Anton Malynovsky and Myroslav Vasylenko: “We are inspired by Ostap Bender and Jeff Bezos”
The Fund and also NGO “Odyssey Foundation” exist almost a year. Today we talk to “Odyssey Foundation” founders – Anton Malynovsky and Myroslav Vasylenko. They have already hosted 4 “Odyssey Space Meetups”, organized “Space week” and a tour to Dnipro city – the center of space technologies in Ukraine. Also “Odyssey Foundation” is conducting the contest of space projects “ActInSpace”.
Myroslav. We’ve got an idea to create “Odyssey Foundation” 2 years ago. I started working in the corporate world, and realized that I hated it. I just couldn’t stand all this corporate stuff. I wanted to create something myself. I tried quite a lot of fields, and understood that I like technology and fantastic. Well, you can say, that Space in Ukraine, is actually a “fantastic” thing (laughs). We are not planning to build a rocket from scratch. We are more focused on developing the community around space topics, and help talented individuals grow.
Anton. We don’t plan to become cosmonauts or astronauts. We want other people to have these sort of dreams, and also necessary resources to put those dreams into life. Myroslav just said that Leonid Kadenyuk [the first Ukrainian cosmonaut – ed.] came to visit his small village, when Myroslav was a child. He got inspired, and also wanted to become a cosmonaut. But then Myroslav was told, that he’s a bad fit, and the wish was gone. We want these sort of situations to never happen again. We want kids to have all the possible options, all the doors open. Also we want society to be interested in space. If we’re able to create a tool to make other people’s space dreams a reality – that would be the key.
Odyssey Foundation started working in autumn 2017. Before that, Myroslav organized a number of events called “Space Meetups”. We met at the 2nd space meetup, and decided to join our efforts. That’s how “Odyssey Foundation” appeared. Space is all about unknown, new, brave, something to be discovered. And you need to be courageous and open-minded. These traits of character are hard to combine. Blind courage is a bad thing. Also open-minded people are often afraid to make the first step, and get stuck staring around. That’s how we came up with “Odyssey” name for our organisation. Odyssey is a character, that has both traits. “Odyssey” reminds people of moving ahead, discovering something new.
Myroslav. The same is with our logo. We put many senses into our logo. For me personally, our logo is a symbol of opportunities we plan to give to other people, and ourselves. That yellow line on the logo, that goes up, it is a symbol of moving ahead.
Anton. When we started working on our brand, our logo, we were thinking, what we should put there. There are many senses, that we eventually encoded into triangle. Our main goal is to see Ukraine among TOP-10 space states by the year 2040. In order to achieve that, we need to combine few components: social demand, financial strength and political will. Only 3 components, that interact with each other, can result in something serious. And light – that is a basic thing in space. The light we see reaching us from far galaxies guides us and tells us where to go, exactly like primitive organisms used light to define where to move next. Also – a prism. It is one of the most simple mechanisms, that can turn a stream of light into a rainbow. We designed our logo to be open, so that anyone could put his own sense into it.
Vision of Ukraine as a space state. Perspectives by 2040.
Myroslav. I believe today is a crucial moment, when there is an opportunity to found small companies, small initiatives, that can really give a boost to technologies, innovations, and the whole economy. Startups get a lot of attention from funds and the state financing. There is this window of opportunities now. And we either empower people with relevant tools, or not.
We have been working for 5 months. And we can already see the first results. Right after our 2nd meetup, we were approached by startups, who initiated small space projects. Startups were surprised, that after presentations, they were approached by sponsors and entrepreneurs, who wanted to invest. That is very cool. Someone has to carry the flag to enable followers launch their own initiatives. For example, in NAU [National Aviation University] they created Rocket modelling club. Startups began taking part in conferences.
Anton. We are not saying, that it’s our merit, that people are getting more interested in space. It’s just that we’re one of the initiators of this process, and we put a lot of efforts. There’s this saying: “No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”. Space is here. Everyone understands, that space is a huge opportunity, big money and big game. What Ukraine really needs nowadays is a learn how to play global strategic games. Here we are: me and Myroslav. If you add here a couple of dozens more people like us, I believe Ukraine has good perspectives to play this global strategy well.
