Accelerator from SILab Ukraine in war conditions: “When you move forward, despite shelling, lack of electricity, restrictions in daily habits, you feel that life goes on”

SILab Ukraine has been developing the social entrepreneurship ecosystem, building social partnerships and popularizing impact investing in Ukraine for almost five years. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Russia on the territory of sovereign Ukraine, the organisation has continued its activities and, thanks to the financial support of the European Union and in cooperation with EVPA, launched the Rapid Response Grant Program for social entrepreneurs. The purpose of the grant program was to help social enterprises in the conditions of war transform their activities and resume work in the territory controlled by Ukraine.

Today, SILab Ukraine continues to help Ukrainian social entrepreneurs increase their impact and strengthen their businesses despite constant missile attacks on Ukrainian cities and hostile attacks on the country’s energy system. On November 22, 2022, the defense of the pitch decks of the last training program – Express Online Accelerator took place.

It was planned that the online program would start on October 17, but on the same day there was a massive rocket attack across the territory of Ukraine, so for the sake of safety, the start of the program was postponed to October 18. The Express Online Accelerator is designed to develop and scale existing social enterprises that continue to operate within the country and to create positive social change by responding to the challenges of war. This is already the second educational program that was implemented in cooperation with the international organization 1to4 Foundation.

“When this spring we held a grant competition and started mentoring support for 13 social enterprises, we encountered for the first time new issues, topics and problems such as maintenance and development of an enterprise in such a crisis period. It was the work with social enterprises that directly helped us to form the pool of necessary skills and abilities of a modern entrepreneur, who continues to develop social business in the conditions of war. Subsequently, we created and implemented an accelerator that fills this need” – Alyona Kalibaba, co-founder of SILab Ukraine and CEO of the Ukrainian Social Venture Fund.

Having conducted a survey among active Ukrainian social enterprises in the first days of the full-scale invasion, SILab team understood their needs and was able to create a program that would provide the necessary knowledge and practical skills.

Main thematic blocks were as follows:

  1. Access to international markets
  2. Finances
  3. Changing the marketing strategy in war conditions
  4. Changes in Ukrainian legislation on conducting business during wartime
  5. Business scaling
  6. Social impact during the war

Due to the barbaric actions of Russia, a lot of critical social problems have arisen that require an urgent solution. The entire Ukrainian business is being transformed in order to respond to these challenges while the concept of social entrepreneurship in the information space has lost its clear outlines.

In total, SILab received 34 applications for the accelerator, but only 20 projects were admitted to the training, which clearly met the requirements for the implementation of activities and confirmation of social impact in the previous months of activity. This approach allowed to admit to training only those projects that are 100% social enterprises, and not simply businesses with corporate social responsibility.

Brief information on the social impact of program participants:

14.3% SEs work with eco issues – recycling, ecotourism

19% SEs organise camps and leisure activities for children and youth (also from IDPs families)

23.8% SEs work in the medical and health areas (providing access to services and goods)

23.8% SEs employ people from vulnerable categories as well as people with disabilities

19% SEs produce food products (healthy or instant cooking)

In the process of training, social enterprises underwent individual consultations, were constantly under mentor support and had the opportunity to communicate with each other.

“The accelerator did the most important thing – experts and trainers helped to see and build the development strategy of “It’s Craft” for the coming years. We hesitated between three strategies. The franchise idea was growing into partner stores in Lviv and Kyiv. Thanks to the mentors, we saw the risks of the scaling model through franchising. Instead, we reverted to our old thinking of producing our own goods. We have already started negotiations with the masters of our “community of creators” and are confident that by March we will be able to show the market a new face of an authentic Ukrainian souvenir. Ukrainian souvenir is a rather vague concept today, full of stereotypes about us as a nation. Therefore, it is important not only for the economic stability of the enterprise, but for the country as a whole” – Victoriia, participant of the accelerator and founder of the social enterprise “It’s Craft”


Demo day in war conditions

During the implementation of the program, we repeatedly encountered unusual challenges that arose as a result of the actions of the Russian occupiers. In addition to the fact that we had to postpone the start of the accelerator by one day due to the shelling, on November 15 the largest missile attack since February 24, 2022 took place. More than 95 rockets were launched on the territory of Ukraine and on our cities. Although our defenders did everything possible to shoot them down, about 25 rockets still hit their targets that included residential buildings, public institutions and energy facilities.

As a result, 40% of the territories of Ukraine remained without electricity and communication. It was not possible to hold the Demo Day on November 17. However, we waited for the restoration of the power supply network and held a presentation of the projects on November 22, although during the event some participants still remained without electricity and connection. Nevertheless, their motivation helped them find solutions and present the results of their training.

After the presentation of the pitch decks, the expert jury selected three finalists, who received financial assistance for promotion and engagement of consulting services to optimize the company’s activities.

 The finalists were:

  1. The cafe Horizontal in the city of Dnipro is a place for sale of products made in the MAMA1 bakery, where women who suffered from domestic violence are employed.
  2. The social enterprise “GoYra!” is organizing active leisure time in nature for children. The team is improving the psycho-emotional and physical condition of children through outdoor activities.
  3. Green for you FOOD is a city farm where craft fruits and canned vegetables are produced. The social enterprise isproviding ready-made food to people who suffered from the military aggression of the Russian Federation and are in difficult living conditions.

All three social enterprises received 10,000 hryvnias each for marketing and consulting services.

“It was important for us to conduct an acceleration program despite everything that is happening around. After all, when you move forward – despite shelling, lack of electricity, restrictions in daily habits, you feel that life goes on. And you can plan and control it, no matter how difficult it may seem. This feeling is shared not only by members of the SILab Ukraine team, but also by the participants of the acceleration program. For our team, the accelerator became a small but important contribution to the development of the social economy of Ukraine. After all, the teams received certain knowledge and motivation to move on. To work, develop their businesses and change the country’s life for the better” – Anna Gulevska-Chernysh, co-founder and Chairman of the Board of SILab Ukraine