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Hey, share a bit about yourself

I’m Veronika Lindorenko. I’m not the type to get discouraged, you know? Even with all the crap going on around me, I try to stay strong mentally and physically and keep pushing forward.

Professionally, I’ve basically been a marketing specialist most of my life. I always dreamed of being an artist or designer though.

Recently I took a risk and created this community called “U Hub”. I’m kinda trying out this new role as a co-founder and president of the foundation and community. It’s still pretty technical and I.T.-focused though. I haven’t changed fields drastically yet, but a girl can dream! I often think about what I’d have to do to be truly happy, you know? To feel like I’m totally in the right place at the right time, doing stuff that gets me pumped. I guess that path is still coming together.

What made you decide to emigrate?

Well, it was a pretty typical 2020 situation – the protests and then imprisonment for like 10 days. After I got out, the cops started calling me into the station to “get to the bottom” of my small business. Probably they would have if I hadn’t left the country.

My ex at the time was running this aggressive political blog. Cops wrote him threats like “We’ll find you, we’ll come kill you.” We lived on the first floor in Osmolovka [district in the heart of Minsk – Ed.] and it was scary thinking someone could bust in.

Before jail I wasn’t too worried, but after it was way scarier. That’s when I realized how things really worked. My ex Klim was involved in political campaigns too. People told him “Get outta here, it’s time to leave”. His team moved abroad but he stayed in Belarus. So we decided to go to Kyiv, Ukraine for a couple weeks – to chill and see how it goes. Eventually, those 2 weeks turned into 2 years. A lot happened in that time and no way am I going back.

Why’d you end up in Poland?

Why Poland? I lived in Ukraine, in Odesa, near the sea. It’s cool there, life is quite relaxed. It’s a resort town, but because people are relaxed, there are questions.

Well, I was living in Odessa, Ukraine for a bit – right on the sea. Super chill spot, with real resort vibes. But that’s what is suspicious about it, you know?

I just didn’t feel like I was ready to put down roots there long-term, even before the war (and we moved to Ukraine before the war). People don’t trust the government at all, so they avoid taxes. That means stuff like utilities don’t work well and other problems.

One winter when it was freezing, some power lines got broken and we lost electricity for like a week. And everyone was OK with that! Also, seeing all the cultural-heritage buildings, like 19th-century or smth, crumbling cuz there’s no money was kinda sad.

I had a good bunch of friends, acquaintances, and definitely the whole IT community in Poland. So I thought like I’d have way more connections there compared to Odesa since that sphere isn’t well-developed in Odesa.

I found out about the Poland Business Harbour visa for IT specialists. I worked in IT so I decided to apply. Living in the EU seemed fun, I’d thought about it but just never went for it. Gotta thank Lukashenko for that haha.

Veronika, photo “Not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow”

What were you up to before you moved?

I’ll speak about work since daily life is pretty similar for everyone. In the last few years before moving, I was at a well-known Belarusian AgTech startup called OneSoil and taught at the “IT Princess” school.

In April 2020, I left that startup and started my own business. I opened up a sole proprietorship in June and started consulting for Belarusian and russian startups like HypeTrain (ex-EasyBloggers), MyVo, Happyo, Samespace, Emogine, Phygit, and more. I also tried to launch a series of lectures on Growth Marketing for startups (that was my MVP for the marketing course) and made lectures for Artonist, Shirkina School, and ProWomen. I left the country with two ongoing projects, so I felt relatively fine knowing I’d have some income flow for a while.

Before the protests, I took a course on mobile design. I dropped it in August cause of the protests and took the same UX & UI Mobile Design course at this Belarusian school called UX Mind.

When I went to the course, I thought that I would be a cool designer, as I dreamed of being since university. On the course, we were allowed to make our own projects. I made an app about plant exchange and care for plants in my ideas for a long time. As a result, during the course, I started to make my own application, which I later called SwaPlants.

When I started the course, I thought it would be so cool to become a designer, which I’d dreamed about since university. We could create our own projects within the course and I’ve had this idea of an app about exchanging and taking care of plants for ages. So I ended up designing my own app during the class, which later became SwaPlants.

