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A Russian CEO has spent the last month evacuating employees out of Eastern Europe

March 31, 2022, 3:52 PM UTC

Ksenia Yudina had been working around the clock the first time we spoke. About a month ago, 12 of her employees at UNest, a North Hollywood, Calif.-based digital brokerage for parents to invest and save for their children’s education, were scattered across Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. As of February 24, they were in a warzone.

“I can’t even tell you what it feels like emotionally,” she told me the second week of March.

UNest had begun discussing an evacuation strategy for its Eastern European developers in mid-February, when news outlets first warned that Russia planned to invade Ukraine. But employees had been in denial, Yudina says, and they hadn’t wanted to pre-emptively leave their homes. By the end of February, when Russian troops invaded Kyiv and Ukraine had declared martial law, it was too late. Three developers in Ukraine were no longer able to leave. Some of UNest’s seven Russian employees—all who do not support the war—were struggling to flee.

“A few days were very hectic,” Yudina says. ”We were trying to book different flights day by day. [Flights] were canceling, and some planes were being rerouted back to Russia.”

UNest is one of at least 126 startups with employees in Ukraine—companies that have been rushing to move their staffers to safety and maintain operations. More than 1,200 Ukrainian civilians have been killed, while homes, theaters, hospitals, and churches have been destroyed.

The UNest brokerage app officially launched two years ago on Android and IOS, a way for parents to save funds for their children’s schooling. The company has raised nearly $39 million in funding, per Pitchbook, and has hired 40 employees to serve its 450,000 customers. 

One of UNest’s developers, who the company asked not be identified, is currently residing in a shelter in central Ukraine. Alarms go off nearly every two hours and people must go to a common area or hide in a basement. Power and internet connections will flicker off. Access to some U.S.-based software has been limited or unpredictable, according to UNest.

Yudina and I have spoken three times over the course of this month as she worked to move employees, issue $2,000 cash payments to developers and their families, and worked to maintain normal operations at the business. 

The first week of March, Yudina helped move six developers from Russia and Belarus into Georgia and Turkey—her team working nights and weekends to stay abreast of the situation and find routes to make it happen. The second week of that month, UNest had its pre-scheduled board meeting and decided to evacuate the rest of its developers out of Russia and no longer have an employee footprint in the region (two more developers have since been evacuated from Russia, and one left the company as a result). Two of UNest’s three developers in Ukraine haven’t been able to leave. UNest staffers speak daily with these employees, communicating via Google Hangouts, Slack, and Telegram—avoiding WhatsApp in case it is blocked. 

“They are still attempting to work, just to distract themselves,” Yudina says, noting that the internet connection can be unstable at times. “People are just terrified for the lives of their families, their loved ones,” she says.

UNest CEO Ksenia Yudina fled to the United States from Russia at the age of 18.
UNest CEO Ksenia Yudina fled to the United States from Russia at the age of 18.
Courtesy of UNest

For Yudina, the war is very personal. She, herself, is Russian—born in the U.S.S.R. when Ukraine and Russia were still one nation. Yudina fled to the United States at the age of 18, and worked as a hotel housekeeper in Key West, Fla. before moving to the West Coast and eventually starting her own company. Yudina’s mother arrived in the U.S. earlier this week, and the rest of her family is still in Russia.

UNest had been in the process of rolling out cryptocurrency investing on its website, which has been delayed due to the international crisis (the company isn’t requiring its Ukrainian staffers to work and is giving Russian employees a month to relocate). Since all of its customer support team is based in the U.S., nothing has changed in day-to-day operations for its user base, Yudina says, and she points out that many of UNest’s Eastern European employees are still choosing to work when they can.

“It speaks highly of the motivation of our people and their commitment to work, even under the bombs for those who stayed in Ukraine,” Yudina says. UNest is exploring whether to start paying its employees in Ukraine via cryptocurrency, Yudina says, in case there are any disruptions with bank transfers.

Over the course of this month, Yudina says she’s emotionally in a better place. “Our brains adapt and adjust to anything, right?” she says. And the crisis has brought the team closer together—an opportunity for the management team to show they are committed to their employees’ wellbeing and safety, and for colleagues to emotionally support one another.

And there has been some good news. The company applied for several H-1B visas for its employees, prior to the war. “We just got the announcement today that one of them actually got selected,” Yudina told me Monday. 

See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
Email: jessica.mathews@fortune.com
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VENTURE DEALS

- Chief, a New York-based women’s networking group, raised $100 million in Series B funding led by CapitalG and was joined by investors including General Catalyst, GGV Capital, and Inspired, according to New York Times.

- Beewise, a Beit Haemek, Israel and Sacramento, Calif.-based climatech robotics company for bees, raised $80M in Series C funding led by Insight Partners and was joined by investors including Fortissimo Capital, Corner Ventures, lool ventures, Atooro Fund, Meitav Dash Investments, and Sanad Abu Dhabi.

- Cyera, a Tel Aviv-based cloud data security company, raised $60 million in funding led by Sequoia Capital and was joined by investors including Accel, Cyberstarts, and CMO Emeritus of Palo Alto Networks René Bonvanie.

- Modern Treasury, a San Francisco-based payments software platform, raised $50 million in its second close of its Series C from investors including SVB Capital, Salesforce Ventures, Artisanal Ventures, and NewView Capital.

- Cyberpion, a Kirkland, Wash.-based cybersecurity company with a focus in external attack surface management, raised $27 million in Series A funding led by U.S. Venture Partners and was joined by investors including Team8 Capital and Hyperwise Ventures.  

- Home365, a San Jose, Calif.-based real estate investing and property management platform, raised $26 million in Series B funding led by Viola Growth and was joined by investors including Greensoil PropTech Ventures, O.G. Tech, Gatewood Capital, Verizon Ventures, Samsung Next, Lool Ventures, and North First Ventures

- ​​Apploi, a New York-based recruiting, onboarding, and credential management software company, raised $25 million in Series B funding led by m]x[v Capital and was joined by investors including Defy.vc, Underscore.vc, and others. 

- Black Crow AI, a New York-based machine learning infrastructure company, raised $25 million in Series A funding led by Imaginary Ventures and was joined by investors including Left Lane, Good Friends, Interplay, Red Antler, and other angel investors. 

- Cloaked, a Boston-based consumer-based privacy company, raised $25 million in Series A funding co-led by Lux Capital and Human Capital.

- AmplifyMD, a San Francisco-based telemedicine platform connecting medical institutions with doctors, raised $17.6 million in Series A funding led by F-Prime and was joined by investors including Forerunner Ventures and Greylock.

- Flux Marine, a Bristol, R.I.-based electric outboard motors and battery systems developer for boats, raised $15.5 million in Series A funding led by Ocean Zero LLC and was joined by investors including Boost VC, Winklevoss Capital, and others.

- Lucra Sports, a San Francisco-based sports betting platform, raised $10 million in Series A funding led by Raptor Group and was joined by investors including SeventySix Capital, Victress Capital, Milwaukee Bucks owner and Avenue Capital founder Marc Lasry, tennis player John Isner, and NFL Wide Receiver Emmanuel Sanders

- LIV, a remote-based VR/AR self-recording platform, raised $8.5 million in Series A funding led by BITKRAFT Ventures and was joined by investors including Sony Innovation Fund, Amazon Alexa Fund, Credo Ventures, Samsung Next, Olive Tree Capital, and Maveron partner Dave Wu.

- Reema Health, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based health technology platform, raised $8 million in funding led by MaC Venture Capital and DNA Capital

- Sona, a London-based work management platform for deskless employees, raised $7 million in seed funding led by Gradient Ventures and was joined by investors including Monzo founder Tom Blomfield, Speedinvest, and Notion Capital. 

- Out Of Office, a Chicago-based recommendation-based travel app, raised $3.5 million in seed funding led by Hyde Park Venture Partners and was joined by investors including CEO of Cameo Steven Galanis, former Orbitz CPO Chris Brown, former Havenly COO Jessie Dixon, founder and CEO of Havenly Lee Mayer, former Bumble COO Sarah Jones Simmer, CEO and founder of The Points Guy Brian Kelly, Spikeball founder and CEO Chris Ruder, and Brand Foundry Ventures.

