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Ukraine’s journey to becoming the Silicon Valley of defense technology

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The packed crowd at the Lviv National Opera House erupted in joy as Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, delivered a speech highlighting a significant achievement for the country: Ukrainian drones managed to destroy more than 200 tanks in over the last few months.

Can Ukraine become the Silicon Valley of defense technology?, TheRecursive.com
Mykhailo Fedorov at IT Arena 2023

The conflict, as unfortunate as it was, also accelerated this trajectory that has made Ukraine a hub for international trade. defense innovationAnd according to domestic entrepreneurs, this is an opportunity that the country must seize quickly – first to win the war, and then to further develop this sector of the technology industry.

“Every technology offers opportunities for a breakthrough that could change the course of this war. If we had a thousand drones simultaneously attacking a bridge and each company could make hundreds of drones, it would all be very simple,” Fedorov said during a presentation at IT Arena 2023 about the different technological solutions that the country implemented during the war. .

And there, as the Ukrainian official explained, there is potential that the country must exploit more.

Driving defense technology innovation through frontline experience

Since its official launch in April this year, the Brave1 cluster has become the epicenter of Ukraine’s defense technology landscape. Led by seasoned entrepreneur Nataliia Kushnerska and her team, Brave1’s goal is to connect the diverse elements of this ecosystem, ranging from businesses and startups to government agencies, defense forces and investors.

Can Ukraine become the Silicon Valley of defense technology?, TheRecursive.com
Nataliia Kushnerska and Serhiy Prytula/The Recursive

Their mission is clear: to transform Ukraine into a Silicon Valley for defense technology – one of the unique aspects of which is innovation coming from the front itself.

“A lot of solutions appear on the front line through private funding, because sometimes startups don’t give money, but they are actually front-line solutions. We have seen a lot of solutions like this and they are really effective. And one of our missions was actually to get all these effective solutions that are already on the front lines and pass them on to the Ministry of Defense for acquisition and procurement procedures,” said Kushnerska, who acts as COO of Brave1, at The Recursive.

As she further explains, navigating this intersection of commercial and military interests is no easy feat, and despite these challenges, the collaboration between Brave1 and the country’s Ministry of Defense streamlines the development of solutions and startups that underpin them.

With a particular focus on drones, mine clearance, electronic warfare and AI, the cluster saw 575 solutions submitted, half of which were granted BRV1 status for further development. The cluster also awarded 54 grants to startups, worth nearly $1 million.

Mantis Analytics, a deep tech startup developing an AI-based information field monitoring platform, was one of the winners in the defense technology stream, securing a $200,000 investment from a angel investor.

Can Ukraine become the Silicon Valley of defense technology?, TheRecursive.com
Mantis Analytics Platform

“We are a startup engaged in detecting and analyzing disinformation and cyber attacks using artificial intelligence. We were born as a voluntary initiative in March 2022, after the full-scale invasion of Russia, when a team of talented people from the IT sector decided to help Ukraine in one way or another . Over the past year, we have helped the government, think tanks, journalists and other information warfare agents protect Ukraine’s information landscape from Russia’s malicious activities,” said Anton Tarasyuk, co-founder of Mantis Analytics, at The Recursive.

Today, many startups are already developing solutions and R&D centers are on the front line.

Can Ukraine become the Silicon Valley of defense technology?, TheRecursive.com
Combat Robot/Computer Arena

“The engineers are on the ground and now we are here as state representatives and state partners, ready to provide all our help and support.” We have tested and proven not only drones, but other platforms as well. We see naval drones and see what a game-changer they are. We already have Ukrainian drones with AI solutions, many communication solutions and it is very inspiring to see how fast and efficient these companies are,” says Kushnerska.

Crowdfunding that leads to drones and satellites

Since the Russian invasion in 2014, initiatives such as the Serhiy Prytula Foundation have been at the forefront of volunteer efforts, raising funds to provide critical resources to the Ukrainian military.