Ukraine is now going through quite an interesting technological process. We’re now defining, how do we actually see “the state” and “technologies”: together or separately? Some countries do severe regulation, and technologies can’t develop without state interference. Other countries just let technologies grow with less control. Ukraine has overwhelming perspectives. We have many young engineers, who support the same ideas. We have little egoists among young people. However, Ukraine can be called “a space State” only nominally. We no longer have that power we had years ago. At the same time, Ukraine has a good basis, old engineers, that still have a chance to pass their knowledge to the young generation. Ukraine is lagging behind a lot. Other countries move ahead with an amazing speed. The time to work is now. We need to do everything that depends on us.
Odyssey Space Meetups.
Myroslav. Our first “Space Meetups” had a general topic. I didn’t have an aim to let people know about Ukrainian satellites or what AirBus was doing as a company. These meetups enabled people to get to know each other, exchange contacts. More than 100 people visited our 1st meetup.
Anton. There is such an issue, that people in space industry in Ukraine don’t know each other. There is no community. Everyone’s doing something, and doesn’t tell other people. There was not a platform, where people could gather, network and just talk. And then, all of a sudden, people came to our Space meetup. We saw the increase in number of partnerships, ideas, collaborations between participants of our meetups. Now our goal is to turn this trend into sustainable success.
Our meetup is usually divided into 2 parts. The first part – a series of lectures presented by 3-4 speakers. They share the experience of what has been done, where they would like to move next. There is also a Q&A session, followed by networking.
During meetups we had a vigorous discussions between speakers and participants. For example, people were discussing, if Ukraine needs its own cosmodrome. Spaceport is a dangerous thing, you know. It’s a big facility, and there should be an exclusion zone around cosmodrome. In Ukraine we have many small villages and towns, and we don’t have any free territory, that could be used to sustain a cosmodrome. Building a cosmodrome in Ukraine is an idea worth dying for, but not today.
Space week in Ukraine.
Myroslav. We had a goal to show, that we plan to develop in many directions: lectures, travels, hackathons. More than 200 people visited our activities during the Space week. Those were very different people: kids, and also adults, who work in the field of VR. We had a lecture on how VR could be used to train cosmonauts. Such an approach is used by NASA. One of the speakers presented applications for amateurs. This topic is also interesting to private sector. During this week we were learning a lot about our audience. Most probably, we’ll repeat this event in October 2018, and will make it annual. There is “World Space week”, which is held annually in October, and we want to make “Ukrainian space week”.
Anton. During “The Space week” together with Dnipro space cluster we organized the first space tour to Dnipro. The aim of the tour was to get everyone accustomed with people who work in the space field in Dnipro. We arranged 2-days tour, and visited the largest working space enterprises, that were famous in the Soviet Union for building rockets or space equipment. We visited rocket building college, they still have a huge hangar with equipment, that used to fly to space. Dozens of people study in this college nowadays.
What is wrong with this college and other places, that we visited? The issue is that all of them are telling a story of the Soviet past. They all say, how cool was the year of 1965, when they had good financing. And they have nothing to brag about today. They look like an old, but still warm blast furnace – if you manage to heat it, you’ll be able to produce miracles. Those facilities employ a lot of engineers with plenty of manufacturing equipment, that is hardly kept functional. Anyhow, Dnipro dwellers are proud that they built one of the rockets able to carry a nuclear warhead, and it helped to stop the 3rd world war. During Cuban missile crisis, but for that rocket, Soviet Union wouldn’t have been able to resist the USA, that could attempt to attack first. If you ask those people in Dnipro about their accomplishments, they will tell you this story. Come on, it happened 50 years ago!
In the middle of 90-s Ukraine still had a hope. But then people started to steal everything fast. Then we had some sort of movement in 2000, which also ceased. We have mostly state enterprises located in Dnipro. They look into the past, and can’t create anything new by default: they don’t have any new talents, financing, technologies. And they realize that. If we open the market, and serious players will come to Ukraine from overseas, who will establish in Ukraine their R&D centers, institutes, invest in education, then “Pivdenne” design office will be pushed to the background in a couple of years.
Anyway, Ukraine doesn’t open the market, because there is no political will. Society is not interested. Politicians are not interested, because they would need to invest a lot of efforts, which no one will understand and appreciate during the next elections.
Ukrainian perspectives in space industry.
Myroslav. As far as I know, in Ukraine we have 13 state enterprises that work in the space field. Some of them are profitable, while others are not. Notable private enterprises include “Noosphere” and “EOS”, founded by Maxim Polyakov. “EOS” is now building parts for its own rocket, located in the USA. They plan to launch it soon. Private companies in Ukraine are not allowed to build any rockets, since it makes no sense. So Ukrainian private companies try to build some components, that they are allowed. “Noosphere” makes our engineers popular and uses them to build stuff. In fact, they outsource our talent to american market. Ukraine lacks people, who will build and promote Ukrainian products.
