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August 2019 in Eastern Europe: Sberbank extends its empire, US automation leader buys Ukrainian startup, Belarusian VR suit tested in zero-gravity

Crunchbase and East-West Digital News are teaming up to cover key tech and venture trends from Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. This monthly column by EWDN chief editor Adrien Henni highlights the most notable industry facts and trends from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, as well as promising tech innovations. Below is the review for August 2019.

Russia

Sberbank, the state-owned financial and digital giant, made two notable acquisitions this month. It bought 46.5% of Rambler, a major online media and entertainment group. Sberbank’s stake equals that of A&NN, an investment holding company which is affiliated to Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut. The amount of the transaction was not disclosed but sources put it at around $170 million.

The financial institution also took control of Speech Technology Center. This St. Petersburg company develops voice and facial biometric solutions for professional data processing and machine learning. Its products are sold in more than 70 countries, including the USA, Canada, Latin American and the Middle East. 

Meanwhile Mail.Ru Group, a major LSE-listed Russian Internet company, acquired a controlling stake in Moscow-based transportation service company YouDrive. The deal is part of the group’s plan to develop O2O services in partnership with Sberbank. 

Abbyy, a Moscow-based global provider of content intelligence solutions and services, acquired US process intelligence solution provider TimelinePI. A Russian venture insider estimated TimelinePI’s price at some $20 million.

Another important deal this month was a $15 million capital injection in crowdsourced delivery startup Dostavista. The funding round was led by Vostok New Ventures, a major Swedish investment firm which previously made successful investments in Russia (its stake in classifieds giant Avito was sold to Naspers in early 2019 at a $3.85 billion company valuation). Dostavista’s annual GMV run rate nears $100 million. The company operates in 11 markets – essentially emerging countries where it sees superior e-commerce market growth prospects. The US and Western European could be targeted at a later stage.

Cinemood, another star of the Russian startup scene, raised nearly $3 million in late August from a Siberian fund. The young company offers mini cinema devices, essentially for children, which project content onto any surface. So far Cinemood has focused its commercial effort on the US market, where its sales have grown seven-fold since the beginning of the year. 

Another notable deal involved iGooods: this Russian food delivery company secured $5 million from international marketplace Joom. Last year iGooods had attracted some $1.9 million from Russian and Western investors.

Ukraine

The only notable deal in Ukraine was the acquisition of StepShot, a Lviv-based startup that specializes in automated process documentation – providing customers with “better means of discovering, understanding, improving and automating their processes.”

The acquirer, UiPath (previously DeskOver), is a US provider of automation libraries. Founded in 2005 “in a tiny apartment in Bucharest, Romania,” the company now touts itself as “the fastest-growing enterprise software company in history” and a leader in what it calls “Robotic Process Automation” (RPA).

Ukraine’s most impressive achievements lie in its IT outsourcing industry, which employs nearly 200,000 people. According to a report released by N-iX, this sector generated $4.5 billion in revenue in 2018, taking the third place among export industries in the country. IT specialists earn between 10 and 20 times more than the average Ukrainian salary, notes another report released by Payoneer.

The USA and Western European countries remain the largest destination markets – and it is no surprise that a growing number of companies from these countries hire Ukrainian engineers. Thus, ThredUP, a US e-commerce platform which raised $175 million last month, has almost half of its engineering team in Ukraine, according to Ukrainian media

Belarus

On the thriving Belarusian e-gaming scene, Playrix, a global Russian-founded gaming giant, invested in local leader Vizor Games. The details of the deal were not disclosed, but the companies presented it as “a strategic partnership,” while Vizor Games shareholders claimed they gave priority to “smart investment” and company growth rather than quick exit.

In mid-August a local fund, Zubr capital, announced an investment of several millions of US dollars (from $3.5 million to $10 million, according to the local media) in MediaCube. A provider of IT tools for video and music creators, Mediacube was founded six years ago with an initial capital of $50,000. Now it claims to serve some 1,000 creators, essentially from Russian-speaking countries and Latin America, who attract an audience of 200 million people.

Two other Belarusian startups made the news last month:

On a sad note, eSports startup Play2live went bankrupt, raising questions about the use of the $30 million it had raised in its ICO in early 2018.

Kazakhstan

In this tech-friendly republic of Central Asia, last month was marked by a $5 million investment deal for Chocofamily, a leading local e-commerce group. This amount, which is considerable by local standards, was brought by local businessman Aydyn Rakhimbayev, as reported by the local media. The company was valued at $50 million. 

Founded in 2011, Chocofamily secured its first funding round ($50,000) from two angel investors, including Dutch serial startup investor Bas Godska. Several rounds of funding were completed later, totaling $8 million. In 2018 the company generated $152 million in turnover. 

 

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