Enterprise Innovation Institute Hosts Foreign Entrepreneurs Through U.S. State Department Program

ATLANTA — In the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, Yevhen Popov is something of an information warrior.

Popov is director of civic partnerships and research with Osavul, a Kyiv, Ukraine-based information security startup founded in 2022.

Using artificial intelligence, the company’s software allows governments, non-government organizations, media, and other private sector clients to collect and analyze data from online networks and platforms to fight disinformation and cyberattacks. It launched just as war broke out in Ukraine.

Group photo
Entrepreneurs from around the world were at Georgia Tech as part of a program through the U.S. Department of State designed to help them successfully build their ecosystems in their home countries and scale their businesses. (PHOTO: Chris Ruggiero)

“The invasion was not only on the ground, which was military with military force, but also with the minds of people,” Popov said. “So, with the disinformation attacks happening almost every day — two or three times a day — this is our response to this. It’s a way to guide agencies and businesses to protect them from these harmful narratives, to protect from harm or harmful effects of attacks.”

Popov and 18 other entrepreneurs — mostly from Ukraine but some from other countries, including Sri Lanka, Jordan, Fiji, Botswana, Brazil, and Mongolia — were at Georgia Tech’s Encore for several weeks in May and early June as part of a U.S. Department of State program.

That effort, the Global Innovation through Science and Technology Initiative (GIST), connects innovators from emerging economies who want to scale with faculty experts and ecosystem builders from the U.S. who can help them succeed.

GIST is working with Nakia Melecio, who heads the Innovation Lab initiative at Georgia Tech’s economic development arm, the Enterprise Innovation Institute. Melecio has been tapped to lead several GIST-related ecosystem building efforts in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.

While on campus, the entrepreneurs met with campus leaders, researchers, and economic development experts from across Georgia Tech, including the Office of Commercialization, VentureLab, CREATE-X, International Initiatives, and the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s EI2 Global.

“We’ve got the opportunity to share not only our resources, but our best practices to help these innovators not only blaze a trail within their own ecosystems, but also to figure out how to penetrate the U.S.,” Melecio said, adding Georgia Tech is slated to host another cohort of entrepreneurs later in the summer from Egypt.

“We’re super excited here at the Enterprise Innovation Institute to provide the level of coaching and support and access that these founders need so they can be successful and hit their goals.”

The visiting entrepreneurs are just as excited.

“It’s very interesting to be here, because the ecosystem of startups is quite huge in Atlanta and in Georgia,” Popov said. “It’s a good opportunity to be here with people who know what they’re doing and know how they’re doing it.”

Expanding her network and eyeing global expansion drew Ariuntuya Altangerel, co-founder and CEO of Brighton EdTech in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to Georgia Tech.

The language learning startup was founded in 2011 to help facilitate, in an interactive way, mastery of English. Altangerel is exploring if the model can be replicated beyond her home country of 3.3 million people.

“We have a very small population, so for startups, we have no choice but to go global so that they can scale,” she said. Being at Georgia Tech is also giving her and the other GIST-hosted entrepreneurs opportunities to be fully immersed in a successful startup ecosystem.

“In our country, the startup ecosystem is at the seed level. It’s growing faster and faster, but still, there are less opportunities for us to get an investment,” she said. “I just see this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to dive into this ecosystem and learn as much as possible.”

Nevindaree Premarathne is founder and CEO of The Makers in Sri Lanka, a company that aims to inculcate innovation habits in children through hands-on STEM activities and community building. The company has partnered with education institutes, non-government organizations, and private enterprises to reach underprivileged schools and empower female students in STEM.

“We are getting a lot of knowledge from Georgia Tech,” Premarathne said, noting her company ships its activity boxes to 10 countries and is looking to scale.

“As a country, we have a small ecosystem,” she said. “We really want to improve our network here, and seek investment opportunities, and also partnerships, it’s really important for us, because of the space that we are working on in education.”

Learning how to crack the U.S. market is what Vlad Popov sought to achieve for his company, Platma, a two-year-old, no-code software development platform based in Kyiv.

“Our goal specifically is to find investors there and make a partnership that will help us to conquer the USA market,” said Vlad Popov, who serves as Platma’s marketing director.

Driving some of those growth plans is the war in the Ukraine, he said. “The war even accelerated us in this case, because we understand that every day can be the last day, so we work as hard as possible,” he said, noting the team mostly works remotely but workdays are often disrupted by warning sirens, electricity disruptions, and missile strikes.

“Starting a business is good because you give jobs for the people, you pay taxes, you help the economy become strong — it’s important to start a business, even if it’s hard.”