Anton. Anything designed in the USA belongs to the USA. People often say: “Our engineers work all over the world!” That is true. However, who owns products designed by our talents? That’s not Ukraine. Even if those people come back, and we begin creating stuff in Ukraine, we would need to start from scratch. That’s a difficult part in our story.
Myroslav. Let’s take Kharkiv. They have been doing rocket modelling for a long time already. However, that’s a stuff for kids, teenager clubs. They don’t get any support from the state. In a course of last 2 months, in Lviv together with a private company a rocket modelling club was created on the basis of Lviv polytechnic institute. They teach both teenagers and students. And they teach not only how to build a rocket model and paint it, which has no sense at all. They try to understand, how to combine IT with startup spirit and apply it to rocket building.
“Noosphere” conducts contests often, however, they are more related to rocket modelling, than to experimental rocket building. The rules in rocket modelling are defined by International aviation association, that gives permission to hold a rocket modelling contest. Those rules limit the types of sensors you can install on the rocket. So even if we have some rocket clubs in Ukraine, there is a limited space for their operations.
Anton. We still have a system, where the state is a monopoly. If you’re not a state enterprise, you need to change jurisdiction, and start working in the USA. Or you would need to breach directly or indirectly the law, take resources from Ukraine and move them somewhere else. That’s quite an issue. Even people with passion are very limited in their actions. We mentioned the triangle in the beginning of this interview, and a political will. Political will is not when the state official goes on stage and proudly speaks, that Ukraine is a space state. Political will is the green light to everything. Like they do it in Poland, and in other countries, where people understand, where the future lies.
Everyone understands, that private companies are the source of talents, progress, developments, money. Smart states give green light to private companies, who invest their own money to develop products, that benefits the whole state in the end. But it’s not the way things are done in Ukraine.
We have big players, huge enterprises, that don’t want to let any other players to the market, because they’re afraid of competition. Those enterprises are old, and can’t function in the market economy. They were created in 60-s, and still led by people from the past. They understand, if the state gives green light to private companies, those enterprises will be gone in 5 years. That’s not something they want to happen, so invest their efforts in stagnation, doing their best not to let the fair market and young blood take over. So that’s it: state is not interested, monopolies are not interested, society is also not interested.
As a fund, we see our aim to start changes from the most important factor: social one. We need to make sure there is a social demand for technologies, a demand for change. This will produce new talents, a new type of thinking and demand for state technological strategy, that we’re still missing on in XXI century.
As a state, we still don’t understand, where we’re heading in terms of technological development. We need to start a nationwide dialogue about technologies. In Ukraine the power belongs to the people, and not a random political party. That’s why we hope, that after we generate the proper social demand, there would be a relevant political will. Legacy players will back off, and the money will pour into the industry. Our short-term objective is to create a hype around all these issues.
We don’t have enough power and resources to change the political landscape. And also we can’t compete with enterprises, that employ 2-3 thousands people. However, we can influence a certain amount of people, and tell everyone, how the world lives.
Myroslav. We just tell people about future tomorrow. Old generation lost credibility, they can’t deliver stuff, that will be needed tomorrow. They got stuck in 90’s, where everything went into decay. Once I heard: “We had so many revolutions. I’m tired to change anything”. I can understand such people.
Anton. Changes are needed. However, we are not the best, the smartest or the richest. We’re just doing the best we can. And will be doing tomorrow. And we will reach our goals. We have a clear vision and strategy of what needs to be done.
Experience shows, that NASU [National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine] can’t compete anyhow in XXI century. It’s an old structure, that is not functional anymore. The same goes to universities. They don’t care if their students are successful, how many businesses they launched, how many innovative developments completed. Universities do care about state financing in order to attract as many students as possible. They put beautiful girls on banners and launch advertising in Facebook. I used to study in KPI [Kyiv Polytechnique Institute] and T.Shevchenko University. I’m sure these universities won’t become sources of any changes under current circumstances.
How foreign universities work? They have serious ratings. And they compete severely. If they have bad education today, weak students, then tomorrow their alumni will create less jobs, will earn less money, and won’t do anything special. Such universities will cease to exist. In Ukraine we don’t have such a system. Because the state is financing everything. Kyiv Polytechnic Institute no longer graduates that quality students, that it used to. However, no one will close KPI. Students are taught on the basis of technologies from 40-60s. That could do any good in 1995, however, is not relevant nowadays.
