Biggest Tech Hub in Belarus, Imaguru Shuts Down as Govt Clampdown Continues. This is coming after members of the country’s tech sector joined the public in calling for president Alexander Lukashenko to step down from office.
President Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years since 1994. The last election in the country held in August 2020 and the results have been in dispute ever since.
This creates the backdrop for the woes being suffered by tech startups and entrepreneurs in the country as they join the masses to ask Lukashenko to step down. This bold step by the Eastern European country’s tech sector has placed it in direct confrontation with government authorities.
In the wake of Belarus’ election, demonstrators have flocked the streets and social media in protest against the results of the election. This prompted the government authorities to shut down the internet for three days and brutally attacked the protesters.
Tech is dying under the current regime
Although the tech sector in the country has been booming over the past decade, techpreneurs are calling for a change because tech talents are increasingly fleeing the country.
Under Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule, more innovators are moving to neighbouring Ukraine to seek better living conditions.
In late 2020, Kirill Golub, the co-founder of a startup investing club, Angels Band, was arrested near his apartment in downtown Minsk. Golub is one of the demonstrators against the government and he was jailed for 3 days before being released.
Imaguru shuts down hub business as thugs invade building
The most recent crackdown on the tech space came on April 16 when Imaguru, one of the most popular startup hubs was asked to vacate the building that has been its home since 2013. The hub has been active and vocal in its support of protests against the current administration.
It leased the building from Horizon Holdings after the latter took it from a state-owned company and renovated it. According to Imaguru, Horizon did not give any reason for the lease termination. Techcrunch reports that the move is likely because of pressure from the government on the holding company as a result of Imaguru’s opposing stance to the present administration.
Before the order to move out, the hub received unsolicited attention in the form of masked intruders in March. They broke into the hub, “blocked the exit, put young event attendees against the wall, and brought them to the police station,” according to the company.
With no physical space to work, Imaguru’s startup hub, event and co-working space services have been effectively shut down, at least for the time being.
In a statement, the company said that it will “not (be) silent about lawlessness, repressions and persecution against civilians who defend their rights to an honest and fair choice … Not (be) silent about the regime shutting down the business, investment and startup environment … Not (be) silent about the massive relocation of startups from Belarus, about the catastrophe of this for the country.”
The hub has been the starting point for a number of now-successful startups in the country. MSQRD was one of the ideas that were pitched during a hackathon by the hub in November 2015. The members went on to work on it and in 4 months of operation, the startup was acquired by Facebook.
TrackDuck, PandaDoc and Infogr.am are other examples of startups that have launched and scaled with significant contribution from the hub.
4 of PandaDoc’s employees were also arrested in Minsk by the Belarus police after the company’s founders joined protests against the 26-year-long regime of President Lukashenko.
With its traction and success stories, Imaguru was often a landing place for international investors visiting the country. This is similar to the way CCHub was one of the destinations for Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey when they each visited Nigeria.
As tech players continue to lend their voices and resources to the protest ongoing in Belarus, the coming weeks and months hold uncertainties for innovations in the country. However, techpreneurs have always found a way to innovate in the midst of challenges, because that is how the most creative solutions are born, and this time will be no different.
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