The design part wasn’t going smoothly for me (working pixel-perfect and mocking up screens is not my thing really), but developing the app concept, working through functionality, and doing user research went awesome. That’s when I realized again that I wanted to have my own startup where I wouldn’t just be a designer but run the whole thing. I wanted to be a founder even after I left OneSoil, but at the time I didn’t think I could actually start building an app myself.

What do you do now?

When I got to Poland, the Belarus-based startup I’d worked with to launch on Product Hunt inspired me to start my own startup community here. There was nothing like that in Warsaw at the time, but the founders wanted to connect, hang out, and find teammates – to evolve themselves, ya know? I’d run lectures, consulted startups, and organized meetups and hackathons in Minsk before, so I guess that’s why they asked me to build a community. So I went for it and actually did it.

I moved at end of April and we had our first meetups in May. And it went on and on. At the same time, I still had my plant startup going and was consulting to earn for living. Everything apart from consulting was mostly for fun – serious in terms of the product, but no real prospect of making money down the line.

Eventually, I dropped the plant project and decided to just focus on the community and consulting. The community seemed more promising and important than my home plant swap app. I could see real demand and knew I had to keep at it.

The community helped me meet great people, join the Polish IT community, and learn a lot about the Warsaw startupworld. I was kinda “touching” the social environment as a new immigrant in the country.

Veronika, photo “Not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow”

When you say “community,” you mean U Hub, right? Tell us about that whole thing

Yeah, the U Hub. We do not just provide services. At this stage, we don’t charge for our services. We mainly just answer questions from what we already know or what we have in the documents. Or what our community members can share from their experience. That’s the power of community – someone asks a question, and whoever knows, addresses it. You can find answers to complicated issues really fast by reaching out to the right people.

Our community is super-friendly and supportive. One can get answers faster within the U Hub community than from some overpriced consultant. It’s like an aggregated database from everyone’s minds.

The whole thing runs on kindness, love, and mutual support. I know it sounds cheesy but for real – I love helping people and I found a niche where I can do that.

We actually just won a grant, so U Hub gonna get financing soon. And I will be able to satisfy my need to help.

What’s your mission?

Our mission is to allow a soft landing for startups in a new country by leveraging the power of the community and our developments. The community consists of Belarusian emigrants in Poland – about 96% of startups are from Belarus. But we are also open to funder from Ukraine and Russia. We realize that those who emigrate are those who don’t support Putin, Lukashenko and all the other orcs. That’s why we allow startups with different backgrounds and try to make it easier for them to turn around and start doing business here. We help them with finding people who will close legal issues, accounting for them. We also tell them how to find investors, where to go to pump up their skills – gas pedals, incubators and what to read. In short, we are like Chip and Dale for those who came to Poland with their innovative idea.

Our goal is to make the transition for startups coming to a new country smooth. As a community, we use our knowledge, experience, and know-hows to make it happen. The community consists of Belarusian immigrants to Poland mostly – 96% of the startups have Belarusian roots. But we’re open to founders from Ukraine and russia as well. We understand that those who escape are the ones who don’t support putin, lukashenko, and the rest of those war criminals. So we welcome startups of all backgrounds and wanna make it easier for them to hit the ground running here. We help them find people to handle legal and accounting issues, for instance. We also tell them how to find investors, reccomend good accelerators, incubators, and content for leveling up their skills. Basically, we’re like Chip and Dale helping innovative ideas to find their place here in Poland.

How many projects reach out to you for help basically?

If we look at our startup database, we had around 60 on the list 6 months ago. Recently we had some pitch sessions and added like 40 more startups. So the total is 100 at the moment. Those are the ones we’ve helped take root here in one way or another. Let’s call it 100 clients I guess. But I don’t really think of them as “clients” – they’re friends.

We’ve got a private club of founders to meet up – share problems, set goals, say who needs help and where they’re at, where to go next, etc. It’s more like friends helping friends, not that official. Like if someone asks “How do I find investors?” I drop them a list of investors I know. That’s generally how mutual assistance happens.

It’s hard to track effectiveness because of that. But I wanna find some way to measure it – I’m really into metrics motivation, that’s important.

When you run something voluntarily for 2 years, you need motivation. For me, knowing I’m helping people and meeting their needs keeps me going.

Veronika, photo “Not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow”

What’s been the most fun or innovative product you’ve seen?

