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Ursus’ cloud has a silver lining

Last update - Thursday, May 14, 2009, 12:04 By Viktor Posudnevsky

Budding real estate moguls Max and Irina Ursu haven’t let things get them down despite the downturn in the property market, they tell Viktor Posudnevsky

Max and Irina Ursu both hail from Odessa in southern Ukraine. The port city’s people are famous for their sharp wit, sense of humour and entrepreneurial spirit, so it comes as no surprise that the couple had an early start in the business world.
For Max, it all started with trading at Odessa’s hectic open-air markets in the 1990s. “I was a student in a technical college, but I understood this wasn’t for me,” says Max, who has a pleasant, open manner and a keen eye for people. “So I got into business instead.”
But Ukraine is a tough country for the average entrepreneur. Max says he was able to grow his operation into a large wholesale store, trading in food and alcohol products, but felt he had reached a dead end.
“I was fed up with corruption,” he says. “The militsia [Ukraine’s police force] were real bandits, and I’m not afraid to say it. If you wanted to do business you had to live by laws of the criminal world, not by laws of the people.”
This finally prompted Max and his wife Irina to leave Ukraine and seek a better environment abroad. He declines to speak in detail about his relocation to Ireland, only to say that the process took six months and the adventures the couple went through “are fit for a book, not a short newspaper story.”
After settling into a new life in Ireland, Max once again caught the entrepreneurial bug. With Irina’s help, he set up a company called Ursu Overseas Properties.
“We were looking to buy a house in Ireland and did a lot of research on the property market,” he says. “So we thought why not use this experience and our international know-how to start a business?”
The idea was to set up websites in a number of locations – including Ireland, Ukraine and Russia – and pitch various properties to prospective investors. Most of these properties would be located in popular investment hotspots such as Bulgaria, the Canary Islands and Cabo Verde.
Max notes that there was a real potential in attracting wealthy customers from Russia and Ukraine because his company was registered in Ireland and had easy access to mortgages from western European banks.
But just as everything was ready to go, the global financial crisis hit, causing real estate prices to plummet and making investors flee from the property market.
“The economy has to be more stable for our property business to restart,” says Irina. “But we don’t know yet when this will happen – in a year, in two years?”
In the meantime, the Ursus have embarked on a number of other ventures. Last year they opened a weekend school in Swords for children born to Russian-speaking parents. And Max is distributing a novel product that allows immigrants to watch TV channels from their home countries in Ireland via the internet.
“At the moment all we can do is wait like everyone else,” says Max. “But I'm positive that we'll be able to revive our property business and make it work.”

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