IFE Welcomes Alumna Ksenia Kurileva for a Talk on Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

On April 18, 2022, the Institute for Entrepreneurship welcomed alumna and guest speaker, Ksenia Kurileva, for a talk titled “Unlocking Corporate Innovation – Entrepreneurial Ecosystems.”

Kurileva graduated from JCU in 2014 with a major in Business Administration, and a minor in Italian Studies. After graduation, she did a short internship in Rome thanks to the JCU Center for Career Services. She explained that a degree in Business Administration allows you to pursue a career in many different fields.

Ksenia Kurileva

Ksenia Kurileva

Kurileva said she was always interested in Artificial Intelligence and technological advancements which is what brought her to London, where she has been living for the past six years.

Kurileva is currently working for Metta, a company that supports startups, industries, and governments with sustainable technology-driven innovation. In her position as Programme Director, she is responsible for managing and delivering innovation programs across industries and promoting engagement between corporates and startups.

Kurileva said there are three things that make a successful startup ecosystem stand out: talent, funding, and regulations or policies. Talent refers to having access to technical or non-technical skills alike. Universities and education programs such as coding bootcamps play a fundamental role in this. As for funding, few startups can survive for long without an investor or a financial institution to back them and help them scale. Platforms like Seedrs or Crowdcube, which help new businesses access equity crowdfunding,  can also support growth in the early stages of the startup journey. The alternative is to bootstrap which is when a company is able to use personal finances or operating revenues to get started – which Kurileva said is always impressive and says a lot about the founder.

Kurileva then talked about the 2021 State of European Tech report published by Atomico. She said that this annual report provides an overview of the trends in Europe. She added that it shows what investors are looking at, what is being most invested in, what diversity metrics look like and much more. The 2021 report shows positive trends in regards to climate change, yet less promising data in regards to diversity. According to the report, clean and alternative energy received 11% of total funding in 2021, making climate tech the biggest areas of growth. In contrast to this positive trend, Kurileva projected a graph that showed only 1.1% of venture capital going to female founders. She said this is the lowest proportion of funding since 2017. There are many challenges along the way and research suggests that this is partly due to bias in pitching and the confidence gender gap but Kurileva said that “one of the biggest obstacles is within the financial institutions – only 12% of General Partners and Managing Directors are women.”

According to Kurileva, part of the reason why Europe struggles with entrepreneurship is because of the divide of policies, languages, and regulations. America, in comparison, is one large collective region, with a larger addressable market, and therefore many startups are inclined to move there for better chances to expand homogeneously. However, there are a lot of promising technological advancements across Europe. For example, England, Germany, and France have thriving startup ecosystems. London is also a “melting pot” of talent with readily available capital, often referred to as the “European Silicon Valley.” The most entrepreneurial European country is Estonia, with 1,107 startups per 1 million inhabitants. Estonia is also advertised as a tech hub that is willing to employ and sponsor non-EU citizens, making it a marketable country for diverse technological advancements to take place. Central and Eastern Europe are currently emerging tech hubs, being home to 28 unicorns, or companies valued at or above 1 billion USD.

Kurileva is currently a Venture Fellow at the Newton Venture Program, a joint venture between London Business School, LocalGlobe VC and Silicon Valley Bank, where the program focuses on building a more diverse and inclusive venture ecosystem. She is passionate about this work as she believes that bringing diversity into venture capital is critical. She offered two ways that could bring a change in diversity: teaching entrepreneurship at the University level, which JCU currently does, and encouraging entrepreneurship from a very young age.

Ksenia Kurileva then asked the audience, “how can you build innovation culture?” She said that this is done first by aligning innovation activities, or in other words, understanding how you are innovating and why you are doing it.” The next key factor is to incorporate diversity into the thinking process which involves all business units and teams to collaborate so that no one’s voice is unheard. She lastly explained the “not made here” syndrome, which refers to the tendency of large corporations to avoid working with external startups simply because their ideas were not crafted internally, which she said is a missed opportunity. Change can be challenging for many large organizations, and startups can be the key to boosting innovation efforts.