Business after the war: a Ukrainian veteran on how to create her own business from forefront idea
We also give the list of actual opportunities for veteran business development.
After the end of their service, veterans go through a hard path. One of the important points on this path is to understand how to provide for yourself and your family and realize yourself at the same time.
According to official estimates, 460,000 people in Ukraine have the status of participants in hostilities, according to the Ministry of Veterans Affairs as of February 2021. In addition, the lion's share of ATO/JFO veterans is still obtaining this status for various reasons.
The search for earnings in peaceful areas for war participants is often complicated by social stigma in society or difficulties in the perception of this peaceful life by the veterans themselves. And sometimes, all together.
About finding yourself after the war
Kateryna Pryimak, the coordinator of the Women's Veterans Movement and a veteran of the Hospitallers Battalion, says:
"I've noticed that veterans rarely like to subordinate, especially to those who haven't had combat experience. It's just that this experience makes you stay a little apart from other communities. So it's more comfortable to be among those who understand you or to work individually. In combat, you often want to create something of your own, where you're your own leader and don't depend on anyone."
During the war, Viktoria Tkach was a paramedic volunteer, working with various brigades and organizations at the front since 2015. During her service, the idea of dried fruits arose, which later became a trademark of Slice & Dry's.
"When I came back from the war, it was difficult. I had to understand: who am I, and what kind of world is this? I searched for myself and was gaining confidence. I had to understand where I want to go. This search is still going on, but I don't have the right to ask my parents for money, so I take on any job that is in my way. Yes, it's very difficult to find a job and it's very important to support society and the same circle of veterans," Viktoria shared.
Full-bellied and warm
The history of Slice & Dry's dried products began long before the search for self-realization. When Viktoria worked as a paramedic at the front, she stopped eating meat on the advice of doctors. This made her job challenging, but her family came to her aid.
"It all started when I grew up in the village and we always had a tradition of drying everything we can't eat fresh. At the time of my work in the war, I didn't eat meat, so it was very hard for me to eat. So I started having health problems. Then my mother started sending me dried apples, strawberries, pears, and other fruits. It was very important that my mother knew if I was full-bellied and warm," the woman said.
Chain of opportunity
The story of Slice & Dry's startup is a story about finding opportunities. In 2018, Viktoria Tkach became one of the first students of the entrepreneurship education project from the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) for ATO/JFO veterans. The woman says that she went to the courses while finding herself. In the beginning, she didn't have a coherent plan to become a businesswoman.
"My friends invited me to this course. At first, I thought: what am I going to do there? Because I never saw myself as a businesswoman. At that moment, I would never have thought that I'd be able to do what I do now. But then I applied for this program, successfully passed it, and started my own trademark. The first investment in the business was my 10 thousand hryvnias. With that money, we bought the first slicer, packaging, vacuum cleaner, and drying device. I defended the project in the Kyiv School of Economics," the veteran recalled.
Now, in 2021, KSE has conducted the seventh wave of courses, has 220 graduates, and doesn't plan to stop. Although during the quarantine, training went online. This program is respected and in demand among the veteran community. According to the course leader Tetiana Izmailova, during the last set, there was even a fierce competition for participation in the course, 4 candidates for 1st place.
"Overall, veterans have a fairly high rate of successful startups. For example, 35% of our graduates have their own business, some have already started businesses several times with different products. So far, 90% of students are men and only 10% are women. Women tend to create products related to tactical medicine and assistance, but there are also production cases. In general, veteran entrepreneurs show extreme resilience and perseverance, including during a pandemic. They take their business very seriously and fight for it, so they have a high survival rate of business," the expert explains.
It's profitable, but still works on its own
After the courses from the Kyiv School of Economics, Viktoria Tkach didn't stop. Almost immediately, she took part in a grant competition from the Ministry of Migration, which financed the optimization of existing production or allocated funds to support a future project. So Viktoria received €1,000 for the equipment, but it's still a long way off by the time Slice & Dry's becomes the major source of income for the Tkach family.
"Step by step, we created Slice & Dry's. We're now trying to certify and expand because it makes no sense to stand still. We made money a year after the start of work, but since we're not yet morally ready to accept investor money, all the income goes to optimize production. So far, everything we earn, we invest in cultivation; we have to expand. Now we have a shop that has to move to a bigger room in the fall. But now documents are being prepared, and as you know, small business without large capital can not exist without challenge in our country," Viktoria explains.
Today, Slice & Dry's offers full-fledged snacks and semi-finished products, and their menu includes dried vegetables and several types of meat. A total of 34 items are on the price list. Viktoria also announced the release of a new line of mixes with the names of the Carpathian mountain ranges.