- Dapio, a London-based cashless payment solutions provider for businesses, raised $3.4 million in funding led by Flutterwave and was joined by investors including Techstars, PactVC, and Asymmetry Ventures venture partner Daniel Gould.

- RenewaFi, a New York-based renewable energy marketplace, raised $3 million in funding from investors including First Round Capital, Floating Point, BoxGroup, Powerhouse Ventures, and Arcadia CEO Kiran Bhatraju

- My Telescope, a Stockholm-based market intelligence and search startup, raised €2.5 million ($2.78 million) in seed funding led by Vendep Capital and Trind VC.

- ShearShare, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based B2B beauty app, raised $2.3 million in seed funding led by Fearless Fund and was joined by investors including Level Up Ventures, 43North, New York Ventures, Gaingels, Chloe Capital, Portfolia, Pipeline Angels, Bacon Family Trust, co-founder of ACV Auctions Jack Greco, Precursor Ventures, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Bread & Butter Ventures, and Sachse Family Fund.

- Pacto, a Mexico City-based ordering and payments platform for SMB merchants in Latin America, raised $2 million in pre-seed funding, per Bloomberg, from investors including FEMSA Ventures, 500 Startups LatAm, former SV Angel partner Kevin Carter, Leap Global Partners, Hive Hatch, First Check Ventures, TnT Ventures, August Hill, and others.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- NPD Group, owned by Hellman & Friedman, is in talks to acquire Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based data analytics and market research company. A deal would value the company at more than $5 billion. 

- RBC Wealth Management agreed to acquire Brewin Dolphin Holdings, a London-based wealth management services provider. A deal would value the company at around £1.6 billion ($2.1 billion). 

- ADQ agreed to acquire a majority stake in Unifrutti Group, a Nicosia, Cyprus-based fruit and vegetable distribution company. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- Altus Fire and Life Safety, backed by AE Industrial, acquired Croker, a Hauppauge, N.Y.-based fire, life safety, emergency preparedness, and business resilience program provider. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- Antin Infrastructure Partners agreed to acquire a majority stake in Empire Access, a Prattsburgh, N.Y.-based regional broadband provider, and North Penn Telephone, a Mansfield, Pa.-based regional broadband provider. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- cBeyondData, a portfolio company of Bluestone Investment Partners, acquired Alta Via Consulting, a Palos Heights, Ill.-based business management consulting firm. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- First Eagle Investments agreed to acquire Napier Park Global Capital, a New York-based alternative credit manager. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- HighPost Capital acquired Centr, a Australia-based digital fitness platform. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- KKR acquired a minority stake in Knowlton Development Corporation, a Longueuil, Quebec-based beauty, personal, and home care brands manufacturer and provider. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

EXITS

- E2open acquired Logistyx Technologies, a Chicago-based cloud-based shipping software company, from Kidd & Company and Firmament for $185 million. 

- PRO Unlimited acquired Geometric Results, a Southfield, Mich.-based outsourced workforce management company, owned by funds managed by Bain Capital Private Equity Europe. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- TA Associates agreed to acquire TouchTunes, a New York-based in-venue, music and entertainment platform, from funds advised by Searchlight Capital Partners and Newlight Partners. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- Thomas H. Lee Partners agreed to acquire a majority stake in Intelligent Medical Objects, a Rosemont, Ill.-based medical terminology application company, from Warburg Pincus. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

OTHER

- Fortune International agreed to acquire D’Artagnan, a Union, N.J.-based food seller and distributor, according to the New York Times. Financial terms were not disclosed.  

- Knowlton Development Corporation acquired Aerofil, a Sullivan, Mo.-based aerosol and liquid filling solutions provider. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

FUNDS + FUNDS OF FUNDS

- Gumi Cryptos Capital, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm, raised $110 million for a second fund focused on early-stage developers, projects, DAOs, guilds, apps, games, and protocols.

- Wave Financial, a Los Angeles-based investment management company, raised $100 million for a fund focused on new decentralized finance platforms launched in the Cardano ecosystem.

PEOPLE

- H.I.G. Capital, a Miami-based alternative assets investment firm, hired Antonio Botija and George Watts as managing director. Formerly, Botija was with Columbia Threadneedle. Formerly, Watts was with Stonepeak Partners.

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