Back to the Future
“It does not matter what you know. The vital thing is how quickly you can learn”
In the past, people built cities as their mind-set and necessities dictated. In the future, cities will be shaped by ideas, concepts, and a creative spirit. You need to only look at the innovation hubs that have started spreading across the globe. They function as independent units enabling residents to work, study, and live in one area. Such a phenomenon has recently emerged in Kyiv to set a precedent for the entire country. Perhaps, even beyond…
Eager to have a peep into the future, we enter the territory of a former dilapidated motorcycle factory, which is going through a fantastic transformation. It is where UNIT.City – Ukraine’s first innovation park, is on the move.
Echoes of the Soviet Period
Officially launched in spring 2017, the ambitious 200 million USD project is financed by Vasyl Khmelnytsky’s K.Fund that supports education and economy related initiatives. UNIT.City’s managing partners are Max Yakover, also the park’s CEO, and Maxim Bakhmatov. Earlier, they jointly reformed the Expo Centre.
“According to the investor, more than 50 million USD has been already been injected into the project,” says Yakover, who is known for his popular Chasopys co-working platforms.
Still under development, UNIT.City blends modern construction and abandoned plant facilities. Yakover takes us on a tour around to demonstrate what has been achieved so far – the minimum viable product presently equals 14 000 square metres and that constitutes just 3-4% of the park-will-be.
“Two major things make our ‘city within a city’ unique. First, we have created infrastructure for studying, running businesses, relaxing, and living. Second, we offer a technological ecosystem that provides a beneficial environment for creative industries – IT, art, design, cinema, music, and fashion companies, laboratories, agencies and start-ups,” Yakover explains.
The ecosystem brings together new generation companies and global-thinking entrepreneurs and talents to reinforce each other, cooperate synergistically, invent innovative products, and open up more jobs. Presently, 85 groups work in UNIT.City.
“Our first 35 ‘residents’ have already launched 20 joint projects,” Yakover says. “When we select new companies, we analyse how they can help the current residents and vice versa. We are set to develop one of the biggest innovation parks in Eastern Europe. Companies will grow much faster here than outside. Our ecosystem will be a driving force behind new products and industries, and consequently have an overall positive impact on the national economy.”
UNIT.City gives Ukrainian young people opportunities to fulfill their full potential here – from getting an education up to founding their own businesses or finding a job in a resident company.
Ukraine’s only programming school based on the French School 42 ‘peer-to-peer’ model is open for those acquiring new professional skills and changing their careers. There are no teachers nor regular lectures nor boring textbooks here. The school applies a 24/7 approach to three-year studies run in a game format. Students move up from level to level and gain practical experience as interns in a real company. “It does not matter what you know. The vital thing is how quickly you can learn,” Yakover says.
Education is free of charge. Candidates must be between 17 to 30-years old and pass an acceptance test. Their motivation, perseverance, and capabilities – not academic degrees – are taken into consideration. Programming skills also don’t play any decisive role – enthusiasts with a humanitarian background are also welcome here.
“Our selection process is rigorous. Now we have 800 students meticulously selected out of 30 000 applicants,” Yakover says. “To get them immersed into the world of technology, we offer them a three-week programme – we call it a ‘swimming pool’ – consisting of multiple tasks and lasting 14-hour days with no weekends.”
Survival of the Fittest
Those surviving end up being equipped with solid knowledge. There is one more requirement – upon graduation, they all have to work in Ukraine for three years.
To get to the business campus, we pass by the decrepit factory facilities with a tall plant column to be converted into a lighthouse – an art object designed by British architect Sebastian Kite. Erected from scratch, the four-storey business campus boasts outstanding architecture, has a total area of 5 000 square metres, and accommodates a number of office, co-working, meeting, and conference zones accommodating from 30 to 150 people.
Besides Chasopys.UNIT, current residents include Imperious Group, Mobihunter, Agro Hub, Octava Cyber Defence LLC, Advertising System Management Group, and others that represent AgriTech, FoodTech, FinTech, Energy and CleanTech, AI, Machine Learning, Big Data, Blockchain, Digital Health, IoT, Hardware, SaaS, and other sectors.
Three laboratories also operate from here. “Part of the global community, FabLab Fabricator boasts all necessary expertise and equipment – from advanced 3D printers to CNC machinery, soldering stations and oscillographs – to help people turn start-up ideas into prototypes,” Yakover says.
Sensorama’s VR/AR Lab is a studio focusing on virtual and augmented reality app development, 360 video production, 3D modelling, and animation. The third laboratory is engaged in Blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.
At least 200 various events are held in UNIT.City every year. The first Ukrainian Defence Hackathon is taking place even as we continue our tour of the business campus.
First and Exemplary
UNIT.City is a combined effort of a multinational team – Polish experts helped with the master plan, Israeli professionals assisted in security aspects, and Lithuanian specialists were involved in the concept.
“Currently, there are nearly 40 innovation districts in the world. We analysed all of them and implemented what would work best for Ukraine. Our project displays how to use landscape design, the ecosystem, and contemporary architecture solutions to develop an area where people interact with each other. UNIT.City sets an example. We will feel its powerful impact far beyond the park territory,” Yakover says.
The area also features a stylish café with a summer terrace, gym, parking, and a charging station for electric cars.
UNIT.City rises from the site of a ruined factory, which is symbolic. While transforming past into future, it has the potential to shape a new history for Ukraine – bright, inspiring, and innovative. There is no need to go abroad to live a decent life – we can be happy at home. “Ukraine has limitless opportunities and a vast number of niches to be filled. If you create a quality product, your success is guaranteed,” Yakover smiles.
UNIT.City by 2025
Territory – 500 000 square metres.
Residents – 300+ companies and R&D centres
Jobs – 15 000
Events – 500+ annually
Students – 3 000+
Residential complex with two schools, two kindergartens, recreation areas etc.