Ukraine Response Program
23. February 2023 – Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, more than eight million people have fled the country and millions more have been displaced within the country. To meet these challenges, the non-profit organisation (NPO) Phineo from Berlin set up a pilot programme last year to support Ukrainian start-up teams who want to counter the war with their ideas. Startups that are working on solutions to the aftermath of war, for example the refugee crisis, the reconstruction of Ukraine, and overcoming the food crises, could apply for the "Ukraine Response Program". This project is unique: "We support for- and non-profit organisations; what counts is the intended impact. We support ideas that help solve crises,” says Franka Ismer, Senior Program Manager at Phineo Startups.
Since November 2022, the first ten thematically very different start-up teams have been supported by the non-profit consultancy Phineo. The project is funded by donations. The Berlin business network Partner für Berlin with over 240 companies from business, science, research, sport and culture, has also made 100,000 euros available for this purpose. The money is used to finance weekly mentoring meetings. also pitch, network and community events and many other events as well as the placement of founders with Phineo network partners. The teams have enough space in a co-working space on Paul-Lincke-Ufer to further develop the planned organisations. And every startup was assigned a coach right from the start.
The startups are thematically diverse and represented across all industries. In the area of health, mexb.ai is developing an artificial intelligence-based app that can be a first port of call for mental health problems. Especially in light of a lack of therapists and appointments, the Mental Health App can bridge waiting times and provide initial support.
The chatbot offers features like a journal you can keep with text or voice, mood tracking, mental wellbeing tests, and personalised reminders. Via the community function, users can anonymously ask other users for advice or support. Of course, in the long term contact with therapists should be established.
One of the two founders of mexbai is 31-year-old Kseniia Teslenko, who comes from Ukraine but came to Germany in 2013 to study. At the beginning of the war she worked as a translator for refugees and later as a language mediator in a psychology practice. There she experienced the psychological consequences of war and wanted to help: "In Ukraine, about 60 percent of the population suffers from various mental health difficulties. The searching and waiting for professional help can cause additional stress and distress. Even in Germany, the waiting time averages some 140 days due to the shortage of therapists. Our chatbot provides instant personalised support and is accessible 24/7."
45-year-old Maria Kalenskaya founded the startup Palyanytsya: Bake for Ukraine with three other colleagues. They collect donations to ensure the food supply for the people in Ukraine. The aim is also to promote the Ukrainian bread culture and to use the donated money to finance bakeries in Ukraine. They bake bread, which in turn is given free of charge to people in need. As part of the concept, flour is purchased from Ukrainian farmers, supporting the entire supply chain from farmer to baker to consumer. The most commonly bread baked is Palyanytsya, a traditional mild white wheat bread in a round shape. The project has already been launched and implemented: "We have been able to collect about 84,000 euros so far and have provided over 100,000 tonnes of bread for people in need. We run Bake for Ukraine without
any financial compensation for ourselves,” says Maria Kalenskaya, who was born in Odessa.
The project in Berlin receives support above all from Florian Domberger, a well-known neighbourhood baker from Moabit, who, in addition to financial help, also makes his bakery available so that breads can be baked for events etc. For example, these loaves were offered and the project was promoted at the G7 Summit and the Federal Press Ball.
Maria Kalenskaya: "Bread means hope. Every time we see pictures from Ukraine of bakers enjoying their craft despite the circumstances and grateful people receiving their bread, we feel empowered to continue with our work.”
The start-up GUTEmission – Café Ukraine has set itself the task of bringing Ukrainians in Germany together by creating cultural and protected places where Ukrainian culture can be lived out. Nataliia Kovalenko, 42, is one of the co-founders and came to Germany in March 2022: "The story of GUTEmission is very closely interwoven with our personal story. We fled Ukraine, came to a new country and felt alone - without a future, without German language skills, without financial independence, far away from family and friends. Our project gives people the energy to carry on and a feeling that they are at home. People of different nationalities come to Café Ukraine, are happy to be our guests and feel at home.”
Integration is eased through workshops, networking, team building, training, coaching and psychological support. With the support of the Berliner Stadtmission, a first café was able to open at Alexanderplatz, where Ukrainians can meet, cook, eat together, make music and hold creative workshops for children. This has been gratefully accepted by the community in the capital: "Café Ukraine accelerates the integration of refugees into German society, helps them learn the language and find work. We want to be a model for other German cities and build strong support networks for possible refugee crises," says Nataliia Kovalenko, who comes from Mariupol.
Phineo is just beginning the new application phase for the next ten startups, which will be supported in a 6-month incubator programme from June. Anyone who is interested can find out more on the website www.phineo.org.