Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Can the Skolkovo Innovation Centre Save Russia?

The Skolkovo innovation center is a high technology business area being built near Moscow. It will host five scientific communities that carry top priority for Russia -- energy, information technology, telecommunications, biomedicine and nuclear technologies -- as the country diversifies from being largely powered by natural resources. The 600 hectare complex designed by French architects AREP will be situated next to the campus of Skolkovo Moscow School of Management, a top-level business school founded by leading Russian and international companies.... Siemens, Boeing, IBM, Dell and Nokia are among other leading companies that have committed to participation at Skolkovo.

Russian government-led initiatives such as tax incentives to stimulate development and loosening of restrictions on importing foreign workers and technologies have been enacted to facilitate the high-tech hub. Over 200 laws have been amended to facilitate the participation of international companies at Skolkovo and to encourage sustainable innovation among Russian startups. _Marketwatch
Russia is a resource-rich nation with a vast land area but a shrinking and aging population. Under Vladimir Putin, Russians have seen their freedoms steadily disappear, and their national health and morale wither. The best and the brightest are fleeing to better opportunities outside the country, as the infrastructure is stripped of capital by government insiders, and deposited in out of country bank accounts.

Skolkovo, a brainchild of Dmitri Medvedev, offers Russian innovators a way to hook up with outside investors and business interests -- perhaps Russia's last great hope to avoid inbred disaster under Putin.
Skolkovo IT Cluster was founded last year as part of a larger initiative to turn Moscow’s Skolkovo suburb into a kind of Russian Silicon Valley. The plan was initiated by Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, and the Skolkovo foundation has since won financial and logistical backing from pretty much every U.S. tech heavyweight. Cisco alone has committed to invest $1 billion over 10 years in the region. Part of that money is now used to jumpstart Russian startups. “In order to change things, you have to start doing things,” Gaika told me. _Gigaom
Medvedev's idea to change Russian laws to allow easier involvement with outsiders, was a brilliant idea. But no one knows what Putin will do if any of the Skolkovo startups grow large enough to be seen as a threat to his autocratic dictator's form of state control.
“Companies started in Russia are cheaper (to run) and the quality and talent level is high,” said Alex Gurevich, a partner with Javelin Venture Partners. “Innovation is happening everywhere–not just in the Valley. I want to see what Russia has to offer.”

...“One thing that’s clear is that there’s some amazing technology in Russia. It’s better than what I’ve seen stateside,” said Bill Reichert, managing director of Garage Ventures, who said he also plans to attend the demo day.

Companies presenting run the gamut from Bazelevs Innovations, which makes interactive 3D visualization of scripts for TV and film, to SpeakToIt, which allows smartphone users to better retrieve information with natural language. _WSJ
The three reports excerpted above present some intriguing startup ideas. But will they have the freedom to develop in Russia without interference and extortion from the thuggish regime or the Russian mafia?

Russia needs an infusion of fresh, new blood, and new ideas. Without new approaches, Russia will shrivel and die in stagnant statist autocracy. If not under Putin, then under some other bombastic autocrat. For Russia to live and thrive, something has to give.

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