We talked to Maria Romanova, CEO at Radar Tech on how they help startups, corporates and ecosystems to identify their way to grow and innovate and here is what she said about it.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Radar Tech.
Maria Romanova: I joined Radar Tech (previously named VDNG-Tech) in 2016, literally right after the start of the first pilot project – the startup accelerator for the leading Ukrainian telecom provider, Kyivstar (a part of Veon branch). I started my journey at Radar Tech as a team lead, although our team consisted only of 3 professionals. We were delighted with the idea to create the first successful case of startup-corporate cooperation to prove Ukrainian entrepreneurs that they have a chance to start working in Ukraine without relocation. Spoiler alert: I think we nailed it.
I was a corporate specialist in those days, as for 15 years before I was working in marketing and B2B sales in several leading Ukrainian companies.
Almost 5 years later from a pilot project for one corporation, the team has grown and carried out 9 projects for companies in the agro, telecom, energy, fintech, retail and metallurgical sectors, becoming a “pioneer” in corporate innovations in Ukraine. As for me, I became a CEO, putting all my efforts to reach the company’s goals.
How does Radar Tech innovate?
Maria Romanova: Radar Tech – is an innovation company that helps startups, corporations, and ecosystems to define their way to innovate. We help corporations to define their challenges, matching them with innovative solutions and approaches. In some way, we help corporations and startups to find common ground.
When the company was born in 2016, we positioned it as the first corporate startup-accelerator in Ukraine. Our main goal was (and it remains) – to foster corporate innovations in Ukraine.
Over the past five years, the company has already implemented more than 9 projects in the corporate innovation field (accelerators, scouting, corporate culture development, etc.) and expanded the range of its services. We no longer call ourselves an accelerator since both the team’s expertise and market needs have grown and changed.
Become more innovative and agile, and prove the market players that you are open to fast changes are quite challenging tasks, so we support our clients in 3 ways:
1) we help them to solve business challenges through the collaborations with startups
2) we foster the corporate culture changes, introducing innovative approaches for internal projects
3) we promote our partners as innovative market leaders, who invest in entrepreneurship ecosystem development.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Maria Romanova: Like many other companies, the pandemic caused us anxiety and uncertainty about the company’s future, which later transformed into new projects formats and internal culture changes in Radar Tech.
Some of our clients have postponed the corporate innovation projects till 2021. We saw it happened especially rapidly in March-April 2020 when Ukraine was in a lockdown. Not all the companies turned out to be ready to transform projects into fully-remote online formats, just as not all companies are prepared to invest in operational improvements when the more crucial goal – to survive and adapt to the new reality.
Nevertheless, after the first shock, we transformed our activities and have successfully delivered several projects in 2020.
During this difficult period, we rediscovered the remote format and made sure that in some cases, remotely delivered projects could be more efficient than traditional offline approaches.
An illustrative example of how our work changed in 2020 is the Z.Innovation project (Radar Tech, together with Zaporizhstal, a part of Metinvest, leading Ukrainian metallurgy holding, launched a program, aimed to find and integrate technology solutions for metallurgy sector).
The remote format allowed us to expand the geography of participants – for the first time, we were scouting not only among Ukrainian startups but literally around the globe. As a result, despite the specific task set by the client – (factory is looking for innovative solutions for analyzing the chemical composition of furnace charge, agglomerates, coke, pellets, pulverized coal, slags and cast iron to stabilize the technology of blast furnace production) – we received 31 applications from 12 countries (Ukraine, USA, China, Australia, Russia, Switzerland, Belarus, Germany, Latvia, India, Austria and Canada).
As paradoxical as it may seem, at a time when the travels abroad or even leaving home are sometimes restricted, in a startup ecosystem, all borders have become even more invisible.
We understand that all the lessons we learned and the traditions we gained in 2020 will be relevant for 2021, even after the pandemic.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Maria Romanova: Fortunately, no, during the pandemic, not a single employee left our company.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Maria Romanova: Of course, we have become even more flexible, and remote work has turned from a trend into a necessity. It would sound absurd a year ago, but since we transformed all the processes into fully remote, it became real to implement projects without seeing your customer in the face, or seeing him only at the final meeting for the first time if he turns on the camera during the Zoom call.
However, while all the processes are rapidly transforming into online, we saw that corporate managers still want to interact with teams offline. They are confident that it helps build stronger trusting relationships and be ensured about the team’s expertise and ambitions.
We are convinced that hybrid services will dominate in the future. Even more video calls, remote meetings, complex projects, delivered online, with a small number of offline activities, when it comes to a personal approach and crucial deals in the corporate segment.
Are you using any special tools to improve efficiency?
Maria Romanova: Even before the pandemic, our team has started offline meetings on a weekly basis, during which we provide all projects updates. Now we have these meetings via G Meet. We have 7 people in our team, but we are all involved in several projects at the same time, so such meetings help us keep abreast of colleagues’ upload and news of each project. In addition, in this way, we clearly see the dynamics of processes, could discuss the challenges, and can effectively react to issues our employees are facing delivering tasks.
As for tools, Slack – for team communication, G Meet, Zoom, Microsoft Teams – for calls, depending on the project, G Docs – for storing and collaborating with documents. We have been using these tools since the very beginning.
Not long before the lockdown, we started to use Timebase – this application helps to monitor the workload of the team in real-time, as well as estimate costs and efficiency of each task and the whole project.
Now, despite the opportunity to come to the office, most of the time the team works remotely and thanks to these tools, we managed not only to fall in efficiency but also to speed up some processes.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Maria Romanova: In Ukraine, the state programs aimed to support entrepreneurs have been starting recently, but our company does not match the conditions of such support. We stay on the market simply by our efficient work and business model.
Your final thoughts?
Maria Romanova: The first thing I want to say to all entrepreneurs and executives is “don’t be afraid to trust your team”. I was scared that the team’s efficiency would drop significantly if we switch to a remote work format. I won’t see them, and I won’t know if they work or not. But they work.
Hence, the second advice is to select employees carefully and not spare your time and effort. “Your” people will go through hard times with you, and they will be the people you could trust.
Don’t be afraid of the new. Hybrid formats, combinations of online and offline learning, “blind” projects without face-to-face offline meetings – adapt to everything and do it quickly.
There is always a way out of the situation. The main thing is to believe in what you are doing and think positively.
In other words, perhaps the main conclusion and life lesson I learned in 2020: “I need to be open to new things, to changes and not be afraid to leave my comfort zone”.
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