Of the dope ones I’d call innovative…

AmaCare – it’s mainly about figuring out what’s in cosmetics from pics. The app tells you what a cream is for, its pros and cons, skin types it works with – all that. I’m not super into it but it’s pretty cool. Soon we’ll have AI choosing products specifically for your face. Now, the app can only identify products from photos with computer vision – you snap a pic of some beauty product and the app tells you about it.

Crumpler (ex-U Crop) that started as part of OneSoil before it split off from U Crop. OneSoil was super innovative, analyzing satellite data to make vegetation indexes showing plant and soil health. All done with ML-algorithms trained on user data and public info.

U Crop is like IoT for agriculture – multispectral AI-powered weather sensors that collect data from fields with RGB and NDVI photos. They aggregate that data into useful insights for farmers. Sensors transmit real-time info about the plants right from the field so you know what’s up with crops, at what stage it is, if the crops need special treatment, all that. It’s 100% innovative since it uses next level AI-algorithms. Each plant and leaf is carefully monitored! Agriculture is pretty conservative and moves slowly so it’s cool when a new technology emerges. And the most important is that it helps the environment – farmers reduce soil erosion and pollution by using less fertilizer and therefore, conserve soil.

There’s a social impact too. Farmers suffer when crops fail since it hits the food supply. Many people suffer from starvation these days, so regular supplies are important.

Btw the production of these sensors is eco-friendly as well. They are printed on 3D printers to cut down on manufacturing costs.

Next is CenterMe App – it’s all about fighting anxiety for women. The programs in the app use cognitive behavioral psychology techniques. There are physical and mental exercises to overcome anxiety. It’s made by a couple of girls for other girls. Using those practices may help you lower your medication and decrease the number of sessions with psychologists or psychiatrists you have.

Obtain is the app for fast video concepts creation and optimization with AI. You don’t have to draw dozens of concepts forever – the AI handles it. A lot of the work animators and creative copywriters do gets scrapped because trends change quickly and often concepts don’t deliver. With Obtain, you can just prototype creative concepts with AI! I think it’s actually kinda humanistic for the creative professionals. I’d be burned out in a month if most of my work got tossed.

And finally Phygit that mixes the real world and virtual. It uses QR codes and NFC tags on actual products – you scan ’em and get info about the item. After scanning, a website pops up on your phone. All the product details are interactive. You can engage with the product by leaving comments, learning how to use it, and finding similar obese. I’m into knowing more about what I eat – learn where the product was grown, what to pair it with, read recipes, etc. So I dig this project. And it’ll be part of our everyday life soon, just everywhere.

Can a product or project be both socially conscious and eco-friendly?

Sure! There’s a bunch of projects I didn’t mention. But in our capitalist world, everyone wants money-making projects, and social and green ones are a different niche. If they don’t get grants or support, or investors don’t see business potential, they can die off unfortunately.

Random question. We’re on the threshold of this new tech world – how do you see the future shaking out?

When I studied in the UK, I took a Digital Media class where we explored what future would hold for us. Those engaged in technologies need to get where things are heading. A lot of futurists base their vision of the future on sci-fi like Strugatsky, Lem, or Jules Verne. Even “Back to the Future” predicted a lot that’s happening now.

What I envision… I assume AI and robots will fuse. Hear me out – some think it already exists but nah. There’s a robot – a hand performing tasks or algorithms – but with no intelligence. Now there are nurse bots treating people, food delivery bots – but those have small brains still. AI like Siri that talks to humans isn’t combined with robots yet. People fear a Terminator-style rebellion from mass culture. But, as Isaac Asimov wrote, robots would rather have rules and as long as rules are respected, they’ll be cool. To me it’s a sociology study – give robots intelligence as they develop, like kids, and see if they become friends or aspire to power. Maybe one day, a robot thinks like “Humans s*ck, I can crush them with one hand”. Because we as human-beings can be illogical, rude, and provoke.

Then comes human robotization and life extension. It’s not about prosthetic limbs – that’s already a common practice. It’s more about improving brain function like curing dementia, chips replacing damaged brain parts, or organ replacements.

And I think robotic fashion could be dope! Add an arm or extra eye just because it looks fly. Phones are already an arm extension btw. But cracking the DNA code is when the real problem begins.

And you know what? I love Futurama! I wish we had tubes transporting people. Sometimes you’re too lazy to go anywhere, ya know? Better transportation would rule. Ideally more eco, ’cause Warsaw air is heavily polluted. That would be great.

And I think it would be cool to have a robotic fashion where you can add an arm or another eye. Just because it’s beautiful. We already have a phone that’s an extension of an arm, but when we add something to a leg or crack the DNA code, that’s when the real change will begin.

Veronika, photo “Not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow”

Aren’t you worried the future will be all neon with no place for natural stuff?

Honestly, I don’t think it’s gonna be that hardcore Blade Runner vibes and all that. You can already see people getting back to nature. Folks care more about what they eat. Even new neighborhoods have green spaces and landscaping.

Why was the future portrayed as neon? I dunno…maybe people were freaked about what was coming. I see crypto, NFTs – it’s all artificial, digital art. People worried that artists would have no value. Nah. We still crave physical, tangible stuff. We like touching and seeing, right?

I think there’s gonna be more digital hype but it won’t be terrifying. For me, it’s scary when everything is cold and lifeless.

Belarus had a strong IT community if I remember right – what do you think caused that?

Indeed, there was a strong IT community. The first thing that influenced it was that we had a high training base for engineers. That’s what they used to be called. Now they’re software developers. In the Soviet Union, they were trained to work in factories. And we have BSUIR, BNTU and BSU, but specifically BSUIR – it has a good training program, they teach those skills that future programmers need. And as one person said: “It’s sad that Belarusian programmers were trained to work in factories”.

There was for sure a strong scene. First off, we had solid engineering training programs – that’s what they called developers back in the day. In the soviet union they trained engineers for factory work. So we had schools like BSUIR, BNTU, and BSU. And BSUIR specifically has good and up-to-date curriculum. As someone said – it’s so sad Belarusian programmers were prepped for factories.

Second is the Hi-Tech Park and tax breaks. Уntrepreneurs were no longer scared to launch their IT companies and lose a lot on income taxes.

Third is community power, no doubt. The vibe was like “It’s none of my business but I got your back.” And that’s just manifested in the way these communities have grown.

Maybe it’s also that we know how to work with clients well. IT took off because we sold services hard.

Responsibility, clear communication, reasonable prices – that enabled growth too.

Even compared to other countries’ devs. Many don’t want Indian code and tha’t not a stereotype, like for real. Belarus had good talent and conditions so companies leveled up. I think all those factors fed the IT success.

Veronika, photo “Not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow”

What’s the deal with the Belarusian IT scene now?

Frankly speaking, I’ve kinda stopped what is going on in Belarus that much. It’s like I have a blackout screen in front of my eyes as if nothing is happening there.

It’s weird to me if someone continue runnin their IT biz in Belarus. IT is the easiest to relocate. Why stay and pay taxes? We know where that money goes – not to doctors or my mther. That’s a question every emigrant asks…why do colleagues still work there?

Lots of people left for different reasons. For instance, PandaDoc. A bunch of IT people protested right in the Hi-Tech Park [after the election fraud in 2020 in Belarus – ed.] and were detained. They supported the protests a lot, donated, defended their employees, and built platforms.

Or it might happened so that most of the employees moved abroad on their own and the company had no choice but to relocate as well.

Third is war [russia’s war afainst Ukraine – ed.] IT specalists work with US-based companies and sell their products to Western markets. They couldn’t even make basic payments. Services were blocked, there was no way to either send or receive money. And since Belarus is russia’s friend and co-aggressor, many companies don’t want to work with you if you have an office in Belarus.

And it’s actually banned to make chat rooms and gatherings. How are you supposed to move forward with no right to get together and communicate?

What is the role of a woman in IT?

Nowadays it’s more or less okay now. But in 2012 when I started, not to generalize but just speaking personally, it was a little tough for me. Tons of dudes and sexism everywhere yo know? Now there’s more women but particularly development is still male-heavy.

It’s a complex problem that girls often don’t pursue developer roles. Depends on societal prejudices, media portrayals, and of course upbringing. In conservative Poland I think this is also the case.

