On the first day of commencement, Salome Mikadze (B’22) will process into her senior convocation carrying a flag.
She’s done this before: She carried the flag for the McDonough School of Business (MSB) at New Student Convocation her first year.
This time, though, the flag bears a different weight.
Mikadze will be carrying the flag of Ukraine, her home country and the place she left three weeks ago so that she could graduate in person at Georgetown.
“I am really honored to represent Ukraine,” she says. “I feel like my goal right now is not to break down [laughs] and to really own this moment and cherish it.”
The moment is a long time coming. Mikadze has not been back to the Hilltop in two and a half years. Not since the COVID-19 pandemic sent her and her classmates home her sophomore year, not since the war in Ukraine kept her studying in bomb shelters in Lviv.
The moment, Mikadze says, is bittersweet.
A Wartime Leader
Mikadze is a senior who runs a creative software development agency based in Lviv. She co-founded the company her freshman year while at Georgetown with her Ukrainian business partner. She has since grownMovadex to 30 employees, providing design and software development services to businesses all over the world.
Since February 24, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Mikadze has leveraged her company to make a social impact for good. Together with her team, she has helped 100 families evacuate from war zones; coordinated supply chain efforts for body armor and medical supplies; and hired five team members from displaced regions.
In addition to her own resiliency, she says, her MSB classes helped her expand her company and cope with the war as a business leader.
“Georgetown prepared me to be a wartime leader,” she says. “I knew what happened in crises for companies — that was literally something I learned in class. I had the resources; I knew how to act. I also knew from Georgetown and MSB experiences how companies can make an impact and propel positive social change. It became very vital during these three months.”
“Georgetown prepared me to be a wartime leader. I knew what happened in crises for companies — that was literally something I learned in class. I had the resources; I knew how to act.”
Salome Mikadze (B’22)
Sharpening Her Company on the Hilltop
Mikadze was first drawn to Georgetown for its international focus and community, rigorous coursework and MSB’s focus on entrepreneurship, she says. She came to Georgetown through the Ukrainian Global Scholars program, a nonprofit that helps Ukrainian high school students receive education at top boarding schools and colleges to build a community of emerging leaders for Ukraine and beyond. Mikadze looked up to the program’s founders, who have “become agents of change for Ukraine,” she says.
Mikadze, who is in theGeorgetown Scholars Program (GSP), which offers programming and scholarship support for first-generation and low-income college students, arrived on the Hilltop in 2018 with an idea swirling in her head: She wanted to connect recent graduates with UX/UI design and software engineering skills with companies that needed flexible, creative tech services.
Her first two years at MSB helped her sharpen her idea. Her classes in psychology and entrepreneurship informed her relationship-building, negotiation skills and business strategy. She visited start-up incubators at theRed House and Halcyon, located in the Georgetown neighborhood, to meet entrepreneurs. She attended start-up challenges through MSB and tightened her pitch and idea.
“My entrepreneurship journey really started to find its path,” she says. “I was able to curate the idea into a functioning start-up at that stage.”
Then COVID-19 hit, and Mikadze had to leave the Hilltop behind.
An Unexpected Opportunity in a Pandemic
At first, leaving Georgetown felt like “the end of the world,” she said. But after a few months in Ukraine, Mikadze realized she had more time to focus on her studies and grow her company. And each MSB class contributed to her company’s growth.
“I was applying everything right there at the very second,” she says. “Management classes prepared me for managing cross-functional teams. Accounting for managing the finances of the company. Communication classes for presenting our company and pitching to our clients. I wasn’t even on campus to get such a profound impact from a Georgetown education and career that then translated into me building this company.”
She went from working with small companies to mid-sized businesses, NGOs and well-known startups. She began to hire more staff. And she was looking forward to returning to the Hilltop in February of her senior year.
February 24, 2022
February 24, 2022, started with a phone call to her parents. Mikadze saw the news that Russia had launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. She was shocked.
“What should we do? Do we need to leave?” she remembers asking her parents, who live close by.
Her parents had lived through a similar ordeal with Russia in their home country of Georgia, and had to flee the country in 1993. They vowed not to leave Ukraine.
“I remember them saying that it’s going to be OK, but I could hear them extremely worried,” she says. “The world transformed. It went from up to down. All of a sudden, you’re not sure if there are resources around you for basic things like water and food.”
“The world transformed. It went from up to down.”
Salome Mikadze (B’22)
The first week was painful, Mikadze says. Air sirens would blare at 2 a.m. She would grab her family’s two cats, laptop and passport and go down to her building’s bomb shelter.
“You go down to the bomb shelter and you pray that it’s a Ukrainian airplane flying [overhead],” she says. “I was so scared. And I felt so ashamed to be scared when I wasn’t in the cities that were under more aggressive attacks.”
After that first week, Mikadze started to get involved in humanitarian relief efforts. She helped make blankets, baked and cooked for the Ukrainian Army, collected clothes — “little symbols of hope,” she says. She also led Movadex to dedicate part of its resources to supporting Ukraine through housing refugees, providing shelters, offering job placements and coordinating IT-related support.
The more she helped, the more relief she felt.
“My parents and all the other fellow Ukrainians showed such strength and unity in these times, and that made me get up and do something good. Something that saves lives and does what our country needs at this moment,” she says. “I’m really proud to be a member of this community.”
She kept her company afloat and its projects running. She grew accustomed to the air sirens and took work calls or studied in the bomb shelter. She began to use Movadex to help fellow Ukrainians in the war effort.
“54th day of the war!” she wrote on LinkedIn one month ago. “We continue to remain strong. Our power is our unity.”
Returning to the Hilltop, Finally
Mikadze returned to Georgetown in early May, a few weeks prior to her graduation. Her family, she says, encouraged her to return to graduate, even though most cannot be here. “’You worked so hard for years,’ they told her. ‘You have to be there.”
Being back after two and a half years is surreal, Mikadze says. There are new buildings on campus, friends to see, classmates to meet.
But life is different than it once was. The planes flying over Georgetown from Ronald Reagan National Airport leave her trembling. She checks her phone every 30 minutes for the news. She worries for her family back home and is eager to return.
Even so, Mikadze is optimistic about her and Ukraine’s future.
“Ukraine will prevail, and we’ll find peace. We will rebuild our country. Things will never be the same as they were, but life will win over death, and the light will win over darkness.”
Salome Mikadze (B’22)
“Ukraine will prevail, and we’ll find peace. We will rebuild our country,” she says. “I’m hoping to use everything throughout these four years at Georgetown to continue building Movadex into something more impactful on the larger scale in Ukraine. I’m very much looking forward to the bright future.”
“Things will never be the same as they were, but life will win over death, and the light will win over darkness.”