Myroslav. Many people think, that there is the wave of immigration. I hear from my colleagues, that there are people, who moved to Poland, and other countries, and they don’t care about Ukraine. At the same time, there is a group of people, that inspires me personally. They believe that there are things worth fighting for.
Anton. We live in the era of “commercial space”. Previously only big powerful countries had access to space technologies. Today even individuals can launch their own satellite in space, or a small rocket. We see that since 2010 “The new space” is growing fast. SpaceX, Blue Origin and other companies emerged, that beat the states both in terms of technology and ability to promote space. We see, that even such big powers as the USA and Europe can’t compete with the free market and with the people’s will to create stuff beyond heavy state structures. States are unable to regulate everything. Long gone are times, when serious stuff could be only built by military people, that means by states.
Myroslav. In Ukraine we have Council of young employees of State space Agency. This Council unites young people, who work for state enterprises all over Ukraine. It’s a sort of trade union for people who work in the space industry in Ukraine, however they present our country at international events a little bit different, than representatives of the State Space Agency. I believe, that they are our hope for better.
Hackathon 25-26 May 2018.
Anton. On 25-26 May, there will be a space Hackathon called “ActInSpace”, organised by European space agency in Kyiv. “Odyssey Foundation” is one of the organizers of this event. The aim of the hackathon is to find the solution to known issues thanks to the efforts of amateurs, and also help them grow their ideas into business. Winners will win financing for their projects, and also will go to France to participate in Toulouse space show.
At this moment we have 72 tasks from European space agency and our Partners. AirBus international corporation is also among partners of this Hackathon. For example, there is a task to develop better software to sync logistics, or control the crops, or develop new types of satellites. These tasks may sound difficult, however, they are simple, clear, and can be solved.
You select the task and come to the hackathon with a team, or you may select the team right during the hackathon. The team concentrates at solving 1 task, and offers the solution in the end. This could be a business idea, or a prototype, or already working software, or just a simple story, how you see the issue. If your idea is worthy, you get prizes and support from sponsors. For example, AirBus gives €100,000 credits for satellite pictures, that you can later process and use in your software. They help to start business in Europe: make first steps, accelerate growth and turn your idea into the real product.
This hackathon is aimed at looking for the gems: talented young people, who are ambitious and motivated enough to build something special during 24 hours of hackathon. People of different professions can come to hackathon: not only engineer, scientist or physicist, but designer, painter, locksmith, teacher or school graduate.
It’s interesting, that the best solutions are often offered by the people, who don’t come from the space industry. The most extraordinary and ambitious solutions are built by teams, that have young blood from separate to space industry fields. That’s the spirit of the hackathon: you either decide to build stuff, or not.
Space Initiatives in Ukraine
Myroslav. The NASA Space App Challenge is an international NASA contest that is hosted around the world for those who want to take part. The essence of this competition is that NASA sets out a list of tasks that need to be solved. Forming teams and trying to solve one or another problem by some own technological solutions. In 2016, Ukraine first participated in this competition and won in one of the directions. So the Ukrainian team went to NASA for a mini-tour. Hard to highlight it as a big achievement, but, of course, it was a good experience for the formation of a sports contingent. It was at that time when engineers and IT began to form themselves, saw that it was interesting and worth to win or just hang out. There were people of diverse specialties in the formed teams, because this is not just about a technology, it is a common idea. And this is good, because the movement began from interest of one and organization of others. And to get to this competition, the team members are selected in their countries and then compete internationally. This year the competition will be held in October.
Life is not without lemons
Myroslav. I want to emphasize, that we are not related to any political party or political space initiative. We are totally independent. Our aim is to develop the space industry in Ukraine. In our country people, who show initiative, are not treated well sometimes. We position ourselves as a big fund. And we’re going to grow big soon. People think, that in order to have such ambitions, it’s necessary to have some big patrons behind the back. Perhaps, we’re representatives of a new wave of young people, that thinks much more global and strives for more. There are people, who don’t believe us so far.
Anton. Yes, we’re independent, and we don’t get financing from any political power. We started this movement using our own money. Now we have some small private investors, who don’t actually represent anyone. However, some people and organisations don’t trust us. People just focus their attention on negatives. They are not interested in what we’re doing, they are already interested in where we find resources. We do our best relying on resources we have. They are not that big.
