Recently, the Ucluster team had the opportunity to talk with the heads of the Ternopil IT Cluster, Kateryna Mihailidi and Serhii Kutuzov. We learned about the challenges of organizing the IT community in their city, their plans for the future, their achievements, and how startups founded in Ternopil rise to the top.
CEO: Kateryna Mihailidi
Head of Cluster: Serhii Kutuzov
Address: Bandera St. 42\ 2, Ternopil, Ukraine
In her teens, Kateryna Mihailidi already imagined herself becoming an application developer. After learning web development and coding, Kateryna worked as an administrator for a service called Moodle while she was studying at the university. She then created the Children’s IT Academy, which later became a coworking space. Later on, Kateryna became one of the founders of Ternopil IT Cluster. Being an active citizen of her city, at some point she realized that the Cluster required more attention than her part-time involvement could provide and she decided to fully dedicate herself to its development.
Serhii Kutuzov, chairman of the Cluster, admits that deep involvement with the cluster was not originally his plan. However, he decided to take the lead in cluster activities when given the opportunity, considering it his mission to give back to his birthplace. “Those who were more opportunistic have already left for Europe or elsewhere, but I ‘missed’ the opportunity, so I decided to turn Ternopil into Europe,” says Serhii. “Waiting for someone else to change and improve the city makes no sense.”
“Waiting for someone else to change and improve the city makes no sense.”Serhii Kutuzov.
Officially, the Ternopil IT Cluster was created in 2017, although the informal association was founded over 10 years ago. Initially, it was simply a small group of various representatives of IT companies, meeting to discuss trends, news, and problems related to the city and its IT market. Eventually, the participants of these meetups decided to create an IT cluster – an organization that would develop Ternopil’s IT community, boosting the city’s economy.
Ten companies joined the Cluster initially. Since its founding, 5 more IT companies have been added to its roster. Among its members are IT academies, such as the Main Academy and IT Step, along with Ternopil’s higher educational institutions – 3 universities and 2 colleges – as well as Ukrsibbank as a financial partner.
The Cluster organizers have several areas of focus. The main ones include education, development of the IT environment and city communities, and cooperation with the authorities. Last year, members formed a Cluster board, responsible for coordinating joint work among members. Kateryna says that the board made members’ work more organized and efficient, since every board member is now responsible for a specific domain, its coordination, and the development of implementation strategies.
Despite many obstacles, 2020 brought many successes to the team, such as entering the final stage of the Ukrainian IT Awards 2020, and producing a dozen online conferences, including “Digital world of alfa generation“, “How to get it started”, “Air meetup #2”, “Synergy. IT Business & IT Education”. Unfortunately, the main cluster event Fine.IT was forced to switch to the online format due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions. This proved to be a unique challenge, since it was the first time IT Cluster members participated in an event in this format.
Clusters and Education
The Ternopil IT Cluster actively cooperates with 5 local universities and colleges, specifically, with their departments that educate IT, specialists. Recently, the so-called dual education training has been gaining in popularity – it provides a more flexible form of professional training. IT companies have made deals with universities to split the theoretical and practical education. During lectures at the university, students learn theoretical concepts from qualified professors. Later, they are invited to company premises where leading IT specialists share their practical knowledge.
Many companies also host office tours, where students immerse themselves in their fields of interest, potentially helping them choose a career path for their future.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, office tours have been canceled for the near future, but at the end of Spring 2020, the Cluster started an IT marathon, where over 2 weeks students were educated about technologies, programming, and future technology trends.
Joint Work with Local Authorities
Unfortunately, the Ternopil City authorities do not always see value in working with the Cluster. On the other hand, the Regional State Administration believes in the purpose and goals of the Cluster , and is ready to support and promote some of its conferences. Last year, the Ternopil IT Cluster team was invited to speak at a conference for young entrepreneurs, which was held with the support of the Regional State Administration. The main goal of the meetup was to digitize business processes that take place in small and medium-sized businesses.
“At the moment, the startup culture here is lacking,” our guests admit. Startups appear periodically, but don’t have incubators or other startup infrastructure to rely on. Usually, they are created by residents of the city who work in an IT company, and who, after gaining experience, decide that they are ready to start their own business. This path to entrepreneurship is quite unreliable, however, since the founders lack support and mentoring. But despite this, new product teams continue to appear in the city. Some well-known Ternopil startups include Crowdin, a product localization and translation service, and MagneticOne, a software development company with a variety of industry solutions. So far, the city lacks a full-fledged infrastructure in which the implementation of multiple new ideas can be supported.
According to Kateryna Mihailidi, there are about 30 IT companies in Ternopil that are ready to contribute to the development of the cluster. Advantages of Cluster membership include being part of a group of like-minded people with the goal of developing IT in Ternopil, networking, development of human capital, business education, access to proprietary information, and the events that the Cluster organizes.
Serhii says that the Ternopil Cluster operates like an Agile team, planning 6-12 months ahead. “A small organization like ours cannot make a 5-year plan,” says Serhii. “We make new plans annually, and even then we often change directions.” The team’s plans are based on the common goals that the Cluster strives to achieve. Unlike other clusters, the Ternopil team does not have a large internal market to draw support from.
“The entire IT population of Ternopil is like a sandbox compared to other, more established Ukrainian clusters, having only about 2-3 thousand specialists, which is one tenth of the size of the Lviv IT population. Because of this, our goals are mainly aimed at increasing the number of IT professionals here. When we add a hundred new specialists in our city, this has a great influence on the development of the entire cluster.”
Kateryna and Serhii admit that many Ternopil citizens still choose to immigrate and try their luck abroad, and those who return do not necessarily see great prospects for development at local Ternopil companies. Because of this, one of the Cluster’s goals is to show residents of the city that Ternopil is a great place to stay and develop their careers.
Video interview with the CEO and the founder of Ternopil IT Cluster
For a more in-depth study of Ternopil IT Cluster activities, visit this cluster presentation: