Cases 14:16 13 Dec 2023

Business support school: solution for entrepreneurs and IDPs in Zhytomyr

Small business support is about economic growth, community development, and helping those who are passionate about ideas coming to life. In Zhytomyr, they found a solution designed to give new impetus to local entrepreneurs.

What is the problem?

Since the beginning of the war, small and medium-sized businesses, which at the time of the full-scale invasion constituted the majority of all companies in Ukraine, became the force that kept the country's economy afloat. However, the latest studies show that small and medium-sized businesses are not going through the best of times. According to the results of the first half of 2023, 12.8% of enterprises completely or almost completely stopped work. Among the negative factors that hinder the development of entrepreneurial activity are the unpredictability of the state's actions in relation to business, increased pressure from security forces and control bodies, and lack of access to financial resources.

What is the solution?

However, there is also good news — Ukrainians remain optimistic despite the war and other difficulties. People look to the future with hope, believe in their strength, and continue creating new businesses. According to OpenDataBot, more new private enterprises are now being opened in Ukraine than are being closed. As of the beginning of autumn, more than two million private enterprises are officially working in Ukraine. Despite the full-scale war, small and medium-sized businesses are growing and even breaking pre-war records.

Opening a new business during the war is not easy and risky. However, if you approach the problem responsibly and calculate and plan everything, you can open your own business and even achieve success. In the Zhytomyr region, people with business ideas and a desire to implement their own business are helped by Zhytomyr institutions: the non-governmental organization "Improve Yourself" and the charity fund Real Ukrainians. With the financial support of the Estonian NGO Mondo and the charity fund Real Ukrainians, they introduced and implemented the educational project School of Small and Medium Business Support.

Школа підтримки бізнесу

How does it work?

From idea to implementation

Сергій Трохимишин

Serhii Trokhymyshyn at the School of Small and Medium Business Support.

As Serhii Trokhymyshyn, the head and ideological inspiration of the educational initiative, said, the project School of Small and Medium Business Support was conceived quite a long time ago.

"I am an entrepreneur, a volunteer, a public figure. Once, in my first business, I failed but gained tremendous experience. Then, I worked in the regional development agency of the Zhytomyr region, where my main focus was the development of small and medium-sized businesses. Then, the idea for a project to train young entrepreneurs was born," recalls Trokhymyshyn.

In the summer of 2022, volunteers of the charity fund Real Ukrainians traveled a lot in the Zhytomyr region and saw the state of business, how many enterprises were closing, and how people had nowhere to work. Then, the idea that a business support project should be launched became even more relevant. The first attempts to find financing for the project were made in August 2022. In November of the same year, they were crowned with success.

The team decided business development was more important during the war than ever. Small businesses were chosen because this category has the lowest capacity among entrepreneurs. Negotiations were held with the NGO Mondo regarding the project's financing since, at that time, they were already cooperating and had a similar project in Georgia. "Was it difficult to organize the project? Yes, it was difficult due to many different factors that arose during the project. We didn't immediately find the necessary premises, unpredictable circumstances arose, and to move forward, we had to change and adapt along the way," continues Trokhymyshyn.

Trokhymishyn and his coordinators, Olena Vyzhak and Myroslava Maslyukivska, became the core of the team of the project School of Small and Medium Business Support, which started in February 2023. The teachers of the school are entrepreneurs from Zhytomyr and the region.

What is taught at the Business Support School?

Школа підтримки бізнесу

First participants of the School of Small and Medium Business Support.

Studying at school is free of charge and is carried out according to the modular system. One module consists of 2 days — Saturday and Sunday, and a break between modules is two to three weeks, during which participants must complete homework and "digest" the materials they received. In the basic course, participants study various topics: project management, business models, business processes, reporting, marketing, and much more.

When opening the school, its initiators decided that the teachers would depart from the classical teaching model and emphasize various topics that people would need almost every day. This is work with the tax office, management, marketing, and recruitment issues — how to look for people and conduct interviews. What are the typical mistakes in business, financial management, and personal finances — how to plan them and separate your business and personal finances? The school also conducts business training. Besides, they talk about psychology, especially what concerns leadership in business. The 4th educational module of the project School of Small and Medium Business Support is devoted to the peculiarities of writing business projects based on the participants' ideas.

Got an idea? Take at least one step in its direction!

Школа підтримки бізнесу

School members use every free minute to communicate and exchange ideas.

The main goal of the Business Support School is to integrate displaced people into the new city's life. That is why priority was given to displaced people during the selection of participants. Also, budding entrepreneurs who are just taking the first steps in their own business were invited to participate in the project. During the implementation of the project, the organizers of the school placed the main focus on the interaction of the participants within the group — for the resettled people to get connections and potential friends in the new region, for aspiring entrepreneurs to find a new experience, and for active entrepreneurs to deepen their knowledge.

"People who have come to our city often do not have acquaintances or friends from whom they could ask something simple. We set ourselves the goal of creating an environment where people can find like-minded people, new acquaintances, understanding and vision of what to do, and a business that will allow them to work for themselves," says Trokhymyshyn.

According to him, the main conditions for enrollment in the school were two components: an idea and some action toward this idea.

If a person wrote in the questionnaire that they only had a business idea but did nothing to implement it, they had no chance of getting into the project. On the other hand, if a person indicated, for example, that they studied at courses, planted in the evenings, and wanted to open a microgreen growing business, the decision would be in favor. Because this is a person not only with an opinion — they have technology, business vision and is ready to develop.

Did they really succeed?

Школа підтримки бізнесу

Almost half of the school's participants are IDPs.

For the first recruitment, the school received 95 applications for 25 spots. Among the 25 participants, five with the best business plans won grants from the NGO Mondo. Among the winning projects are the resumption of production of their clothing brand, a photography studio, the installation of security and video surveillance systems, the conversion of a retail store, and the improvement of a microgreens farm.

For the second stream, the school has already formed two groups — from among 150 applications of those willing to study, 50 of the most interesting and viable business ideas were selected. After graduation, 18 entrepreneurs successfully presented their projects. Six participants received grant assistance to purchase equipment, tools, and other things to start or support their businesses. Among the ideas of the resettlers are an eco-farm, sewing a capsule wardrobe, and laser cosmetology. Oleksii Pylypenko, a retired military officer from Zhytomyr, decided to open his 3-D printing studio. A cafe with an exclusive interior will appear in Berdychiv, and a new production of children's and adult textiles and a store of linen products will appear in Zhytomyr.

"In total, we gave out €15.5 thousand for grants, and 75 participants have already completed training in our project. It is worth noting that not everyone received the certificates, as there are conditions of the program that must be met to receive it — attendance at least 80% of classes and completion of at least 80% of homework," adds Trokhymyshyn.

However, studying, writing a business project, and receiving financial assistance is only the beginning of the journey for young entrepreneurs.

"Do you think it's easy for the winners? It is the most difficult for them because tomorrow the burden of moral responsibility will be added to the tasks they have set themselves — to live up to expectations," notes the school coach Pavlo Dukach, who taught financial literacy for entrepreneurs and business models. "Yes, today they received a grant and a lot of applause. But this is not a result but a whistle for a break in a match that is in progress. Tomorrow will be no less anxious. In the light of the soffits, we are at once and always with ourselves. I have seen many people who have potential. Having a potential is not enough. Such a pleasant status pleases self-love, but the ability to look at oneself from the side draws its own irrevocable watershed. This skill presents us with a choice — to stay in a warm bath or plow so that no one doubts the dignity of the result."

A match in progress

Школа підтримки бізнесу

Graduation of the second stream of the School of Small and Medium Business Support.

According to the results of monitoring the first class, the Small and Medium Business Support School organizers found that many participants noted that their business is now developing better than in the previous few years. On average, participants' incomes increased by 30%, and six businesses either started from scratch or expanded. For example, Yuliia Savenok from Zhytomyr, who really wanted to make cakes, opened the "Dreams come true" cafe, Yuliia Soldatenko, IDP from Kramatorsk, has her own fitness gym Ufit, Andrii Shysh became the owner of the company BEZ.PRO and is engaged in the installation of video surveillance systems, and Avrora Vashchenko and Anya Lipetska — friends who were 15 years old at the time the project started, continue to successfully develop their own clothing brand, ADVA.

According to the founder of BEZ.PRO company Shysh, the Business Support School brought new useful acquaintances and personally gave him an impetus to take more action. If before studying, the business resembled self-employment, now Shysh is engaged in scaling, processing new orders, and recruiting new employees to be able to carry out larger projects.

"Thanks to the knowledge I received at school, I have more confidence that I will make fewer mistakes. I believe that such projects are significant because many people have ideas, but due to self-doubt or lack of experience, they cannot dare to create a business," says Shysh.

фітнес-клуб UFit Юлії Солдатенко

Classes at the fitness club UFit by Yuliia Soldatenko.

For Yuliia Soldatenko, creating a fitness club is actually her first attempt at business: "Before that, I worked in a laboratory as a chemistry tutor and a fitness trainer in Kramatorsk. When I applied to the school, I did not plan to open my fitness studio shortly, but after graduation, I realized that I could and wanted to open a fitness club and develop it right now in Zhytomyr."

The club has been operating for two months already — thanks to Soldatenko's studies at school and the grant received from Diia, Ukriane's digital governance app. The entrepreneur adds: "Every time I'm asked what's in it for you, even during the war, I answer: 'I live by my business, and it's work that helps me distract myself. Moreover, my business also benefits other people: training, massage, and caring for your health are exactly what you need to continue living.'" Soldatenko advises those who are just thinking about their own business: "If you really want something and assess your capabilities, then don't hesitate! Try."

Even more useful solutions!

With the financial support of the Estonian NGO Mondo, the Zhytomyr School of Small and Medium Business Support has already graduated two future businessmen. In the future, the NGO Improve Yourself, and the charity fund Real Ukrainians will continue to create an educational environment for entrepreneurs.

"Now, if you look at business development programs in Zhytomyr or at the regional level, you can see that they exist only on paper. Funding is not allocated for them, or the allocated amounts are too small to make a difference," Trokhymishyn shared with Rubryka. "During the war, it is necessary to develop entrepreneurial activity more than ever. For the winter, we plan to recruit another group and work with it, and already, for the spring period, I will look for funding to create a center where several groups can study simultaneously."

The head of the project adds that he will personally continue this work even without grant support while the eyes of entrepreneurs burn and they are ready to take risks, invest time and energy in a new business, develop, and move forward. He emphasizes that for him, every project is, first of all, its participants and the more participants invest in the project, the more one wants to help them.


If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Leave a Reply

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: