School Opens Doors for Belarusian Technology Entrepreneurs

Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chairman of Facebook, playing Belarus-founded MSQRD.
Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chairman of Facebook, plays Belarus-founded MSQRD.
YouTube screen capture
Graduates have attracted over $7 million in investments
“If you are full of energy and drive to conquer the high-tech world, TechMinsk is a platform that connects you to an international, world-class network of mentors and investors.”

May 2017—A school for high-tech entrepreneurs is making quite an impact in Belarus—and beyond. Facebook recently bought one graduate’s application, and startups continue to grow.

Eugene Nevgen attended the USAID-supported TechMinsk Entrepreneurship School in 2013, and in 2015, together with his friend Sergey Gonchar, gathered a team to participate in the Garage 48 Hackathon in Minsk. The team developed a prototype of the MSQRD (Masquerade) application for face tracking and 3D face placement, which allows users to change the appearance of people during video chats. In less than six months, the application was downloaded 35 million times and was subsequently acquired by Facebook.

MSQRD became one of the most successful startup stories from Belarus. In March 2017, the team released a new camera and mask, which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg modeled (see photo).

TechMinsk has played a role in the creation of several other internationally known startups, such as PandaDoc, the all-in-one solution for client-facing documents; TrackDuck, which tracks bugs for design studios and website masters; Wi-Fi Map, a social network that keeps individual Wi-Fi passports; GanttPRO, which supplies online Gantt chart software for project management; and AltaAI, which provides artificial intelligence chat bots for corporations and financial institutions.

“Being a TechMinsk alumnus opens doors to many international acceleration programs and venture funds. If you are full of energy and drive to conquer the high-tech world, TechMinsk is a platform that connects you to an international, world-class network of mentors and investors,” said Dmitry Kaigorodov, a TechMinsk alumnus and founder of the startup Kuoll. He was selected to accelerate his product at Startup Sauna, one of the best European programs for startups, and at Starta Accelerator in New York.

TechMinsk is a five-week, English-language program that combines educational, mentoring and networking events in eight core areas: entrepreneurship, business development, sales and traction, marketing, legal frameworks, design thinking, negotiations with investors, and business communications. In collaboration with international coaches and mentors, Belarus startups develop business models and prototypes, which they pitch at local and international competitions.

“TechMinsk graduates have already attracted over $7 million in investments. By providing high-quality initiatives that are appealing to venture capitalists and angels, TechMinsk strives to build a venture investment ecosystem and bolster entrepreneurial success in Belarus,” said Tania Marinich, co-founder and CEO of Belbiz, which receives USAID support to run TechMinsk.

The TechMinsk Entrepreneurship School has empowered more than 200 young entrepreneurs since 2013, helping them build over 90 initiatives, many of which have turned into successful startups.

Since 2010, USAID has supported activities to boost entrepreneurship and develop a startup support infrastructure in Belarus by strengthening the private sector and increasing access to finance. Private sector support focuses on micro, small and medium enterprises. USAID’s assistance also includes business advocacy efforts and regulatory reforms as well as improving financial literacy. 

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