Russia holds innovation meet in time of sanctions, low oil prices

Moscow, June 3 (IANS) The third Russian startup conference for innovators is being held here over Tuesday and Wednesday in the backdrop of a difficult economic period for Russia hit by Western sanctions over Ukraine, and by much lower prices for crude oil that is a major export of the Eurasian nation.

“This conference is very important because with the decrease in oil prices there is no alternative but to go in for technological modernisation,” Albert Yefimov, the head of robotics at Russia’s largest innovation fund, the state-run Skolkovo Foundation, the organisers of the Startup Village, told IANS.

Over Tuesday and Wednesday, the conference brings together entrepreneurs, innovators, federal officials and scientists from across the world with the aim of forming the new generation of Russian entrepreneurs and innovators.

“It is a proven fact that the basis of modernisation are startups, which can take risky choices that big companies hesitate to take, as also provide employment,” Yefimov said.

He explained that in the US, for instance, the biggest share of capitalisation comes from new companies and technological innovations are done by startups.

Skolkovo, the strategic development institution of the Russian government, runs the Skolkovo City near Moscow which houses an innovation centre comprising over 1,000 companies and startups, a Technopark and a new university established in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The resident companies in the company’s Startup Village, spread over 100,000 square metres on the outskirts of the Russian capital, conduct research in diverse fields ranging from I-T and robotics, space and nuclear technology, biomedicine, energy-efficiency technologies and new materials.

Venture capital and venture funds are also housed in the project area, which in size is the equivalent of 15 football fields and includes residences, school and sports facilities under construction.

“The scope of the project is nesting and farming startups and making them learn how to make money,” Dmitry Nizkovsky, projects director, told IANS.

“Our aim is to take the old Soviet science structure that made Russia a world leader in technology, and facilitate the commercialisation of innovation and science,” he added.

Thirty of the world’s most successful corporations, including Boeing, Cisco Systems, Airbus (formerly EADS), GE, Johnson & Johnson and IBM have already entered into agreements with Skolkovo.

The Startup Village is very important for Russia as a place for meeting with people, exchanging ideas and discovering new ideas in a setup that is different from the traditional corporate one, explained Yefimov.

“The village is crucial for technological modernisation also because of a new culture it is creating, he said

“Russia is a very hierarchical society and this is a way to break both vertical and horizontal barriers to unleash the society’s creative potential. Here in the village investors come close to technology,” he said.

India’s leading medical new molecules maker, Mumbai-based Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, is to sign an agreement with Skolkovo on the final day of the conference on Wednesday, when Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is also slated to address it.

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