The truckload of tulips that sparked innovation

“That’s probably the thing that saved my mental health, that I was doing something, not just sitting around.” 

Khrystyna Didukh

Resilience – a word commonly used, yet rarely seen in practice – is defined as “the ability to withstand difficult circumstances.” The story of one of our BOOST innovators Arrowstone Flowers – a startup, born out of a time of war – gives insight into the very fabric of resilience. 

On 24 February 2022, Khrystyna Didukh, the founder and creative behind Arrowstone Flowers, was on her way back to Ukraine from her trusted tulip grower in Poland. The Lviv entrepreneur had traveled to her neighboring country in search of exotic flowers unavailable in Ukraine. However, with the devastating news of Russia’s invasion, she was left stranded at the border, unable to return home. She found herself stuck with a truck full of tulips – one ton to be exact.

The most logical reaction would be to abort the mission right away – the natural response to an extraordinary disturbance in a supply chain. But the world of perishables, such as the flower industry, requires quick thinking and adaptation. Knowing her industry’s ins and outs, Khrystyna scrambled to find the right response in the quickly unfolding conflict situation.

Turning an urgent predicament into Flowers for Ukraine

Khrystyna, a graduate in Economics and English Literature, grew up immersed in the world of flowers, thanks to her mother who was also a florist. With over eight years of experience in the floral industry, she successfully turned her individual flower shop into a wholesale enterprise, driven by hard work and a keen ability to seize innovative opportunities.

Despite being immensely concerned for her loved ones back in Ukraine as the situation at the border worsened by the hour, she also had to find the best way to distribute her tulips, which, with “volatility comparable to that of bitcoin,” as she put it, had to be fast. Out of this dire situation came the Flowers for Ukraine campaign whose mission was to raise funds for humanitarian aid for Ukraine while simultaneously distributing the tulips. 

“So basically, for every person who thinks that he or she has to start from scratch – no you don’t have to. You just start from where you are. Even if you don’t have any resources at all, you still have knowledge, something that cannot be taken away from you.” 

Khrystyna Didukh

She delayed the delivery of the second truck of tulips, headed to Estonia and began to search for buyers. With the help of social media and a previously procured Estonian business permit, Khrystyna launched an official website and began selling bouquets just two days later. 

By May 2022, she had successfully sold all of her tulips with the help of a Tallinn pop-up stall, car delivery, and fifteen Estonian flower shops. People were able to buy flowers online and send them to Ukrainian refugees, women in the army, rescuers, volunteers, and doctors residing in Tallinn and Lviv. The flower deliveries invoked immense emotion and appreciation – a spark of beauty in a time of terror. 

Furthermore, the Flowers for Ukraine campaign has raised over €10,000 to date in support of an orphanage in the Cherkassy region of Ukraine as well as animal shelters across Ukraine. 

Graduating from UNDP BOOST Women Innovators

“Basically everything that happened before the war felt like 100 years ago.”

Khrystyna Didukh

In the midst of all of this, Khrystyna also received an email – an acceptance letter for BOOST: Women Innovators, a regional acceleration program for social impact innovation, powered by UNDP with the support of the Ministry of Finance of the Slovak Republic. The training experience transformed her wholesale floral business, taking her down a new path – to build an agritech platform that improves access to the florist supply chain by increasing opportunities for small-scale farmers while minimizing the environmental impact of the industry. 

Floristry continues to rely on a century-old traditional market model, and notably, key industry players lack sufficient connectivity. The agritech platform aims to remedy this by acting as a bridge, fostering connections among florists, plant breeders, and growers while ushering in digital transformation for the regional florist industry.

“The program totally changed my perspective. It filled all the gaps from my previous education quickly and systematically. Within the program, I understood that the flower platform idea I had could be done differently and funded differently.”

Khrystyna Didukh

Soaking up every bit of knowledge during the 12-week BOOST program, Khrystyna delved into modules covering business development, digital transformation, crowdfunding, and more. A standout moment for her was the mentorship sessions, particularly with Corey Hart, chapter director at StartUp Grind in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Inspired by the intriguing story of Tinder’s creation, a brilliant idea struck her – to establish a unique forum that unites florists and growers, a pioneering initiative in her region.

Launching the Brave2Bloom conference

So Khrystyna used her newfound knowledge and skills to organize a professional networking event with a twist that would set a high bar for future industry shows. Featuring performance art, a €35,000 pitch competition, and a direct Q&A with the Estonian Minister of Entrepreneurship, Brave2Bloom business conference was something in between a high concept flower show and a digital entrepreneurship summit. 

The two-day event featured discussions ranging from how to harness AI-powered apps and sell your company stock, to motivational talks about the power of imperfection and bucking gendered stereotypes. For the participants, many of whom were from Ukraine, starting or restarting a business was a very important focus. Many even built on the conference momentum and turned new insights into tangible project improvements and new business opportunities.

“This idea of mixing TED talks with Cirque du Soleil worked.” 

Khrystyna Didukh

The flower industry’s entangled supply chain logistics are one reason why it is generally resistant to change. As flowers are highly seasonal and many small businesses already operate on slim profit margins, introducing new practices that deviate from established norms can risk significant losses. In this case, innovation requires combining ‘new’ and ‘old’ ways of thinking to gain acceptance from customers and suppliers in a highly competitive industry rooted in tradition and aesthetics.

From growing her own business to cultivating more opportunities in the flower industry, Khrystyna is on a journey to expand the reach of the flower market. Not only is this an inspiration to florists and entrepreneurs everywhere, it is also an exemplary story of overcoming hardships and a demonstration of determination and what it means to stay on course, take risks and experiment. At the heart of all these initiatives lies a truly innovative entrepreneurship spirit and an overarching objective to support Ukraine beyond these trying times. 

“Just keep going. No matter what, keep doing what you love. If there is some Northern Star towards which you are walking, just go to it. No matter what is going on around, you will reach it eventually,” says Khrystyna Didukh.

By Bukelwa Maphanga, Innovation Intern, UNDP Istanbul Regional Hub (Edited by Svetla Baeva and Arianna Friedman)

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