Skolkovo Innovation Centre – Russia’s Silicon Valley?

The Skolkovo Innovation Centre is about a half-hour drive from Red Square, in a 400 hectare building site on the outskirts of Moscow. It was the venue for the second annual Startup Village event to showcase and promote Russia’s technology startup scene – and Computer Weekly was  invited along to take a look.

Skolkovo is a government-backed initiative – reportedly to the tune of £10bn by 2020 – to create Russia’s Silicon Valley. Set up by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev and run by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, it is trying to create the sort of co-located collaborative community of entrepreneurs, tech wizards and investors that has become the model for startup success in the West.

It’s a similar concept to London’s Tech City, but backed by rather more billions of rubles than the British government is able to put into the East London startup cluster.

Russian executives and business leaders speaking at the opening ceremony of Startup Village acknowledged that the country is a long way behind Europe and the US in commercial technology.

Russia has a long technological heritage of course – engineers and industrialists funded by the state to find innovations for space and energy technologies in particular. Russian IT experts have set up successful domestic companies like Yandex, the country’s equivalent of Google. But to date there has been not a sniff of success in international markets or in commercialising its engineering heritage on a global basis.

The Skolkovo Innovation Centre is about a half-hour drive from Red Square, in a 400 hectare building site on the outskirts of Moscow. It was the venue for the second annual Startup Village event to showcase and promote Russia’s technology startup scene – and Computer Weekly was  invited along to take a look.

Skolkovo is a government-backed initiative – reportedly to the tune of £10bn by 2020 – to create Russia’s Silicon Valley. Set up by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev and run by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, it is trying to create the sort of co-located collaborative community of entrepreneurs, tech wizards and investors that has become the model for startup success in the West.

It’s a similar concept to London’s Tech City, but backed by rather more billions of rubles than the British government is able to put into the East London startup cluster.

Russian executives and business leaders speaking at the opening ceremony of Startup Village acknowledged that the country is a long way behind Europe and the US in commercial technology.

Russia has a long technological heritage of course – engineers and industrialists funded by the state to find innovations for space and energy technologies in particular. Russian IT experts have set up successful domestic companies like Yandex, the country’s equivalent of Google. But to date there has been not a sniff of success in international markets or in commercialising its engineering heritage on a global basis.

The heart of the Skolkovo Innovation Centre is the Hypercube – a co-working and office space for the 200-plus startups that have so far been accepted onto the programme.

Tech startups that make it through a rigorous application process benefit from government incentives such as zero corporation tax for up to 10 years, and grants of up to $10m. But only one in six applicants to the scheme are typically accepted, and of those only one in four receive grants.

The selection process relies on 126 business and technology experts – 35% of whom are from outside Russia.

As well as the financial benefits, they receive mentoring and advice on how to market their products on the international stage. Skolkovo executives say there is no shortage of innovation and smart ideas in Russia, but there is very little experience of how to commercialise those ideas and become established on international markets.

More than 8,000 people attended the Startup Village event at the Skolkovo Innovation Centre.

According to Bloomberg’s ranking of the most innovative countries in the world, Russia ranks only 18th – ahead of China but behind not only most of its global competitors, but also relative minnows in the world economy such as Norway, The Netherlands and Austria.

The Russian tech industry has few companies on the international stage. Two relatively niche suppliers – Kaspersky in security, and Parallels in virtualisation – are probably the best known. But Skolkovo supporters recognise the need for role models.

“We lack the feeling of the ‘Gold Rush’ in Silicon Valley – that critical mass of success stories,”

said Alexander Kuleshov, a director at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“The role of Skolkovo is to create success stories to give the incentive to invest in further success stories.”

Source: ComputerWeekly
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