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The Renaissance of the Kyiv IT Cluster: Interview with Vika Zhurbas, Interim CEO

As I am entering our interview zoom,  I ask Vika Zhurbas, the new interim CEO of the Kyiv IT Cluster, if this is a good time for us to talk. “Of course,” she says, and tells me that she is joining the meeting via her phone. Vika is taking a stroll with her two months old daughter, who is soundly asleep, and the voice of her mom answering my interview questions are keeping her that way. My own preschooler is at the kindergarten, and so I have a couple of hours of uninterrupted home office time. As I am counting my blessings during these challenging times, we start the interview.

Vika just recently took over the reins of the Kyiv IT Cluster. Her background is in the co-working industry and community building. When the Head of the Supervisory Board Nataly Veremeeva contacted her with the offer to lead the reborn IT cluster organization, Vika saw the opportunity to build the community around the IT industry in Kyiv. 

“I believe in communities,” tells me Vika. “Communities are sophisticated structures, and building them is hard. But once you build them, they help move processes.” 

Vika also tells me that she draws her inspiration from the work of the Lviv IT Cluster. The IT Arena event, organized by the Lviv cluster, the great results in community building, is what excites her about the sibling organization in the Ukrainian West. [editor: IT Arena is an IT event in Ukraine and Eastern Europe that brings together programmers, designers, top managers, PMs, business analysts, entrepreneurs and startup entrepreneurs to share experiences and discuss new IT trends.]

Vika Zhurbas, Interim CEO Kyiv IT Cluster.

Vika has her work cut out for her. The Kyiv IT Cluster is being reorganized into a new legal entity and is re-signing membership agreements with all its past members. The old organization reached the end of its shelf-life and was barely active in the last months prior to the reorganization. While the IT cluster in Kyiv (the invisible network of connections between all the 100,000 IT professionals and academicians in the city) remained as vibrant and productive as always, the cluster organization calling itself “The Kyiv IT Cluster” was barely functioning. This changed at the beginning of 2020.   

I proceed to my questions, probing Vika’s plans for the future.

Vika, can you tell me a little about your new team, and what your short-term plans are?

Our operations team is still small. Alexandra Labuzynska supported the process of cluster reorganization at the very beginning. Meanwhile Vita Kabaliuk is helping with social media, and Liliia Mitina – responsible for partnerships and communications, she is good at interviews. And then there is the Supervisory Board. Nataly Veremeeva, director of Tech Ukraine, is the head of the board, and we have 6 companies who sent their representatives to the Board as the new co-founders.

As we are changing our legal entity, we are re-signing membership agreements with our past members and adjusting our membership packages. We realized that the needs of our members changed. They are now thinking about things like the reputation of Kyiv as an IT hub, public relations abroad, and generating leads for their businesses. 

Our new membership package reflects that. In addition to customary networking opportunities, the new package includes avenues for driving leads and partnerships with other IT clusters abroad.

What about the basics of clusters, the networking between members? How are you adjusting in the time of COVID?

For the next year or so meetings and events will be online, but we are already working on a concept for a large in-person conference. iForum in Kyiv is in the spring, and IT Arena in Lviv is in the fall.  Perhaps there is room for another cluster-oriented networking event in Kyiv in spring. I hope we can create an interesting alternative to existing events. 

Nataly Veremeeva and Igor Arkhypenko, our board members, are some of the strongest advocates for the Cluster. They do a lot of outreach and public speaking. And we have corporate board members such as All Stars IT who are very active in community building. I would also like to mention Tech Ukraine, Eleks, All Stars IT, Sannacode, Dex, Alter and Data Science UA. These are the companies that are ready to rejoin the Kyiv IT Cluster and we are working on adding more. 

The Leonardo coworking platform is a workspace with its own ecosystem.

Vika, you have a co-working background. Any tips for good co-working spaces in Kyiv?

Let me share something perhaps counterintuitive with you. Even now, with COVID dominating the news, niche coworking spaces are fuller than ever and have high occupancy rates. It probably should not be a surprise, as people are getting tired from attending meetings from their bedrooms. Here are three co-working spaces that I can personally recommend:

  • Coworking Platforma – we have a long-standing relationship with them, and they believe in the mission of the Kyiv IT cluster and are great at building a community of their residents;
  • Lift99 Kiev Hub – their niche is startups. They have a strong community and are quite selective at whom they admit as a resident;
  • Kooperativ – is very new and their niche is the creative industry. They also have a great rooftop deck. 

On that note we conclude our interview, and Vika promises to put me on the insider track with Kooperativ which has been in my cross sight for months now. The building where Kooperativ is located is a stone throw away from my alma mater high school N138, and I’ve seen that building evolving from a boring printing house in the 90s and early 2000s, to an empty shell of a building in 2010s’, to an airy and bright new space for the creative industry in the year 2020. It’s funny how the history of one building mirrors the evolution of the IT cluster in Kyiv.

To learn more about the Kyiv IT Cluster, see: