Why These Ukrainian Entrepreneurs Are Making LA Their Home

Aisha Counts
Aisha Counts is a business reporter covering the technology industry. She has written extensively about tech giants, emerging technologies, startups and venture capital. Before becoming a journalist she spent several years as a management consultant at Ernst & Young.
Why These Ukrainian Entrepreneurs Are Making LA Their Home
Joey Mota

Fleeing war and chasing new opportunities, more than a dozen Ukrainian entrepreneurs have landed in Los Angeles, finding an unexpected community in the city of dreams. These entrepreneurs have started companies that are collectively worth more than $300 million, in industries ranging from electric vehicle charging stations to audience monetization platforms to social networks.

Dot.LA spent an evening with this group of Ukrainian citizens, learning what it was like to build startups in Ukraine, to cope with the unimaginable fear of fleeing war, and to garner the resilience to rebuild.

Andrew Skrypnyk, CEO of learning platform Promova, decided to enter tech after being awed by 3D graphics on a computer. He went on to spend time in a variety of software development roles, learning more than 20 programming languages in the process. Artem Kudymovskyy, co-founder and CCO of software development firm ITRex Group, similarly became inspired when he saw his first personal computer and met a former programmer who taught him to code.

Others took more winding paths. Vlad Klimchuk studied biomedical engineering and then became one of Ukraine’s highest-grossing filmmaker before switching into tech and co-founding image-based social network TLPRT. Dana Sydorenko spent time as a military paramedic and created Ukraine’s best army supply company before co-founding GameTree with John Uke.

Despite taking different paths, what these founders share is a passion and ingenuity for solving their own problems and developing creative solutions.

For instance, when Oleksiy Malytskyy first moved to Los Angeles, had a difficult time finding an apartment which led him to co-found co-living startup Sota. When Alexey Menshikov, a former sound designer, became frustrated that the gaming company he worked for wouldn’t accept his ideas, he decided to start Beatshapers, his own company in immersive gaming.

Alexey Menshikov -Beatshapers, Oleksandr Gamaniuk -tarta.aiJoey Mota

The sense of resilience and adaptability these entrepreneurs share is exactly what investors look for in startup founders.

“Startup life is really hard. And it's a grind to go from a zero to a one and to have something that's just a concept, or an idea and bootstrap that and build it and get to a place where you're actually making money,” said Brandon Gerson, a former entrepreneur turned venture partner at Expert Dojo and angel investor in Primeclass.

Starting a tech company isn’t easy being with, but in Ukraine it’s especially hard. Ukraine’s challenging history includes the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, numerous financial crises, and of course the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine amongst other events.

Each of these events caused the economy to sink, businesses to collapse and access to capital to dry up. Over the years Ukraine’s annual GDP has swung wildly as result, from highs of 10%+ annual GDP growth to lows of -20% growth. Ukrainian founders not only face the normal challenges of managing a startup, but have the added pressures of navigating rapidly shifting economic conditions.

The limited number of venture capital firms in the country also means access to capital is hard to come by, and thus harder to scale.

This wasn’t always the case: Ukraine was broadly known for having a thriving tech scene before the war. Between 2015 and 2016 for instance, investors pumped more than $200 million into startups and Ukraine’s IT outsourcing sector was worth billions.

Pavlo Shlapak - Phygit, Alexey Menshikov -Beatshapers, Vlad Klimchuk-TLPRT Pavlo Shlapak - Phygit, Alexey Menshikov -Beatshapers, Vlad Klimchuk TLPRT Joey Mota

But as Sydorenko, the paramedic turned GameTree co-founder, put it, “at some point Ukraine has limits.” Not only is it difficult to raise money in Ukraine, but “you will never be able to build a publicly traded company over there because this market does not exist,” she said.

Although Sydorenko and her team were able to build a social network in Ukraine that now has over 500,000 users, fundraising was difficult. It wasn’t until moving to Los Angeles that they were able to raise a significant amount of money: $650,000 in their most recent round.

By virtue of being from Ukraine then, these entrepreneurs naturally have resilience and adaptability in spades. “Someone who comes from Ukraine and having gone through what those folks have gone through, I don't even mean just in the war, just in history, they're prepared in a way that most of the folks are not,” said Brian MacMahon, whose accelerator Expert Dojo has invested in more than 200 startups across Africa, Latin America, and India among other regions.

Now the Russia-Ukraine war has threatened to dismantle the country’s tech industry as infrastructure is destroyed, internet access and electricity are cut off, and tech companies and their workers flee.

Even still, Ukrainian tech workers are carrying on in astounding fashion.

One Ukranian man, who was locked in his dimly lit basement for weeks, carried on programming and coding even while bombs were going off overhead, said Kudymovskyy, as an illustration of Ukrainian resolve.

By some estimates nearly 90 to 95% of all startups fail, but in the experience of Pavlo Shlapak, founder of Phygit, which creates digital experiences for physical products, the survival rate for Ukrainian startups is significantly higher. “And that's because we can adapt, we have a positive mind, great sense of humor, and it's a super valuable source actually in crisis situations,” he said.

For Ukrainian founders then, relocating and building a startup in sunny Los Angeles, is almost easy by comparison. Access to capital is plentiful, networking opportunities abound and the Los Angeles tech community is thriving.

Despite being separated by more than six thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean, several Ukrainians saw parallels between Odessa, Ukraine and Los Angeles for example.

“Odessa is the most diverse city in Ukraine,” said Primeclass founder Ivan Kovpak, who noted the connection between his hometown and Los Angeles. Kovpak, Skrypnyk and Kudymovskyy agreed that both cities possess comparable climates, proximity to water and similar levels of openness and diversity.

Ivan Kovpak, Primeclass founderJoey Mota

“In California, everybody kind of likes Silicon Valley, but there's something very special about this place,” said Kudymovskyy, a former consultant who moved to Los Angeles in 2012 before starting his own firm ITRex Group. Kudymovskyy also said that diversity and access to different ideas can actually make startups more successful.

The culture of creativity and storytelling was one of the main appeals of relocating to Los Angeles, according to several founders. More than one joked that Ukrainians are not the best salesmen or marketing gurus. But living in the filmmaking and content creation capital of the world, they now had the perfect combination of storytelling and tech.

The combination of a U.S. founder with sales experience and “a founder from Ukraine who will develop a product is the killer combination,” said Malytskyy, co-founder of Sota.

Other founders agreed. “I think the combination of Ukraine and LA is our key of success,” said Sydorenko. “If you take almost any company, you have developers in Ukraine, you test your product in Ukraine, and you have people who create networking and promote your product in LA, any sort of company will be successful,” she said.

Although it may seem more obvious to build a startup in Silicon Valley rather than Los Angeles, several founders thought otherwise.

“It makes perfect sense that if you want to build a startup, you think that San Francisco is the spot,” Sydorenko added. “But actually it's the worst place to build because the cost per developer is extremely high [and] you need to compete with the biggest companies in the market,” she said.

Omar Zhandarbekuly, Yevgen Arutyunyan - AEV charging, Oleksyy Malytskyy - Go SotaJoey Mota

Plus as more Silicon Valley investors open offices in the city and startups relocate their headquarters, Los Angeles is quickly becoming a new tech capital in its own right, said Menshikov.

In many ways Los Angeles was the perfect landing spot for this group of entrepreneurs. But as the Russia-Ukraine war rages on, many of the founders can’t help but feel the tug of home.

They each grappled with the dual responsibility and tension of building successful startups in the U.S., while still supporting their country and taking care of friends, family and employees back home.

Founders often find themselves helping colleagues find shelter and safe places to work back in Ukraine or working to relocate family members. At times this can mean ceasing startup operations to assist with the war.

“Every Ukrainian is in one way or the other contributing to the war,” whether they are on the front lines or not, said Malytskyy, who organized a resistance group inside of Russia at the start of the war.

For the founders, this often means using money as a form of resistance.

“We also fight on the economical front,” said Skrypnyk. In his mind they are financial soldiers, helping to wage war by beefing up the Ukrainian economy, sending monetary support to the military and propping up families and businesses.

Although these founders have physically left Ukraine, they brought with them their country’s sense of resilience, humor, purpose and passion. For now, Los Angeles is home, but the spirit of Ukraine lives on.

🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.


Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle

Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out

Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities

Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo

SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours

Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch

Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.

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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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