Welcoming women from Ukraine to the entrepreneurship sector of Estonia

This January 17 women-led teams concluded the first Empowering Women program in Estonia, to start off their micro- and family businesses as they rebuild their lives, having been forced to leave Ukraine due to the war. By taking the best practices and including good people from the startup and technology sectors, our objective has been to spark businesses on the grassroots level in traditional entrepreneurship, done by women.
The “Empowering Women entrepreneurship program”, co-organized by Garage48 and Estonian Refugee Council, is designed for women who have been forced to leave Ukraine due to the ongoing war, and who see the potential to restore their independent livelihood by creating micro- or family businesses. Estonian Refugee Council and Garage48 have been organizing the Empowering Women program in eastern Ukraine since 2019.

With the full-scale Russian invasion and ongoing war in Ukraine, the program was launched in Estonia for the first time in the autumn of 2022 and made possible thanks to the partnership of British Council Estonia, Swedbank Estonia and European Commission representation in Estonia.

“Estonian Refugee Council supports the creation and development of micro- and family businesses in various countries: in Ukraine, Georgia, Kenya and Jordan. In light of the war in Ukraine, for the first time also in Estonia and with the goal to help Ukrainian women who have reached Estonia to start or re-establish their enterprises. These businesses provide the necessary income and also help by taking their thoughts somewhere else, away from the horrors of war,”

- Eero Janson, Director of the Estonian Refugee Council

Participants of the first Empowering Women makeathon in Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine in November 2019.

Organising the program on our home turf in Estonia enabled us to include participants across the country with a hybrid event format. We met in Tallinn to get to know each other and get the teamwork started, and came together again for the finals. Therefore we had participants from Tartu, Aseri, Pärnu, Saaremaa, Kohtla-Järve, Jõgevamaa, Viljandi and Tallinn, with more than 50 micro business ideas ranging from the fields of food production and education to health and technology.
During three months, the women participated in various workshops and mentoring sessions on topics from business creation basics, design thinking and branding to sustainability, zero waste and crowdfunding, exchanged experiences with local entrepreneurs, developed risk assessments and collaboration partners network, and developed business plans together with product or service prototypes. Several businesses have started their activities and building their customer base. Our goal has been to take the best practices and people from the startup and technology sector and implement that knowledge on the grassroot level in traditional entrepreneurship, led by women.

Empowering Women Estonia program opening day at Tallinna Muusika- ja Balletikool MUBA on October 30th, 2022, together with the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine in the Republic of Estonia, Mariana Betsa.

More than 50 entrepreneurs and experts took part in the program as mentors, of whom several share a migration and successful business launching experience in Estonia, which they were glad to share.
The work of all mentors and participants was guided by our leading mentors of our dear Maarika Truu from Garage48, Yelena Zhovnikova, Ksenia Ipolitova and Julia Bulgakova, who are a wonderfully diverse group of women, united by a common drive to empower other women.

The leading mentors crew.  From the left: Kadri Tiisvelt, project manager from Garage48, Yelena Zhovnikova, Maarika Truu as the host and lead mentor from Garage48, Julija Bulgakova and Ksenia Ipolitova.

5 teams that showed the most progress during the past three months, were awarded with 1000€ starting grants by the Estonian Refugee Council.

Jooga Ratastel - yoga classes for elderly in the rural areas of Saaremaa.
Ljudmila and hear lead mentor Ksenia Ipolitova celebrating winning the grant.

Kaya - Ukrainian home- and yogawear brand with clothes made from sustainable materials.
Kateryna received news of receiving the grant online as she had caught a cold by the Demoday. Julija Bulgakova, her lead mentor is cheering her along.

Croissant - cafe in Kohtla-Järve, which will be run by the whole family.
Oksana and her family after the final presentation at the Demoday on January 22nd in Tallinn.

KohViki - bakery in Tallinn, offering novel bread tastes such as truffle bread.
Viktoria and KohViki bread at the Demoday.

