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Four years at CES: what does it mean for Ukrainian startups?



Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been held for 50 years already, Ukrainian startups have been presented at the exhibition for four years now. Is it hard to get there? Why do Ukrainians take their inventions to the exhibition? Are the achievements of the spent resources worth it? Participants take thousands of business cards, comfy sneakers to move around the venue from the early morning to night, and lip balm to spend hours telling visitors about their inventions in the desert climate of Las Vegas. But before this, there's still a long and challenging journey ahead of them.


CRDF Global has made a significant financial commitment, allowing startups to focus on improving their products, working on pitches and other materials needed to present their products successfully.

CES is a global space for innovation in Las Vegas (USA), where thousands of technology startups and hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world gather every year. Large corporations and small companies try to step into the future, showcase themselves, and look at innovations or everyday things that have changed through technology. Visitors test devices and discuss the possibility of buying products on Kickstarter. As the event is organized by the Customer Technology Association (CTA), which represents a technology industry of over $400 billion, the venue attracts investors, business angels, and business people from around the world. There are 36 product categories, including 3D printers, AI, cloud services, drones, gaming, fitness, robotics, smart homes, sensors, and others.

At Ukraine Tech Pavilion 2020, 7 Ukrainian startups were presented. To get there, dozens of startups have passed a rigorous internal selection process as part of a joint initiative of UA TECH from the Ukrainian Venture Capital Association (UVCA) and the independent non-profit organization CRDF Global. The organizers invited experienced entrepreneurs and experts to participate in the evaluation and selection of startups, as well as to participate in Science & Entrepreneurship Technology Program (STEP). The US Department of State supports STEP as a program to help entrepreneurs and encourage the development of new technology products. CRDF Global has made a significant financial commitment, allowing startups to focus on improving their products, working on pitches and other materials needed to present their products successfully.

CES is a global event, and the presence of Ukrainian startups, there is not only an opportunity to find an investor. The Ukrainian pavilion is also an opportunity to form Ukraine's image as an IT country
Oleksander Davydenko, Chief Innovation Officer of the TECHIIA holding

A one-year journey

"We have selected powerful and interesting projects of different fields, but all of them relate to IT and gadgets," says Olga Afanasyeva, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (UVCA). "These devices make the world a better place," she smiles. She says that after the selection, special training was organized for the teams before the trip. Ukrainian and American mentors spent two days boosting Ukrainian startups: in particular, the ability to present themselves. She adds that at CES, these newcomers made a lot of contacts, but it takes time to work with them.

Olga Afanasyeva, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (UVCA)

In spring and summer, her organization collects applications to support potential CES participants. Candidates are expected to provide at least a prototype, because the competition, according to Afanasyeva, is very strong. Also, the founders of the startup or its representatives need to be fluent in English and be prepared to cover the costs of flights, accommodation, and other associated with staying in the U.S. during the conference. The organizers do not cover these expenses. Advantages are provided to startups from the following areas: IoT, smart homes/cities, product design, robots, and AI, entertainment and content, transport, health, gadgets for family and home.

"At CES 2019, we wanted to prove the concept (PoC), conduct market research, and establish contacts with market colleagues to exchange experiences," says Vladislav Guristrimba, founder of iGlam, whose company participated in the 2019 event.

Vladislav Guristrimba, founder of iGlam

"At CES 2019, we made valuable contacts with our hardware and fashion colleagues, and after the exhibition, we revised many details of the project. First of all, we corrected the strategy — we were told that instead of showing the project at hardware and startups exhibitions, we should exhibit at fashion shows, where our target audience gathers. Secondly, during the year after CES 2019, we were constantly improving our product: we changed our engineering company; are going to Vicenzaoro, Europe's largest jewelry show, with a presentation and prototypes; will go to Hong Kong in March, and at the end of May — to the jewelry show in Vegas (USA).

In addition to a place at the venue, selected startups received free booth branding, organizational support, training and mentoring, and extensive media coverage. But for beginners in the field of startups, Afanasyeva advises not to be afraid and learn new things. In particular, her association regularly holds major events to which "one can just come and listen."