What began as a personal initiative by entrepreneur and former television host Serhiy Prytula has now become a national initiative, having a significant impact on military and civilian communities affected by the conflict.

In response to intensifying Russian aggression in 2022, Prytula has taken her charitable efforts to new heights. The Prytula Foundation has since provided more than $140 million in non-lethal equipment to the Ukrainian Defense Forces, in the form of drones, optics, vehicles, communications systems and tactical medical equipment for soldiers of First line.

“Over the past year, we have purchased a number of FPV drones and UAVs. And the next step, what we are waiting for is the drones which will help to hit the targets more effectively, because the main problem of any type of drones or UAVs is the communication systems. So, very often we can see videos of our defenders trying to hit a target, but they lose connection. So we are waiting for drones that work with optical devices that capture the target and it doesn’t matter whether the connection is lost or not, because the drone will hit the target,” Prytula explains to The Recursive.

Can Ukraine become the Silicon Valley of defense technology?, TheRecursive.com
Serhiy Prytula and Tetiana Ostra/IT Arena

Its largest project was the People’s Satellite, an ICEYE satellite that was purchased through a massive crowdfunding effort led by the Foundation, and which has been very useful to Ukraine’s defense over the past year and a half.

“We also purchased access to a satellite image database of all ISL company constellations, 13 of which work exactly over Ukraine every day. That’s why we pay for the satellite and we also pay for the access and they get good results in this case because they have a lot of satellite images,” Prytula added.

According to him, such projects also illustrate how Ukraine can use all this new experience and become a defense technology hub, and that it is now up to all key stakeholders to make this promise a reality.

“The government and businesses must do everything to show our investors that we are transparent, because they are already very afraid – some of them still consider Ukraine a corrupt state. This is why, for our part, as a civil society, we must explain to each of them what we are doing and why it is important for us to move forward. We need to show our partners that they should not be afraid to invest in Ukrainian military technology and our R&D,” Prytula told The Recursive.

The importance of education for technological innovation

The Boryviter Military School became one of the institutions that strengthened Ukraine’s defense capabilities. The organization’s main goal is to improve the qualifications of Ukraine’s military, focusing on intensive training in eight crucial areas, including drones, military communications and psychological training, among others.

Can Ukraine become the Silicon Valley of defense technology?, TheRecursive.com
Drones/Dan Madden

Most of Boryviter’s training programs are based on NATO standards and adapted to current combat operations, with the school having already trained more than 14,000 students.

According to the school’s founder, Tetiana Ostra, over the past year and a half, Ukraine has become the “fork of drones, artillery, modern technologies and innovations.”

“I would definitely say that drones remain one of our most important focuses right now. Second, there is electronic warfare – the Russians are really good at this and we need to catch up. This is where we see a lot of startups and it’s something that requires even more focus and innovation, as well as situational awareness systems. Every time I talk to my partners and friends in defense agencies overseas, they are sincerely amazed at how we manage combat management systems – you can have a digital map and see all your forces, the forces enemy movements, the movements between the missiles flying over the drones used. in actual combat, and this is something that will bring us more effectiveness on the battlefield,” says Ostra.

The school has also seen a number of entrepreneurs and engineers join its team, which further helps its students gain the necessary knowledge.

Can Ukraine become the Silicon Valley of defense technology?, TheRecursive.com
Combat robots/Brave1

“We have people who left their jobs – one was a CTO at an international company and he came back. We have engineers, we have top IT developers and they really believe in this cause. They know that after victory they can return to their civilian work, but now they are accumulating all this experience and we are using their expertise and their knowledge to make sure that we can also start producing something that can provide support to the defense. sector,” she emphasizes.

What Ukraine needs to do next, according to Ostra, is take advantage of the accumulated knowledge and experience and establish itself as a center of excellence.

“The lessons we learn from conflicts can constitute best practices and we can also share common mistakes with other NATO member states who support us so that we can build partnerships and strengthen the Alliance. We can ensure that doctrines are modernized, training is up to date and we can become a formidable R&D hub for all kinds of innovations. she concludes.

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