Challenges and secrets of success
Developing your own business in Ukraine is hard, and veterans are no exception. Despite the support among the comrades and the network of opportunities for the participants in the hostilities, the pandemic had a significant impact on small and medium-sized businesses.
Coronavirus has made adjustments to the story of dried fruits. The business lost part of its profits. Now only the Tkach family is engaged in the production and cultivation of raw materials. They do everything they can on their own. Vegetables and fruits are grown near Cherkasy; they only order meat and exotic fruits, difficult to grow in Ukraine.
"I made this a family business, so I have no right to stay in one place. Now only family members work on dried fruits: my sister explains legal issues and helps to solve them, my father looks after the technical condition of the shop, and our mother is a food technologist, so she's watching over it," Viktoria says.
When asked what was the toughest part of starting a business, Viktoria Tkach answered with inspiration:
"The hardest thing was to understand your responsibility in what you would do. If it was just my project and only my money, I wouldn't really care, because everything can happen in the business sphere. I'll never say that it's solely my project. It's my family's business."
Slice & Dry's unite
Most veteran startups have one thing in common that sets them apart from others: remembering their fellow military.
Entrepreneurs with combat experience regularly support the army and veterans. For example, in the well-known all-Ukrainian network Veterano Group, they give preference to veterans when recruiting employees and have a constant discount for combatants. Thus, the business generated by the veteran community continues to unite it.
The same position is supported by the Slice & Dry's brand; they have a permanent discount for doctors, service people, rescuers, and police. Tkach family often sends packages of dried goods to soldiers who are on the front line as holiday gifts or respond to the call of volunteers.
Vitoria says that the support of her family is very important to her. Sometimes combat experience unites people even at the international level:
"These are the people who understand who you are and what you need, can always give a kick in the ass and say: 'Why are you complaining? let's work!' Once during a trip to Turkey, my friend and I met a veteran of the Iraq war in 2004. His name is Roland, he's American and now travels the world, lives for 2-3 months in each country, changing cities. After Turkey he came to Ukraine, I promised to treat him to dried products. Roland eats fish but doesn't eat meat and I gave him fruits. He was very surprised. And then he sent our products to the Marine unit, which is now in Odessa, for Christmas. It's really cool that there's respect between the military of different countries," the veteran said.
The story of Viktoria Tkach and her family is just one example of the development of the veteran business out of many possible ones. But don't think that the former military is developing only in the field of the mass food industry: the stories of various successful startups were even filmed in two seasons of a documentary series called "Cool Mix." At present, success stories compared to the number of participants in hostilities in Ukraine remain exceptions to the rule. But it's not a sentence.
To start, you need an idea, but for the idea to grow into something serious, one way or another, you should look for opportunities for implementation. We've compiled a selection of opportunities and pages of thematic NGOs dealing with veterans' business. Here you can find support, help, and like-minded people:
- Entrepreneurship course from the Kyiv School of Economics, which, in fact, was attended by Viktoria Tkach. The course was held, besides Kyiv, in Vinnytsia, Kharkiv, and Mykolaiv. 2021 training has already ended, but the organizers announce the continuation of the program. This course is suitable for veterans of all ages and genders, you only need to apply in time to pass the selection. Participation is free.
- The "Entrepreneurship" training course for women participants in hostilities was launched by the "Women's Veterans Movement" public organization. Currently, there are 2 waves of these pieces of training, you can sign up for each training separately. This opportunity is suitable for women participants in hostilities, and you can learn more about this project on the page of "Women's Veterans Movement" on Facebook. Even if you can't get to one of the training courses now, you can contact the coordinators and find out about future projects for veterans; they come up with new ones all the time.
- Veteran Hub also has a line for entrepreneurship development among ex-servicemen; it's a network of spaces for veterans in Ukraine, with offices in Kyiv, Vinnytsia, and Dnipro. The organization has a wide range of services for veterans, including those conducting business training courses and workshops. The only condition for participation is to register in time and be a veteran.
- You can learn about new opportunities in entrepreneurship in the social networks of the "ASSOCIATION OF ATO VETERANS ENTREPRENEURS" public organization. Here they publish news and the latest business events on relevant topics.
- It's also important not to forget about workshops and communication with like-minded people. The Pulse of Dignity festival announced by the Ministry of Veterans Affairs is ideal for this purpose. The rally will take place on Independence Day on August 24 on Volodymyrska Hill in Kyiv. Locations, "Created by Defenders," "NGO Mistechko," "Living Library," "Master Classes", children's and sports grounds will be arranged here. This is a good opportunity to see colleagues, see the products created by other veterans and get acquainted with the work of relevant public organizations, and also have a good time at the festival.