The first-ever conference venue Ukraine House Davos turned out to be a success, welcoming more than 5,000 investors, top executives, activists, politicians and other visitors during its five-day run on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
The event, which ran from Jan. 22–26, featured panel discussions, receptions and speeches promoting the country’s investment opportunities and some of its most talented people. The events focused on technology and innovations, like blockchain, as well as data science, energy, agricultural business and cryptocurrency. Sophia, a social humanoid robot manufactured by Hanson Robotics, also went on display.
“Ukraine has to push itself in,” Jaroslawa Johnson, president and CEO of the Western NIS Enterprise Fund, said. “And make sure that everyone recognizes it as an important player, not simply someone in a sidelight of Russia.”
Johnson made three previous trips to the forum, an annual conference that gathers the global economic and business elite. She noticed that Ukraine didn’t have a strong presence and, after last year’s test event — Ukrainian Davos Nights in 2017 — the organizers came up with this year’s plan for Ukraine House Davos.
Without receiving government support, the Ukrainian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association teamed up with the Western NIS Enterprise Fund and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, among others.
“I cannot underscore how much pressure this group felt… because you cannot fail on the stage of Davos,” Horizon Capital CEO Lenna Koszarny said. “In the end of the day, if we failed, we would reflect poorly on Ukraine.”
However, all worked out well.
“I spoke at another session sponsored at a pop-up on the main street called Ukrainian House,” Don Tapscott, the chief executive of the Tapscott Group, says in his op-ed to The Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto, recalling his panel “Where is the next cryptohaven?”
“The room sat about 80 people and there had to be twice that jammed into it. The big topic was where will this ‘internet of value’ be centered. Most agree that unlike the first era of the internet, this second era would not be based in Silicon Valley. The debate centered on Canada, Switzerland and predictably, given the venue, Ukraine.”
Among the guest panelists were: Alex Fridlyand, a managing director of Soros Fund Management; Ukrainian lawmakers; business executives; Tech Crunch’s editor-at-large Mike Butcher; Mike Harvey, the head of content and communications at Web Summit; Suma Chakrabarti, the president of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; and Christa Markwalder, a member of the Swiss parliament.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko delivered a speech on Jan. 25 and talked keeping the nation’s partnership with the International Monetary Fund, anti-corruption institutions and fake news.
He also participated in a discussion with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Polish President Andrzej Duda on Russia’s threats to energy security.
Another panel featuring the Klitschko brothers was overcrowded with guests. It hosted more than 200 visitors in a room with only 25 chairs. Location on the central Promenade Street helped, as passersby walked in.
“Our goal was to showcase the best of Ukraine at the highest of international stages, educate and inform the key audience of tech leaders, investors, top officials,” said Alexa Chopivsky, director of the Ukraine House Davos organizing committee. “This was entirely a team effort and I’m really proud.”
The organizers hope events like this can spur much-needed fresh investment. Ukraine attracted only $1.5 billion in direct foreign investment in 2017 and cumulatively has garnered less than $50 billion since regaining independence in 1991.
“I feel that we maximized this opportunity in terms of changing the perception about Ukraine,” Chopivsky said. “First you form perception, then you attract investors.”
Koszarny recalled how visitors and potential investors were amazed as they found out that Ukraine was above India in the technology and the World Bank Doing Business ranking. Ukraine scored 76 compared to 100 for India.
“We are often so hard on this country,” Koszarny said. “We need to also talk about the successes and what we’ve collectively achieved.”