On the morning of Feb. 24, 2022, Russia unleashed its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Bombs fell on Kyiv, missiles hit airports across the country, and tanks rolled across the border. But British entrepreneur Andy Baynes was prepared.
“It was clear something was going to happen, though I admit the severity of Russia’s actions was shocking. The first priority of my team was to get my employees to safety, as well as their families. Then we could focus on ensuring the long-term viability of our company,” he said.
Baynes is a former Apple, Nest and Google executive, who co-founded GT as its CEO in 2019. The company brought together his friends and former colleagues to provide end-to-end product development, as well as data services, to clients around the world.
But on that February morning, the biggest project faced by GT was getting the company’s employees to safety. In a matter of days, around half of Baynes’ employees had moved across the border to Poland, with GT paying for their transport and accommodation. It was a story echoed by hundreds of other companies in Ukraine’s IT/tech sector, and one would imagine that this disruption would have proven fatal to their operation individually and to the industry as a whole.
That has not been the case. It’s been over a year since, and while the war continues, the country’s economy continues to function, especially the IT sector. With his employees safe, Baynes was able to not only stabilize his company’s operations but also boost its performance.
Baynes opened a new office in Krakow, Poland’s second-largest city, and closely situated to Ukraine. It served as a hub for his employees who had crossed the border. GT has increased the number of its staff members by 50 percent and donated much of its profits to Ukraine’s defense. The company’s continued good performance speaks of Baynes’ and his staff’s endurance; it also exemplifies the Ukrainian IT/tech sector.
“GT has been able to endure thanks primarily to the outstanding skills of its employees. They highlight the potential of the Ukrainian tech sector. We are continuing to grow despite an ongoing full-scale war, [so] just imagine what we can achieve when peace arrives,” Baynes said.
Ukraine’s adaptability and talent
Ukraine remains very much open for business. GT and companies like it have adapted to the challenges the country faces by going increasingly remote, and by linking up with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to support refugees and the armed forces. These initiatives have not translated into significantly increased costs for investors.
New hires have dropped slightly, by about 10 percent, but the recruitment pool remains vibrant with profiles on hiring websites like djinni.com up twofold. The Times Higher Education World University Ranking features 10 Ukrainian universities noted for their technical education, and uptake in STEM subjects is higher than the global average.
“There are a number of factors driving Ukraine's tech excellence. The most important factor is talent. Ukraine produces tens of thousands of skilled tech graduates every year,” said Peter Dickinson, chief editor of Business Ukraine Magazine.
A fellow Brit, Dickinson is also one of Ukraine’s leading business ambassadors. In 2022, he received the Presidential Order of Merit, one of Ukraine’s highest honors, in recognition of his contribution to the Ukrainian economy.
“Ukrainian society is extremely quick to adopt new technologies and has undergone radical modernization over the past three decades of post-Soviet independence. There is a deeply embedded culture of tech adoption that fuels IT creativity,” Dickinson said.
“Adaptability has been the name of the game for IT companies in wartime Ukraine. Many have continued to operate even with staff members dispersed across the EU or further afield. This has made it possible to grow despite the huge practical and psychological challenges of the war,” he added.
Expect a bright dawn for Ukraine
The Ukrainian IT sector had been an increasingly important segment of the economy for over a decade leading up to 2022. It is a major source of foreign revenues (12 percent of Ukrainian exports) and a big contributor to GDP. Not only does it contribute directly to the country’s coffers, but it has also created a new middle class that in turn invests in the real estate, retail, and hospitality sectors; it is a foundation stone for Ukraine’s future.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently announced that it would be providing a loan of $15.6bn (£12.8bn) to Ukraine, the first time the organization has given a loan to a country at war. Hardly known for being over-excitable spendthrifts, the fund’s decision highlights one thing; Ukraine has a bright future. The country’s IT/tech sector has acted as a lodestar for its economy and is set to continue to be so after hostilities conclude.
“The IT sector is probably the most attractive investment opportunity in today's Ukraine, but that is no longer a secret. It is worth looking into new startups – In particular, there is likely to be huge global interest in Ukrainian military tech in the coming years and this segment of the industry might offer exciting gains. The country will be rebuilt with a view to digital technologies and will become a hotspot for tech innovation,” Dickinson said.
As for Baynes, while the end of the war cannot come soon enough, he remains ready for any challenges that arise in 2023. His employees are safe and GT is eyeing new opportunities. Despite everything, he retains a sense of optimism.
“Whenever I think back to that February morning, I become heartened by how well my team has endured. GT has flourished despite the war and I’m convinced we, and the rest of Ukraine’s IT/tech sector, will have so much to offer the world after the conflict ends. President [Volodymyr] Zelensky once said ‘light will win over darkness’; Right now, I think the dawn is breaking,” Baynes said.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter