Georgia Tech hosts foreign entrepreneurs through U.S. Department of State program

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by the Enterprise Innovation Institute at the Georgia Institute of Technology and is reprinted with permission.

In the ongoing war between Russia And UkraineYevhen Popov is something of an information warrior.

Popov is director of community partnerships and research at Osavul, a Kieva Ukraine-based information security startup founded in 2022.

Using artificial intelligence, the company’s software enables governments, nongovernmental organizations, media and other private sector clients to collect and analyze data from online networks and platforms to combat disinformation and cyberattacks. It was launched as war broke out in Ukraine.

“The invasion was not only on the ground, which was military with military power, but also with people’s minds,” Popov said. “So, with the disinformation attacks that are happening almost every day — two or three times a day — this is our response to that. It’s a way to guide agencies and companies to protect them from these damaging stories, to protect them from damage or damaging effects of attacks.”

Popov and 18 other entrepreneurs – mainly from Ukraine, but also from other countries, including Sri Lanka, Jordan, Fiji, Botswana, BrazilAnd Mongolia —were at Georgia Tech’s Encore for several weeks in May and early June as part of a United States Department of State program.

That effort, the Global Initiative for Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST)connects emerging economy innovators looking to scale with expert educators and ecosystem builders from the US who can help them succeed.

GIST collaborates with Nakia Meleciowho leads the Innovation Lab initiative at Georgia Tech’s economic development arm, the Enterprise Innovation Institute. Melecio has been tapped to lead several GIST-related ecosystem building efforts in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.

On campus, the entrepreneurs met with campus leaders, researchers and economic development experts from Georgia Tech, including the Office of Commercialization, VentureLab, CREATE-X, International Initiatives and the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s EI2 Global.

“We have an opportunity to share not only our resources but also our best practices to help these innovators not only carve a path within their own ecosystems, but also figure out how to penetrate the U.S.,” Melecio said, adding that Georgia Tech will host another group of entrepreneurs from Egypt later this summer.

“We are incredibly excited here at the Enterprise Innovation Institute to provide these founders with the coaching, support and access they need to be successful and achieve their goals.”

The visiting entrepreneurs are at least as enthusiastic.

“It’s really interesting to be here because the startup ecosystem is pretty big in Atlanta and Georgia,” Popov said. “It’s a good opportunity to be here with people who know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.”

Expanding her network and her ambition to grow globally brought Ariuntuya Altangerel, co-founder and CEO of Brighton EdTech in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to Georgia Tech.

The language learning startup was founded in 2011 to facilitate English proficiency in an interactive way. Altangerel is exploring whether the model can be replicated outside its home country of 3.3 million people.

“We have a very small population, so for startups, we have no choice but to go global so they can scale,” she said. Being at Georgia Tech also gives her and the other GIST entrepreneurs the chance to be fully immersed in a successful startup ecosystem.

“In our country, the startup ecosystem is at the seed level. It’s growing faster and faster, but still there are fewer opportunities for us to get an investment,” she said. “I just see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to dive into this ecosystem and learn as much as we can.”

Nevindaree Premarathne is the founder and CEO of The Makers in Sri Lanka, a company that aims to instill innovation habits in children through hands-on STEM activities and community building. The company has partnered with educational institutions, non-governmental organizations and private enterprises to reach underprivileged schools and empower female students in STEM.

“We get a lot of knowledge from Georgia Tech,” Premarathne said, noting that her company ships its activity boxes to 10 countries and is looking to scale.

“As a country, we have a small ecosystem,” she said. “We really want to improve our network here and look for investment opportunities and also partnerships. That’s really important to us, because of the space we’re working on in education.”

Vlad Popov wanted to learn how to conquer the US market with his company Platma, a two-year-old no-code software development platform based in Kiev.

“Our specific goal is to find investors there and establish a partnership that will help us conquer the US market,” said Vlad Popov, who serves as Platma’s marketing director.

The war in Ukraine is one of the driving forces behind those growth plans, he said. “The war has actually accelerated us in this case, because we understand that every day could be our last, so we are working as hard as we can,” he said, noting that the team works primarily remotely but that workdays are often disrupted by warning sirens, power outages and rocket attacks.

“Starting a business is good because you give people work, you pay taxes and you help make the economy strong. It is important to start a business even if it is difficult.”

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