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Russia Opens Its Doors to Foreign Companies, Entrepreneurs and 800 Start-Ups

Posted: 07/01/2013 12:28

Less than an hour's taxi drive through the clogged traffic from Red Square something big is happening in Moscow. Bulldozers, architects, city-planners, academics, start-ups, entrepreneurs and some of the world's biggest companies are part of the Skolkovo Park, a business park that some believe to be the biggest R&D project on the planet.

Moscow isn't particularly known for its support of entrepreneurial spirit and a place for foreign companies to prosper. Things, however, have changed since the collapse of the Soviet State and the accompanying chaos of corruption and downright danger for anybody or any company doing business there.

But things are changing and the inception of the Skolkovo Foundation in 2010 is helping to transform the city, and the perception of Russia. Finally, 25 years after Margaret Thatcher described Mikhail Gorbachev as somebody she could 'do business with', the global community are beginning to believe that Russia can be the same.

The Skolkovo Foundation has a wide brief. Backed by companies such as Siemens and Intel who sit on its board, the mission is to change Russia from a country that is perceived as a mineral-producing country rich in oil and gas, to being one that builds on the cluster model of Silicon Valley and is friendly not only to Vcs but also to the global community.

Conor Lenihan is the VP External Economic Relations for Skolkovo and previously served in several government ministries in Ireland, most recently as a Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation. He believes that Skolkovo is doing great things for Moscow, and for Russia.

"This is probably the biggest R&D project in the world and we are creating a VC-friendly environment that positions Moscow as the place for foreign companies to invest and a legacy for Russian kids so they become entrepreneurs and stay in Russia, not seek their fortune elsewhere," he says.

The 800 start-ups that are participants in the Skolkovo project work across the energy, IT, nuclear, space technologies, communications and biomedicine sectors. One established company based in the business park is Vizerra, a company that has created a software platform for architects, engineers and designers to build in 3D models.

Its clients include the Town Planning Committee in Barcelona, and the Organising Committee of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. It recently released its disruptive product Revizto at the Autodesk University Show in Las Vegas, a Cloud collaboration tool that allows everybody working on a construction project to access all parts of the operation.

Arman Gukaysan is the CEO of the company and believes that not only is Skolkovo supporting Russian entrepreneurs, but the city itself is becoming a magnet for entrepreneurs and innovators.

"We are seeing dramatic changes in Russia and this is having a profoundly positive effect on the younger generation. Nobody cares about the Cold War any longer, and like everybody else, we just want to be part of a global market and we want even more success stories start-ups.

"The entire start-up environment in Russia has been transformed because of organisations such as Skolkovo and Digital October Seed Funds, but it is also trade events such as TechCrunch Moscow that are attracting everybody from venture capitalists to foreign companies to ingenious start-ups," he says.

But it's not just about supporting start-ups. Blue-chip corporations such as Cisco, IBM, Siemens and Russian oil giant Rosneft have all invested in Skolkovo and they were recently joined at the end of 2012 by Samsung who signed an agreement to set up a R&D centre in Moscow.

But it's not all business. Out of the world's top 200 universities not a single one is Russian, so the creation of a new Skolkovo university in the park, in a partnership with MIT in Boston, will make good this imbalance. The new campus will also serve as a catalyst for talent from all around Russia.

The recent opening of the impressive Cube building in the centre of the Park at the end of 2012 will be the first in an ongoing episode of milestones that will peak in 2014 as the Park takes shape. It looks as if it will be an interesting two years, although its success is likely to add to the traffic woes of modern-day Moscow.

But if that means the world's companies are setting up in Moscow and the country's entrepreneurs are being energised and supported, then that is an associated problem that will surely be addressed as quickly as the Skolkovo Business Park emerges from the wasteland that currently surrounds it.

 

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