At the licensing exhibition in Los Angeles, we surprised visitors by the fact that we have contracts with Bandai Namco, Epic Games, Wargaming, Warner Bros. for the production of merchandise based on the characters of video games
Maksim Bobranitskiy, СЕО of WP Merchandise

In search of investment

"At such events as CES, the most valuable thing for entrepreneurs is to find an investor. And participation in the event itself does not guarantee success. It is necessary to apply a comprehensive approach — it is both testing the product before it is shown to potential investors, and individual contacts with them, and participation in various events. And you have to seize the moment: nobody knows where you'll meet an investor, who will show interest. It may be CES or a private meeting of entrepreneurs in a bar," Oleksander Davydenko, Chief Innovation Officer of the holding TECHIIA and CEO of the venture studio VRTX Lab, shares the experience.



Oleksander Davydenko

Chief Innovation Officer of the holding TECHIIA and CEO of the venture studio VRTX Lab

Last year, six startups from Ukraine took part in CES. The Ukrainians presented:

1. Effa — an ecological toothbrush made of paper and recycled materials.

2. UATAG — a solution to protect products from counterfeiting, which uses labels made of broken transparent glass.

3. SEMCS — a mosquito trap.

4. CamTouch — a device for converting any projector or screen into an interactive board, where you can control objects with a special stylus.

5. EdPro. Amperia — constructor for laboratory experiments with electricity in school.

6. Bicovery — a service for people with bipolar disorder, which monitors their emotional and physical condition.

"CES is a global event, and the presence of Ukrainian startups, there is not only an opportunity to find an investor. The Ukrainian pavilion is also an opportunity to form Ukraine's image as an IT country," adds Oleksander Davydenko. "The country's potential is also measured by courage and openness to the new. CES visitors also appreciate our readiness to develop something fundamentally new — I am convinced that we can demonstrate this at the exhibition. At the same time, we need to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and understanding of doing business in the international market — this is what Ukrainian startups still lack."

Taking into account that the organizers from Ukraine covered Ukrainian entrepreneurs' costs, the latter had to invest their own money to pay the transfer and accommodation.

"The world market is becoming more and more global. And when it comes to startups, the USA is the country where entrepreneurs can meet investors, and countries can create or strengthen their image in a certain niche. International exhibitions and conferences, in general, are a tool for product presentation and a place of real contacts with potential partners," says Maksim Bobranitskiy, CEO of WP Merchandise — a company that produces premium merchandise based on video games; part of TECHIIA holding.

Maksim Bobranitskiy, CEO of WP Merchandise — a company that produces premium merchandise based on video games; part of TECHIIA holding

"Business contacts, direct sales, research of competitors or similar technologies, obtaining licenses, finding partners, distributors or all at the same time — these are the main objectives that we pursue through participation in international events. The chances of success and opportunities increase greatly if it is, for example, CES. Here you can get acquainted with top managers of world-famous corporations by chance. Europeans and Americans appreciate personal contacts, and most of the issues that are usually solved in a month's correspondence can be solved in 5 minutes of private conversation," Maxim adds.

At the same time, Ukrainian entrepreneurs should prepare in advance not only the presentation of their products but also their know-how, which can amaze visitors to the exhibition.

"At the licensing exhibition in Los Angeles, we surprised visitors by the fact that we have contracts with Bandai Namco, Epic Games, Wargaming, Warner Bros. for the production of merchandise based on the characters of video games," Bobranitsky shares. "It also surprised visitors that we make all our products in Ukraine, not China."

"If we are talking about startups, in 2018, about $ 350 thousand were invested in Ukrainian startups — in innovative companies founded by Ukrainians. The data for 2019 are not yet available, but there is a feeling that the amount will be higher. Investments in startups are growing every year," Afanasyeva said. Olga was at a forum in Davos, where she also promoted Ukrainian business. "We strive to show Ukraine as the world rarely sees it. We want to show that there is great investment potential here. There is a new Ukraine, Ukraine of entrepreneurs, Ukraine of competitive companies. We are a powerful partner. You can deal with us."

In Ukraine, for a startup to get the status of "member of CES" is quite a significant title. A startup gets experience and contacts even before he gets to the exhibition, and serious selection and preparation await on the way. Less than 40 startups from all over Ukraine have already taken part in the event, supported Ukraine's international image as an IT country, and probably found their investors. Selection for CES 2021 will start very soon, and on its official website, you can find the date of the event — January 6-9.

You can read the original article by clicking here.

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