Stepan Chernovetskyi: “IT specialists can decide to leave but we can offer them to stay. Our program is an offer to stay.”
Founder of Chernovetskyi Investment Group met with Yevgeniy Sokol, dean of the National Technical University “Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute” to discuss CIG R&D Lab in an interview for focus.ua.
With all the fair and unfair criticism over the Ukrainian educational system, its tech graduates are in high demand in the large innovation hubs around the world. However, the international IT companies have proved more successful in exploring the potential of Ukrainian specialists than the Ukrainian market so far.
Stepan Chernovetskyi, the founder of Chernovetskyi Investment Group (CIG), is convinced that the answer begins with shaping the agenda for the students. Two leading Ukrainian technological universities has already added CIG R&D Lab scholarship program to this agenda, which is primarily a motivational tool.
The program started in the autumn of 2017 together with the Odesa National Polytechnic University. In the following academic year, it was joined by the National Technical University "Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute". Under the program, teams of students develop their projects and prepare them for the market with the support of the CIG experts. To discuss CIG R&D Lab’s first results, we talked to the author of the idea Stepan Chernovetskyi and the dean of the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute Yevhen Sokol.
- The academic year is almost over and so is this season of your CIG R&D Lab program. Tell me about it. How has it come about?
Stepan Chernovetskyi (SC): Actually, this idea was not a coincidence. For seven years, CIG has been one of the largest Ukrainian IT investors. I say that we preach IT-patriotism and it sounds exaggerated but for us it is simply the reality of the market, which will grow either here or somewhere else with a better climate. It is important for us that our students and future partners stay in Ukraine. This is the ultimate goal of the program CIG R&D Lab.
- The program has now been implemented for two years. How was it born? What has it achieved?
SC: Two years is not enough for a program like this. We could have spent our money faster on some commercial projects but we have consciously chosen a longer route and decided to invest in talented students.
When my father and I worked at Pravex Bank, we were among the first banks to open branches across Ukraine. At some point, we had 600 branches — the fifth largest network in the country. We managed the growth only because we started to recruit the best students: in fact, we traveled all over the country for the interviews. Some of the people we hired are still in my team. Other banks later adopted this model.
Probably, we should wait to see CIG R&D Lab results but I am definitely satisfied with the progress.
- Do you plan to invest further in program fellows and their business projects?
SC: Maybe. We consider hundreds and even thousands of projects. If a project is competitive, we invest in it. We analyze it comprehensively – it is a business, after all. Certainly, if the teams have potential, we will support them. In addition to financial support, we understand how to run a business in practice and how to make money doing it. Of course, we are ready to provide practical assistance like consulting. That is what we do.
- Mr. Sokol, how is the reaction among the students to the program? Do they engage actively?
Evgenyi Sokol (ES): Students are eager to participate. Of course, it is important to them: this is their “first try”. A student has to understand what is essential for him and how to achieve it. Will he earn good money here? Will he earn this money with his skills and knowledge?
Here, I would avoid the word “charity”. I can honestly say that this is what I am trying to be careful with at my university. Unfortunately, the USSR history has introduced the ideology of “charity”, especially among our older generation: “I came to work – pay me money. Big money. Just for being smart.”
The world has changed now. With this project, we offer students a new ideology that they will have to use in future. The program extends funding the ten projects and ten times as many students want in. Prove that you are the best!
SC: I agree with Yevgenyi Ivanovich. This is not a charity for us – this is common sense.
ES: Meanwhile, the government should understand that technical education and support for talented students is the basis of the country's future economy.
SC: In 2018, technologies were the number one Ukrainian export. It used to be commodities and now, it is intellectual product. Definitely, this trend will carry on.
- Which student projects participate in the program?
SC: Last year, students in Odesa surprised us with their projects, their themes and complexity. This year we finance five teams in Kharkiv. Among them fluorescent paving, modernization of heating and power grid of the city, energy management for the rechargeable batteries and a mobile app about Kharkiv for tourists. I am glad that the teams are working on a very practical level because the best product is the one that you need.
- How useful for students is the expertise of a large business? At the university, they study a narrow technical specialty but in real life, they need business skills to create a product and to roll it out in the market.
ES: Practice has always been and will remain the main criterion for success. From this point of view, you are right. It is very important for a student to try out various aspects of project development for a product he or she is trying to sell. There are different approaches here. Either you train people in a technical team or you invite specialists from the fields of economics and management. In any case, you need team management skills and strategic planning.
The situation is not so simple, however. First, you need to provide the fundamental education. The economy, and especially the IT, are developing at a pace that will cause “generational” technical change within three or four years. Therefore, it is very important for us to give a student, who studies for at least four years, fundamental knowledge that he can later adapt to the new circumstances after graduation. On the basis on this fundamental education, a person can then continue training or re-qualification.
-What are your plans? Will you cooperate in future?
SC: We have big plans and, of course, we will continue the collaboration. I hope Evgenyi Ivanovich will not mind. We want to increase the budget and scale up the CIG R&D Lab to cover all leading Ukrainian technical universities eventually. In the future, we want to open our own technical university so we are now conducting analysis with our American partners. However, this is a different story.
ES: For me, everything is even simpler. We want continue working with Stepan under this program. Here is why: it is important for us to develop both broader and deeper. We will improve those instruments that create strong teams, as well as develop technical education and invite humanities students into the technical teams to perform specific functions: to understand the role of a leader from the psychological perspective, the specifics of building a team. I believe that we can do this only with the help of CIG, as unfortunately, the resources of higher educational institutions are generally miserable. Of course, this support is extremely valuable to us. It is not so much about quantity as it is about quality.