© alterfalter General | October 03, 2013

Skolkovo – Russian centre of innovation

“We cannot delay this any longer. We must embark on the modernization and technological re-equipment of the industrial sector as a whole. I believe, for our country, it is a matter of survival in the modern world,” said Dmitry Medvedev.
In late 2009 he unveiled plans to create a Russian Silicon Valley called Skolkovo. So, what exactly is Skolkovo today?

For one, it is not just a single geographical area. It can better be described as a program covering all of Russia. Innocity – the heart of Skolkovo – is now under construction. It will be the future centre of the Russian electronic industry. But even such a massive investment as the establishment of a new city is not enough to boost the huge electronics world in Russia. People involved in the Skolkovo project usually describe it as a nationwide idea. A friendly eco-system for innovative companies.

The Skolkovo Foundation is a non-governmental body, having a mandate from the government to create an innovation centre based on government subsidies. In turn, Skolkovo supports over 1'000 innovative companies across the country, organises an Open University, builds a brand new city in Moscow’s suburbia, ensures financing and cooperates with key partners, such as Cisco, Nokia, Intel and many others.

Anna Nikina, Head of Partnership Development, describes the current shape of the Skolkovo initiative: “Today, more than 1'000 innovative companies are Skolkovo participants, employing 13'000 people. These are very young companies, established on average just 15 months ago. Only 35 of them are located here, in Moscow’s Technopark: the rest are spread across all of Russia. Also, 43 international companies - key partners such as Microsoft, IBM, Johnson&Johnson – have shown interest. 28 of them will establish R&D centers in Skolkovo’s Innocity and already have started to work towards that goal.”

In the nearest future, Skolkovo will receive its heart: Innocity. The new city will be build as a green field establishment on a 2.5 million sq.m. plot and will comprise office buildings, a University, numerous R&D centers, the Technopark and an apartment area for 22 - 25 thousand inhabitants. Everything will be connected with the Moscow city centre by a fast train, envisioned to transport another 20 thousand employees daily.

“We are going to create a friendly eco-system which gathers all players needed to boost the innovation process. Something that was never created in the former Soviet Union. In ‘naukogrady’, no connection was made between science and business. One of the key steps to pool both in the same place was – in fact – finding the right location, where such an environment could be created. We have created a master plan of the city of 2.5 million square meters which will enable people to focus on what they are supposed to focus on: innovation”, said Anton Lakovenko, CEO at LLC UDAS Skolkovo, responsible for the construction of Innocity.

Start-ups supported

Even after 2020, when Innocity is ready, the vast majority of Skolkovo partners will stay beyond its boundaries. The foundation supports these companies in many areas. One of the most visible ways are Technoparks, ‘inexpensive offices with access to expensive equipment’ as described by one of our interlocutors. Every Skolkovo partner also receives tax reliefs as well as migration visas and customs duty support.

Separate programs are provided for venture financing: “Each partner can apply for a grant from Skolkovo. This is not a loan which you would have to pay back to Skolkovo or transfer equity in your company for. It is money from government to promote innovation”, said Anna Nikina. Skolkovo approved 209 grants for RBL 9.5 billion. If the grant’s sources are not sufficient enough, 52 venture funds, including 21 international funds, are also part of the eco-system.

Andrey Sartori, Chief Technical Officer, is responsible for labs net functioning: “We have started a countrywide program of lab accreditation. We have more than 400 labs in Russia, but very few of them have a proper, client oriented attitude. This is their weakest point; even if they are equipped with modern technology. For our accreditation process, we have chosen numerous labs, we work with them to meet our requirements, including proper client service. This will enable Skolkovo partners to benefit from the program.”

International partners

One of the office buildings already build in Innocity, named Hypercube, houses Cisco's office. In future, Cisco will concentrate all its operations in the state-of-the-art research center located in Innocity. Another one, build by Alstom and Transmasz Holding, will be ready in 2016. The list of international companies which announced to establish R&D centers in Skolkovo is long and impressive: Boeing, EADS, Ericsson, GE, Honeywell, Intel, Nokia or Nokia Solutions & Network are the most familiar to Evertiq’s readers. Samsung is also said to be interested in joining this impressive line-up.

“Why should people seriously think about establishing their offices and R&D centers here in Skolkovo?”, asks Anton Lakovenko. “Maybe because Skolkovo has the answer to most of the drawbacks that can be found here in Russia. For the first time we will have a quality environment with all necessary legal, fiscal and infrastructure problems solved.” In the future Innocity, the first few office buildings are already finished and several others, including the new Technopark facilities and the University, are growing fast. The construction of the main boulevard and train station are also under way.

“Skolkovo was established to support start-up projects. It is not really crucial, which country the project comes from, but it is important that the project includes R&D development in Russia. For example, when Intel started its research project with us, the first step was to establish a connection with a Russian project partner. It is a formal requirement to have a Russian entity established and Russian people involved in the team”, explains Albert Efimov, Project Director IT Cluster.

“After that, the application process starts and approximately 2-3 out of 10 projects are accepted. Our experts panel evaluates each project against three main criteria – technology innovation, commercialization & potential and feasibility”, he adds. “The next step could be the application for grant financing, but the criteria for that are much more restrictive. Here only 2 out of 10 project are granted funding through Skolkovo.”
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