Maasika Baar - handmade sweets of strawberries in chocolate, coming from various designs and flavors and made in Voore, Jõgevamaa.
Yevheniia from team Maasika Baar with her youngest child and lead mentor Yelena Zhovnikova during the Demoday award ceremony.

The “Empowering Women” entrepreneurship program was made into reality in Estonia thanks to the support of very many partners and supporters and several of them gave out special prizes.

European Commission representation in Estonia special mention and prize
- goes to two teams, who have children’s wellbeing in mind. Siil children’s hairdresser in Pärnu and GROW UP pre-school children education centre in Aseri, Ida-Virumaa.
Yevheniia from team Siil, Maria Kullamägi from European Commission representation in Estonia, and Vira from team GROW UP at the Demoday award ceremony.

Swedbank Estonia employees voted for their favorite
- and out of in-house voting with 386 votes altogether, Jooga Ratastel yoga classes for the elderly in the rural areas of Saaremaa took one third of the votes.
Ljudmila from team Jooga Ratastel together with Swedbank Estonia representatives Triin Preem, Startup Segment Manager and Ksenia Ipolitova, lead mentor of the Empowering Women program and Investment Product Line Manager in Investments Support Department at Swedbank Estonia. Together with Perry :).

EENA BPW Estonia / Eesti Ettevõtlike Naiste Assotsiatsioon special prizes of 500€ go to two teams.
S&S Home Kitchen, offering business lunch to construction site workers in Tallinn.
GROW UP pre-school children education centre in Aseri, Ida-Virumaa.
Sisters Svetlana and Alexandra from team S&S Home Kitchen, EENA former president Ester Eomois and Vira from team GROW UP at the Demoday award ceremony.

Prototron accelerator welcomes two teams in their top 50 teams of the acceleration program starting this September.
JUMPCV online career platform and onewave.info platform connecting Ukrainian female entrepreneurs.

Thanks to iDeal Eesti, 16 top teams of the program get conveniently online and into the digital society of Estonia with the laptops they received.
Sisters Veronika and Valeria from team Whiterose with their lead mentor Julija Bulgakova in the entrepreneurship program final, after receiving their laptop from iDeal Eesti.

Telliskivi Loomelinnak, Rotermanni kvartal and Foorum are offering office spaces to the upcoming businesses.

“Next to the entrepreneurial knowledge and monetary support, a very important aspect for the program participants has been building connections with local experts and entrepreneurs and knowing that they are welcomed into the local entrepreneurship community. Participants of the program say that communicating with local entrepreneurs and similarly entrepreneurial Ukrainian women across Estonia has given them support and motivation that can not be measured in any monetary terms and which has resulted in several already active businesses,”

- Kadri Tiisvelt, Garage48

For example, Alina got so inspired during the first phase of the program, and without making it to the top 20 teams of the mentoring program, she opened her beauty salon in Aseri anyway. Natalia is kicking off her yoga classes at Telliskivi Creative city. We’ll be looking forward to letting you know of the next businesses popping up.

A huge thank you to all our supporters who made the program happen across Estonia - Tallinna Muusika- ja Balletikool MUBA, Palo Alto Club, OBJEKT, Forwardspace, SPARK Demo, Kagu-Eesti Innovatsioonikeskus, French Embassy in Tallinn, HUGO.legal, TGS Baltic, E-residency, Worksafety, Tallinna linn.
Group photo of the participants, mentors, organisers and partners at Tallinna Muusika- ja Ballettikool MUBA, who welcomed our entrepreneurship program opening and final days to their beautiful and just opened venue.

Estonian Refugee Council and Garage48 are continuing to support women, who have lost their income due to the war in Ukraine, and the next “Empowering Women entrepreneurship program” in central and eastern Ukraine will start in April 2023.
The next program in Estonia will happen in the second half of 2023. Stay tuned for more info coming soon in Garage48 and Estonian Refugee Council channels.

🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦Слава Україні!🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦

About the author

kadri tiisvelt

Kadri is the COO of Garage48 with years of experience as a hackathon organizer and community builder. She loves to create and bring together supportive environments for starting entrepreneurs who wish to make their ideas into valuable services and products. 🌸

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