Odyssey Foundation plans
Anton. For now, we are focused on “ActInSpace” hackathon. The next Odyssey Space Meetup will take place in September. Also in autumn we plan to open small design office, you can call it a design hub. Also we will launch educational program, that will teach people physics and astronomy. It will be open to everyone. This program will be designed to highschool students, and adults. For elementary school pupils we also have some good developments, however, we’ll need an approval from Ministry of Science and Education, which might be difficult to get.
We all live in the same world, but very few people understand its origin, size, features and how exactly it exists. We live with minimal notions about the vast world, that is why it is necessary to conduct lectures structurally and systematically in order people gradually understand what kind of world they live in, why there is a need to fly to Mars, be aware of suborbital transportation and and their advantages over hyperlamps. The answers are related to physics and astronomy. Because nowadays nobody is interested in this area and there are no tools you can teach with. And the way of studying at schools is generally such an incredible buzz kill. In addition, there are some problems of a social nature: with 800 hryvnia in the pocket and when it is nothing to eat, but a need to support family, leads to a total non-interest about the cosmos. Unfortunately, a lot of people continue to live one day at a time without enough money and strategic planning.
We also plan to collaborate with the popular scientific community from National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. There is a community called Podzemka, which popularizes science. We also plan several events for August, when there will be stars in the sky. In the summer the astronomical season is very active, but the night is too short, not so dark and the sky is polluted with light. But in August we are planning to go to see the shooting stars and visit the Main Astronomical Observatory of NASU.
Myroslav. Now our events are very conditional thing. It is our start, but not a main goal. We try to form a community with understanding that meetings and lectures are not the only and main support. Therefore, during the summer, we will complete the project of our center, where we will be able to unite and conduct our own events. Besides, we still have a project with a representative of the European Union in Ukraine regarding a kind of educational center, we follow an example from the United States.
This will be SpacePort Kyiv – certain terminals for kids that simulate, for example, flights to Mars and any other planets. It is a peculiar control center for flights. We will develop a program for children so that they can understand the mechanism of process and how to behave in different situations. Therefore, we are working very hard.
Cooperation with international organizations
Anton. We plan to cooperate with the space agencies of neighboring countries. For example, with powerful and the most accessible Poland, as it is a part of the European Union, then in fact with the European Space Agency. We are also happy to cooperate with NASA, but if there is no any parity, this is rather a difficult question of effectivity.
Fund expansion and volunteering
Myroslav. We plan to work in many areas, which we will develop with equal force. Talking about hired workers is still early, as we apply our own and involved means, but it is still in the plans. Selecting volunteers, in general, we select those who are fond of space, science and its popularization. Most of the volunteers came to us through contacts with scientists of National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and representatives of Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. As everything is based on a great desire and ideas.
Anton. We do not have permanent stable financing. Mostly these are small private investors who can not guarantee uninterrupted supply of funds, accordingly, we can not hire employees. In plans are attraction of permanent financing at the end of September, so we can understand how to distribute funds among existing projects and recruit other specialists. First of all, these are event managers, designers, then engineers and other specialists. We have a certain volunteer base, as volunteers themselves find us. they burn it. Then we will translate them into the rank of part of the Odyssey Foundation. We gladly accept help and help others, that’s why this is not a one-sided process.
About who inspires and someone to admire and emulate
Anton. Inspired by Ostap Bender and Jeff Bezos. (Laughs). Bender, because he lives in each of us and knows how to do fantastic things just having an idea, doing projects that amaze with their complexity, their staging and essence. And it’s cool. After all, the time for individual characters has already passed and it’s time for the teams. Therefore, everyone can be: open, capable and ambitious. And Bezos, – because he has a lot of money and he invests them in promising developments. He can do something wrongly, but the time will come when his milliard investments will give maximum profit. If Elon Musk has to bend over backwards, prove something and beg investors, then Bezos simply comes to Blue Origin, says: “Guys, I have a billion here – take it.” And they just work for him for his own money, because he is independent and fearless, and he certainly will succeed.
Myroslav. You can say that I’m hard at perceiving authorities, but I normally perceive groups. In Ukraine, I am inspired by those who do something and believe that everything will be more or less positive. Agents of change are also quite a good topic. Somewhere in the 40s in America there was the scientific Bell Labs laboratory, which developed quite a lot of inventions that went to the Nobel Prize. Some of them were commercialized and now they are in computers, transistors, processors, microprocessors, etc. Therefore, the main idea is to get together and generate ideas, just do something positive in synergy.
Interview by Nata Koval
Photo by Nata Koval
Transated by: Sergii Danylenko, Elena Maltseva.