Three Ukrainian startups shine at Paris Blockchain Week

From March 21 to March 23, the French capital played host to the Paris Blockchain Week, attracting a variety of thought leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, corporate executives and other industry professionals. Some 8,500 attendees in total came from 76 countries, according to the organizers.

Ukraine was present in several ways. On the humanitarian side, the UNHCR received an award for its cash transfer system for displaced Ukrainians. When launched in December 2022, this system was touted as “the first-of-its-kind integrated blockchain payment solution powered by the Stellar network to reach people in need with speed, agility, and accountability.” 

On the business side, three Ukrainian companies were showcased in the event’s vast booth area: DressX, a digital fashion NFT marketplace and solution provider; Hacken, a blockchain security auditor; and crypto exchange Kyrrex. Ukraine Digital News talked to the founders of the two latter.

Hacken: from Kyiv, to Barcelona, to Lisbon

Founded in Kyiv in 2017, Hacken is now a thriving global startup, employing 150 employees and serving 1,300 customers, according to its co-founder and CEO Dyma Budorin. 

Hacken addresses a crucial issue in the Web3 industry — security — providing tools and services to combat scams, hacks and manipulations while asserting ethical, legal and responsible corporate practices. 

Responding to huge market needs, Hacken tripled its team in the past year. It didn’t need to raise funds after its 2017 ICO, which provided $2.5 million in crypto. 

“This covered our costs for 18-24 months, then we became profitable,” Budorin told us. Currently, Hacken considers attracting investor money to finance “the next big thing” it has in mind — “a new approach to bringing new data and tools in order to facilitate due diligence, raising the bar of transparency and accountability.”

“We know how to meet the needs of the crypto ecosystem. I don’t feel it will be hard for us to raise money since we have a good brand and an already validated idea,” said Budorin.

The beginning of 2022 was all but rosy for Hacken, however. “Just before the war broke out, we called our employees — nearly 50 at that time — to move immediately, anticipating the Russian invasion,” recalls Budorin. The company urgently organized the transfer of many staff members and their families to Barcelona; then moved to Lauret del Mar, another Catalan city, then to Lisbon in order to reduce living costs.

“I personally came with my kids and parents. It was more difficult to have my wife’s parents join us from Mariupol. It was by chance that they weren’t in the family house when it was bombed,” said Budorin.

One day, Budorin received a message from an unknown UK citizen via Twitter: “I’m a businessman. If someone needs help, I can give a job, host in my house and have kids go to Portsmouth’s best school” — which he actually did.

“This is how my wife’s sister, who was in Mariupol, ended up in Portsmouth,” explained Budorin. “We have no words to thank these kind people, in the UK as well as all across Europe, who have lent a helpful hand to Ukrainians.”

Half a dozen of Hacken’s Ukrainian employees couldn’t leave Ukraine like the others immediately before the war, however, because they didn’t have vaccination certificates or for other reasons. Two of them went to the front. One, Ostap, serves in the army as a psychologist — taking care of those returning from the front — while still spending extra time on Hacken as a content writer. The other one, Sergey, is involved in military surveillance networks and secured communications for drones. Both received substantial material support from Hacken, said Budorin. 

The relocated staff was rather lucky in Portugal. Receiving legal protection in this country “was an easy process.” The Hacken refugees did not request any money from the Portuguese government “because we had enough to finance our new life in Portugal.” 

The startup spent half a million US dollars in total to finance the staff transfer, according to Budorin.

Kyrrex: remote work, growth and donations

Malta-based Kyrrex, a regulated crypto and fiat exchange platform, touts itself as “the world’s first global digital bank.” Its products and services include a crypto exchange, a liquidity hub, OTC platform and wallets, a crypto merchant platform, banking and tokenization platforms, targeting both institutional and retail customers. 

Kyrrex’s Ukrainian co-founders started the project in 2016. Two years later, they created a group of companies — a software development firm in Ukraine and a crypto exchange in Malta. Side activities include a tournament intended for gamifying crypto trading. 

“At that time, and even today, not many companies in this industry think about regulation and keep their customers’ money in a safe place. We’ve invested a lot of time and money to build a strong infrastructure. Beyond KYC, it’s about software security, certification, internal procedures, and much more,” Mykhailo (Mike) Romanenko, Kyrrex’s co-founder, told us. 

“We spent almost three years building all this after registering the company in Malta. In 2021, we ultimately received the license that allows us to process crypto-to-fiat and fiat-to-crypto exchanges.”

Kyrrex’s operations are now profitable, but the co-founders invested in the business “millions of dollars” of their own pockets, said Romanenko. No external funding was ever received.

When the war broke out, the Ukrainian Kyrrex staff began working remotely — which they had already experienced during the Covid crisis.

“We endured hard times, psychologically, at the beginning of the war. As business owners, we felt full responsibility toward our team — whom we call our family. We made a lot of donations to groups involved in the defense effort. We also helped several team members leave dangerous places by covering housing expenses in new, safer places.”

None of Kyrrex’s Ukrainian employees went to the front. “Since they had no previous army experience, they were not called and did not volunteer to the front. But many of our guys bought or delivered useful stuff — like drones, light night vision equipment and vehicles — for the army,” Romanenko said. 

Despite the woes, the company managed to double its staff in 2022, hiring more than 100 new employees.

Romanenko considers Paris Blockchain Week to be “one of the best industry events in Europe,” judging by the number of attendees and companies. He discovered the event last year and bought a booth this year.

Topics: Startups, Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, Events & contests, International, News, Payments & fintech, People
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