Editorial disclaimer: The interview below was done in Russian and due to the translation, some quotes may not be exact.
Many have heard that Russia is trying to build a local Silicon Valley, Skolkovo, and just last week they came to Slush in Helsinki with a delegation of 100 people and about 60 start-ups. This was the largest event that this multi-billion project attended outside of Russia and we are happy that this was in the Nordics.
So what exactly is Skolkovo? In short, it is a start-up heaven. There are no taxes, you can easily lobby your own laws, get grants (The type you do not need to give back or give equity for), find talent, get help, mentoring and more.
It is located just outside of Moscow and is situated on 400 hectares of land in free economic zone. This means that there are no import taxes and all the customs procedures are relatively straight forward.
This sounded too good to be true, so we had to make sure it actually exists and had an interview during Slush with Maxim Uvarov, The Director of Development and Commercialization of Skolkovo in order to get more details on Skolkovo and their co-operation with Slush:
Let’s start with a simple question, what is Skolkovo?
“Skolkovo is an innovations centre in Russia. Some call it Skolkovo village, others call it a city and I call it a country. I will explain why. The laws in Skolkovo were made specifically for this region by then the President of Russia – Medvedev who is now the Prime Minister and leads the Skolkovo Foundation. Skolkovo can use either the existing laws in Russia or create their own laws to be used at Skolkovo.
By the year 2014 there will be 10 000 people working in Skolkovo and in the next three years there will be over 30 000 people there
There are four main sections at Skolkovo are:
– Research & Development of Large Companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, LukOil, Sberbank.
– A Technopark for Startups and SME’s that provides the infrastructure and helps with promotion.
– Skolkovo University created in co-operation with Massachusetts Institute of technology (MIT).
There are a lot of benefits, not only in terms of taxes but also support and advice, funding, help with documentation, laws and intellectual property rights.”
That’s great and we hope that this means that the famous bureaucracy of Russia will be minimized thanks to that. Could you tell us, how did co-operation with Slush and Finland begin?
“It all started on the highest level with the president of Skolkovo and the Mr. Dmitry Medvedev, the Prime Minister of Russia. And that was in turn started by an amazing person on our team – Pekka Viljakainen, who is well known in Finland and has direct contact with the Prime Minister. Thanks to Pekka, we found out about Slush and started this co-operation.”
What were some of the objectives of coming to Slush?
”Our team is very large, so everybody had slightly different goals. For example: finding new residents for Skolkovo, finding new partners for our startups that we brought with us and perhaps finding investors and partners for Skolkovo.
One of the results was that we have agreed that the next Slush is going to take place in Skolkovo in April of next year. This is what Pekka promised, so I think it will be done.
Generally, we want to help Finnish companies to come to Russia.”
In that regard, what are some of the criteria to become a resident at Skolkovo?
”Well, the company can come from any country, and must have international experts, who will be working in Skolkovo. Companies need to match our strategy, far sights and that is basically it. Once you apply, our experts will check the level of innovation in the product and in about a month you will be invited to become a resident.
There are already about 700 companies in Skolkovo and the financial help that we provide can range from a few dollars up until a few million dollars. The money that we provide is a grant. Non-equity, non-loan. But the participants need to invest the same amount 50/50.”
So if you have a great innovative product, co-operating with Skolkovo could be a great opportunity.
So, what should we make of this? Silicon Valley established itself very naturally, without infrastructure or government initiative. Skolkovo, on the other hand, is a very coordinated initiative where infrastructure and government support plays a fundamental role. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Let us know what you think in the comments.