But back to me:) 2012. I come to work – only men. They do not have humanitarian education, the issue of gender is not raised there. Lots of sexism, jokes about being a woman, etc. A marketer? Why are they even needed? Although without marketing you can’t sell a service. I felt pressured, by men. But since I had guy friends, since I was a teenager, I got over that situation quickly.

But let’s get back to me 🙂 It’s 2012 and I show up at work. And there’s no one but men all around. I see guys with no liberal arts education and therefore no gender discourse happening like at all. Lots of sexist jokes and comments about being a woman. A marketer, what’s that even needed for? While you can’t sell a service without marketing! I felt majorly pressured by the men. But snce i had guy friends growing up, I got over it pretty quickly.

When I studied in the UK, we used to call everyone “she” by default. And then I come back to Belarus and get asked like “You’re a woman, can you do anything?” – straight up like this. It’s 2017, you must be kidding me. You’d suggest something, get ignored, then a dude suggests the same thing – and it’s a “great idea!”

It’s because society miss that layer of feminist studies, at least simply knowing we have equal rights. Men feel fine insulting you for your gender and not hearing you out.

I stood up against it, argued, and organized workplace protests. But some women were oddly okay with it, just got flirty and moved on. That surprised me. So what I was trying to teach girls at IT Princess school, at ProWomen, and as a Women in Tech ambassador, is to promote equality in work and life. Some women get aggressively on men’s level, but I don’t want to change myself to be heard by men.

IT is still male-dominated in many aspects and positions, though some related profession emerged and the space was shared with lots of women. But leadership favors men. Why still so. Idk. Complex reasons need more study. I think it’s education and gender bias.

Veronika, photo “Not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow”

So it seems like you didn’t have issues set up you business, right?

Nah. Everyone says they had a bunch of problems but I didn’t really. I opened a personal bank account and registered my sole proprietorship with the help from the community. They also gave me contacts of an accountant who handled the paperwork.

Are there big differences between doing business in Poland vs Belarus? Or is IT pretty similar across borders?

Taxes are way different here. There are four types of taxation in Poland. In Belarus it was chill for IT companies to work on a simplified tax system with low rates for the industry. But it seems like they’ve already cancelled those benefits in Belarus.

Income tax rates for sole proprietorship were about the same here in Poland as in Belarus when I compared. That was before Belarus changed it up though. I’m switching to the standard tax now and gonna pay 12% instead of 15%.

Nuances: the “Social Security Fund” is more expensive here. There are more expensive lawyers, accounting. But it was easier for me to pay the company than to sort it all out myself.

Social security is higher in Poland. Legal and accounting is more expensive. But it was easier for me to just pay a firm instead of figuring it all out myself.

Renting a workspace is costly too. Lots of small IT companies rent coworking spots or just work from home, which is cheaper than renting a whole office. Many employees pushed for salary bumps because of the higher cost of living in Poland compared to Belarus. Word is it’s tough for Belarus companies to get loans too.

We have to admit IT isn’t evolving as quick here as it was in Belarus, but it is steadily growing.

One last question – what pitfalls should early startups avoid? And what do you wish for new startups?

Hiring a bad CTO (tech talent) is a bad idea. If you don’t get the technical side right (and startups are built on tech) you won’t launch your first MVP to get funding.

Co-found with someone with the same superpowers as you. If you have gaps in knowledge or experience, fill those weak spots with partners.

If your team is weak with no way to improve, wrap it up. Close the project if you personally don’t have the juice. You can replace team members but not the founder. The founder leads the startup.

Main thing with startups – every screw up is just a phase you can recover from and get the product back on track 🙂 Don’t fear making mistakes.

My wishes for new startups – believe in your thing fully and pivot hard if you go off course [pivoting is about making a sharp change in the direction of a startup in order to further develop it and maintain viability – ed.] Have your guiding light, whether it’s saving the world, being the sickest founder, making bank and owning islands, or proving to haters you’re awesome. Recharge yourself hanging with fellow founders sometimes and networking offline. Don’t be scared to pitch, ask for real feedback, try different growth hacks. It all pays off as cool insights eventually.

When it’s tough, hit up the U Hub community to find kindred biz spirits as you are.

And dip back into regular life full of beauty and people – it grounds and supports you.