Mastering business to drive change: Alexandra’s story of true entrepreneurship
Alexandra Nikitenko is a Ukrainian national, now living in the Netherlands after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Even though she had to “start from scratch,” Alexandra – a trained architect – was eager and proactive in continuing her entrepreneurial journey. In previous years, she had an international career, working as an architect in places like Berlin and Tokyo. She then moved back to Ukraine, where she founded her own architecture and interior design studio Nikitenkoteam and worked as a tutor at the Kharkiv School of Architecture, Ukraine’s first and only private architecture school.
A true entrepreneur, Alexandra has always had multiple projects in the works – but she wanted to learn more. After moving to the Netherlands, Alexandra came across Delitelabs and decided it was the perfect opportunity to get a more comprehensive understanding of entrepreneurship.
Becoming a business guru
While most newcomers develop business ideas during their time at Delitelabs, Alexandra joined the program with an existing project. As a Partner at Hism, an architectural visualization studio based in Ukraine, Alexandra aims to take the business to the next level.
“Almost the whole team are men, so they cannot leave Ukraine because the border is closed for men in order to be ready to protect the country if needed,” Alexandra explains. “After several discussions, they proposed that I become a Partner in the Netherlands and become part of the project.”
Needless to say, Alexandra’s presence in the Netherlands combined with her rich international experience gave the studio an opportunity to expand and enter the global market.
Thus, Alexandra joined Delitelabs with the goal of strengthening Hism’s business model and structure. One of the most impactful sessions in the program was around finance – a crucial responsibility of being an entrepreneur. “I had an intense course on finance in Ukraine and there was a lot of different information and I tried to apply it to my architecture studio, but I had a feeling that something was missing in terms of my understanding,” Alexandra says. “The class on finance at Delitelabs was really good for me because I finally got the point of cash flow and P&L. I finally understand the concepts.”
Delitelabs offers further deep dives even after the program is finished, bringing in additional information and experts. For now, Alexandra is enjoying exploring each topic and discovering opportunities for her project.
Getting concrete support from experienced mentors
As part of the program, every participant at Delitelabs is matched with at least one mentor – an experienced business professional based in the Netherlands. Delitelabs’ new partnership with the Dutch International Alumni Association (IAA NL) of INSEAD means that participants get access to mentors from one of the best business schools in the world.
Alexandra was lucky enough to get two mentors!
“My mentors are from different fields and backgrounds. They don’t have anything to do with architecture,” she tells us. “One of them is a lawyer who had his own company and the other one is a top manager in logistics. I found this mix really interesting and entrepreneurial thinking is a crucial point that connects the three of us.”
“I found our meetings really useful,” Alexandra adds. “We have meetings every week. We can discuss challenges and where I need additional support. I really like that the program creates an umbrella of understanding, but with mentors we can go deeper and it’s a super personal approach, which I think is very important for educational purposes.”
Her mentors also offered extremely concrete help. For example, Ewout Stumphius (the lawyer) helped Alexandra create a term sheet, a document outlining the terms and conditions of a potential business agreement. “It’s a really professional consultation, not just by a mentor but by a lawyer who helped me put all of the things that are important in the term sheet. This is one of the things that I now know how to make in the future,” Alexandra says.
Building connections & knowledge to drive change
“Now, through Delitelabs, I start to see opportunities for how I can open my enterprise and business, not as a Ukrainian who escaped from the war,” Alexandra says. “I think it’s normal that people want to take responsibility and open their own business and I’m happy that Delitelabs provides such an opportunity. The program shows how to start, how to think differently, and how to develop your design thinking at the same time.”
Alexandra is also identifying opportunities to connect countries – in her case, the Netherlands and Ukraine.
Besides Hism, Alexandra is also volunteering for Vsimdim, a non-profit mobile housing project that aims to serve the nearly 11 million Ukrainians who have lost their homes. As a final note, Alexandra urges everyone who can to donate to Vsimdim and help displaced families in Ukraine. Written by Sophie Poulsen - Content Creator at Delitelabs