Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

On the Front Lines

In 2014, Michael Obod and his business partner, Yurii Lavrenov, were running a laser tag equipment company in Ukraine, when Russia invaded Crimea. Amid the crisis, a teacher at Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute, where Obod had studied, asked him to reserve some small production units to provide simulated combat/virtual reality training systems for the nation’s soldiers.

Nine years later, their Ukrainian startup, Skiftech, is the leading provider of tactical engagement simulation equipment for the Ukrainian military forces and has grown to more than 250 employees. “It’s our main business right now in Ukraine,” says Obod. Skiftech recently expanded to Orlando, opening its first U.S. office at the University of Central Florida’s Business Incubator in Research Park.

Obod says Skiftech’s expansion into Central Florida — which is home to a robust entertainment and defense simulation and training industry — will enable the company to partner with “more mature” companies as Skiftech expands its line of business. “We have 100 possible partners just within 20 miles of our (Orlando) office,” says Obod, who expects to hire roughly 40 more employees in Orlando over the next year or so.

Back in Ukraine, the company has had to move its production facilities from the eastern city of Kharkiv to a safer location in the west — but the war is never far away. “Ten employees in our company serve right now in the battlefields,” says Obod, and one of the company’s project managers was killed in the line of duty last year.

Battlefield experiences, he says, are integrated into product development, creating training solutions that are adapted to the realities of modern warfare. Units that have used Skiftech’s training systems before going into battle experience 31% fewer casualties, according to Ukrainian military officials. “Every week, we have new feedback about how important this system is for their training,” says Obod.