded for their high level skills, and a big plus is the low wages,” said Korotitch. “I know that lots of Ukrainians work remotely for Belgian companies, but we have no exact figures.”

“Unfortunately, Ukraine is a country of big risk. The rule of law is not total, and so opening an office is not so simple.”

One of those undeterred by Ukraine’s risky reputation is Skelia, a Belgium software company. Rostyslav Shchepan, the CEO of Skelia, said the company decided to open an office in Kyiv because of the geographical benefits and the similarities of the two countries’ mentalities.

“Ukraine is very conveniently located in Europe. There is just an hour’s difference between the countries’ time zones. All of the Belgian representatives of Skelia find that Ukrainians are open and culturally very close to Belgians.”

A further factor that Shchepan finds encouraging is the Ukrainian government’s support for IT companies, which he says is attracting more and more companies from abroad.

“The climate (for IT) here is favorable,” Shchepan said, adding that IT eliminates any borders, allowing companies from different countries to work on mutual goals: “Programming languages are international.”

But despite Ukraine’s current economic downturn and many IT specialists seeking better lives somewhere in Europe or the United States, the Ukrainian offices in Lviv and Kyiv are the core ones for Skelia’s business, says Shchepan.

“Ukraine is a strategic country, where we plan to develop our company,” he said. “We never planned to relocate the best employees to Europe.”

Another Belgian tech company gaining traction is iVOX, an international market research agency, which specializes in studying consumer behavior using online surveys. They opened their Kyiv office in 2008 with a survey panel of just 10,000. Now it has a survey panel of over 80,000 people across Ukraine.

IVOX has conducted surveys on behalf of government agencies as well as for several dozen large Ukrainian companies. For instance, one of the most recent surveys they conducted was for TV channel ICTV, on the percentage of Ukrainians that use bank cards to pay online.

The Belgium 3D printing software firm, Materialise, has also been doing good business in Ukraine.

In 2015, one of their subsidiaries, i.Materialise, signed a partnership with Kwambio, a Ukrainian startup that has made an Android app that provides 3D models created by professional designers. A user can pick a model, customize its metrics, shape, and colors, and print it out using Materialise.

Materialise works with big name firms such as Ford, Zcorp, Phonak, DaimlerChrysler AG, HoneyWell, Philips, VolksWagen AG , and Bentley, just to name a few. It employs roughly 600 people in Kyiv.

Similarly, Belgian microelectronics producer Melexis says it is planning to keep doing business in Ukraine, despite the war in the east of the country and the economic downturn.

Like Materialise, Melexis has been on the Ukrainian market for long time. Since the early 2000s the company’s staff has grown from just a handful of people to 90 employees, 50 of whom are high-tech engineers. The company’s Ukrainian unit does not produce microchips, but does design and product development here.

Anna Potapova, the global talent engagement manager at Melexis, told the Kyiv Post that the company has no plans to leave.

“In terms of expansion, that depends on the availability of talent,” Potapova said.

“Since we are a knowledge-based company – we do research and development – (our) expansion in Ukraine depends on the local labor market.

“That’s challenging because of the specific type of work we do, but we have a good university outreach cooperation program.”

This story initially appeared in the Kyiv Post, a syndication partner of Ukraine Digital News. 

Topics: Analysis & opinion, International
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