July 2018 — Irina Yurchenko of the Belarus city of Vitebsk has always harbored a passion for design and retail. After earning her university degree in design, she participated in several international clothing design competitions, which ultimately led to her working at one of Vitebsk’s premier fashion studios.
Soon Yurchenko began to realize that her professional goals were greater than her current position, as she had always wanted to open up her own business. So in 2014, she registered as a sole entrepreneur, rented a small space, and began her journey as a small business owner with her own design brand.
Initially, Yurchenko’s fledgling business was primarily supported by friends, and her customer base was growing relatively slowly. She struggled to build a reputation for her studio in a highly competitive market. However, after participating in the annual USAID-supported Best Startup Idea Competition in 2016, things began to change for the better.
She considerably improved her business strategy with coaching support from seasoned business owners, which was provided during the competition.
“The most important lessons I took from my mentors included the need to complete complex products in-house, and outsource my accounting and standard products to other tailors,” explained Yurchenko.
She launched an online store in July 2017, and her clothing is now available throughout Belarus. Among her notable accomplishments, Yurchenko’s work has been featured in many global and Belarusian contests, and she helped design the clothing for Belarus’s representative for the Miss Asia 2016 pageant.
The Best Startup Idea Competition is part of USAID’s Delivering Regional Instruction Vital to Entrepreneurial Success (DRIVES) program, which is implemented by PYXERA Global in cooperation with international and local partners, including the Global Business Schools Network and IPM Business School in Minsk. The program brings entrepreneurship courses, business teaching methods, and online education solutions from leading U.S. business schools to entrepreneurs across Belarus.
Since 2014, more than 1,500 aspiring entrepreneurs have participated in DRIVES competitions, workshops, and mentorship sessions. Overall, more than 3,000 clients have received training and consultations at regional Centers of Excellence in Entrepreneurship established by the IPM Business School as part of the DRIVES program.
USAID works to strengthen and expand the private sector in Belarus by making it easier for businesses to start and grow and helping them get the financing they need, with a particular focus on micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises. USAID also gives special attention to improving access to modern technologies and developing innovative entrepreneurship and startups.
,“The most important lessons I took from my mentors ... complete complex products in-house, and outsource my accounting and standard products to other tailors.”