The empowering women of eastern Ukraine have stepped up on the road of becoming entrepreneurs

For Nov 11-17th the Garage48 women’s event series and our makeathons history came together for our first ever Empowering Women Makeathon. For seven days the 70 only women participants affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine showed the most amazing creativity, proactiveness and strength in learning new skills and embarking on the road of female entrepreneurs, to make their and others’ lives better against not favouring odds.

This event came to life by combining the experiences of Estonian Refugee Council, Zaporizhzhia Charitable Fund Unity for the Future and Garage48 in working in eastern Ukraine and supporting vulnerable people in the conflict area, developing women entrepreneurship and equality. Thank you for the great cooperation! Huge THANK YOU to Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for funding this event and making it happen as a part of Estonian Development Cooperation.

The motivation to initiate this project came from Estonian Refugee Council, who has been active in East-Ukraine since 2014. "During these years we have supported hundreds of persons in a vulnerable state due to the conflict to reach sustainable livelihoods. This time we set the focus on women from Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts to learn and improve their skills in textile and handicraft industries and develop business ideas around them”, Eero Janson, Director of Estonian Refugee Council.

Garage48 has been organizing hackathons for developing women entrepreneurship already five years. “If we look at the teams that have been kickstarted at Empowering Women events, then this is one of our most outstanding hackathon series yet. Women are good leaders by nature. They’re diplomatic, flexible and tactful and navigate successfully even in the most complicated situations. We hope that with this kind of event series we can bring the entrepreneurial mindset to as many people as possible and bring more balance to the world where the larger amount of leaders and entrepreneurs are still men, “ says Garage48 CEO Mari Hanikat.

The Empowering Women Makeathon brought together 70 only women participants from Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts in the age range of 16 to 58. These women are internally displaced, living at the contact line, widows, taking care of disabled family members and large families or in some other significant way affected by the Donbass conflict in eastern Ukraine. To support them in reaching sustainable livelihoods we held making workshops for improving sewing skills and design thinking, learning knitting and embroidering, learning gel nails making & manicure and workshops for business creation basics, online marketing tools and web page creation. 19 teams set out to develop their business and product prototype in the beginning of the 48 hour weekend bootcamp on Friday.

Our Estonian-Ukrainian team of mentors are one other extremely important bunch of people having made this event as empowering and inspirational it was. Joosep Sild, CEO of SmartVent and a mentor at Startup Wise Guys guided us all through the week and to the end goal and supported all the mentors in their roles. Olga Hoch, our sewing and textiles superstar from Pallas University of Applied Sciences carried out the workshops and mentored all the teams throughout the event. Tetyana Domchenko took on teaching knitting basics with full two-day workshops. Anastasiia Smykova and Taisia Vysotska from Pilka salons in Zaporizhzhia made sure the participants learn the basic knowledge on making gel nails and manicure and supported the teams throughout the weekend. Valeriia Holierova, the Chief Innovation officer at YEP! Incubators shared all her knowledge on business creation basics and online marketing for kickstarting your business activities. Maria Yarotska from Projector Odessa put the participants hands and thoughts actively to action with the web page creation workshop and supported the development of online marketing tools all weekend as well. Throughout the whole week our local partner’s Unity for the Future Chairperson of the Board, Tamara Ogorodova offered her support to all the participants with guiding them in the right direction for their final presentations.

And that is not all - we had so many mentors joining us for the 48h weekend to support the teams in action. Roman Sachenko and Dmitry Misyuga from DA-14 Corp, Ruslan Abdullaev from Vialight, Yana Kindinova from YanaMeiNatalia Ivakhnenko from UkrGazBankAnton Chuykin from Econom PlusSvitlana Mikhailenko from Lanamiwool and fashion designer Kristina Evglevska.

THANK YOU so much for sharing your knowledge, experiences and support!

The week-long hacking and making resulted in 5 best teams winning startup grants of 3000€ / 80000 UAH on average per team. To kickstart the business activities, these teams will be mentored for the upcoming 6 months by both Estonian and local mentors. “It is especially great, that some of the teams get support for realizing their projects after the makeathon. This shows that both the participants and mentors are devoted to the purpose of the event, “ comments Risto Roos, 1st Secretary at Estonian Embassy in Kiev, who joined us during the makeathon to also support the participants and meet with our local partners. We will be keeping an eye on how the grant winners are doing and let you know about their progress.

For Garage48 this event held a lot of firsts - the first makeathon for women, a 7-day format and our first makeathon in textile, handicraft and beauty services fields since we started with the Hardware & Arts series back in 2012. Putting all these firsts together really was a great learning opportunity that we don’t want to waste. Together with the empowerement and inspiration we received from the amazing east Ukrainan women, we’ve set out to take this experience as a base for creating next makeathons for women - we’ll keep you posted when and where.

Until then, the five grant who are now working on starting their business activites and who to root for making it happen are as follows!



Uken team is based in Mariupol and their products are clothes and christening suits for children and babies that are made with following traditional methods. Additionally they make hand sewed napkins and table clothes, that embody traditional methods and complex techniques of making.


ArtsStyle team works in Rubizhne city in Luhansk oblast. They are making unique hand-drawn and personalised author t-shirts, curtains, pillows and souvenirs drawn by the artist in their team.

Всем добра

This team is working on a social project - to bring used clothes to Volnovakha city in Donetsk oblast for repairing, redesigning and decorating for local people and also for the men fighting on the contact line. The goal is to provide more jobs to the area with this small company as well.


The team is based in a small city in Zaporizhzhia oblast and they work in two directions.

First one is producing quality home textiles for a higher-paying customer. The second one is warm and comfortable products made of natural materials for cancer sick children.

Центр услуг

This team plans to bring to life a wellness & beauty centre in Marinka village near the contact line, where now exists no shops or other needed services. 

Wellness & beauty centre will be providing home accessories (clothes and textiles) and a beauty services salon for the local people. 

CONGRATULATIONS and SUCCESS for the upcoming months!

All the photos of the 7-day activities, emotions and hard work can be seen in our PHOTO ALBUM, by Sergei Tomko.

Live stream of the FINAL pitches & demos and award ceremony can be rewatched at our Facebook page.


About the author

kadri tiisvelt

Kadri is the COO of Garage48 with years of experience as a hackathon organizer and community builder. She loves to create and bring together supportive environments for starting entrepreneurs who wish to make their ideas into valuable services and products. 🌸

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