Uzbekistan – Digital Society Awakens

There is a new driving force behind Uzbekistan’s digital economy. Brand.uz, a young, up and coming IT company, has followed the international market’s lead and founded a start-up accelerator to mentor young tech talent. The next Twitter or Instagram might well emerge from Central Asia in the not too distant future if Yelena Seleznyova, MP alumna and Managing Director of the StartupFactory, has anything to do with it.

Tashkent. June 2015. The StartupFactory’s conference room is a hive of activity. Five participants in the first start-up accelerator programme are working on innovative IT solutions for the Uzbek market and fine-tuning their business plans. They will have three months to transform their ideas into viable businesses. Tech pioneer brand.uz is leading the training seminar. The StartupFactory is the internet experts’ newest project, developed by Yelena Seleznyova after she returned from training in Germany in 2014. As the subsidiary’s newly appointed managing director, she has her hands full. She credits the MP with helping her achieve this latest step up on the career ladder.

She is working with her five-person team to blaze a new trail. “The start-up scene in Uzbekistan is still in its infancy. We are the first to really get behind it professionally. Our goal is to create an ecosystem for young entrepreneurs like the one in Germany.” Seleznyova visited some of Germany’s key accelerators, like Telefónica’s Wayra start-up programme and Berlin Startup Consulting KGM GmbH, where she derived inspiration and received valuable advice. She maintains these contacts to this day.

According to Seleznyova, development in Uzbekistan trails behind Germany, where only a small percentage of the population shops online at all. The first online payment system was not introduced until 2015, and IT companies have only recently begun springing up. The country is working hard to close the gap though, and the very dynamic information and technology branch is recording double-digit annual growth rates. The MP alumna has just created a market for start-up accelerators, and others are already following her lead. “We started a trend,” Seleznyova says with pride.

The Tashkent delivery service, bumerang.us, is the first brainchild the young IT talents launched at the beginning of 2016, and the accelerator’s boss is quite pleased with the developments so far. “This is a great step forward. The realisation rate for technology start-ups from accelerators is around 15 percent,” Seleznyova says. Her firm has a stake in future profits to the tune of ten percent.

The digital marketing department at brand.uz is also enjoying great success. A new B2B product was launched at the end of 2015 and has been a hit so far. Growing Uzbek companies now receive online marketing support for their products, and the internet professionals are using search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media to market Uzbek products internally. Among their most recent achievements was helping the company Trikotash attract customers from Poland, the Baltic states and the CIS. “We help our customers find partners all over the world,” Seleznyova says.

Brand.uz plans to launch its own start-up by the end of 2016 as well, and a team has been working on developing a business plan since the new year. Five ideas, some inspired by German ventures, are ready for close-pitch selection, including some e-commerce and service innovations. “It is hard to find a niche in Germany, but there are still a lot open here,” says Seleznyova, who is already deeply involved in preparing for the next talent accelerator.