Skolkovo’s flagship partners including Microsoft and Siemens have reiterated their commitment to the project, insisting political turbulence will not blow them off course.
At the Hypercube this week the Skolkovo Foundation held its Industrial Advisory Council meeting, which gives official partners the chance to air any concerns they have about the project and increase the effectiveness of their work.
The Industrial Advisory Council meeting for Skolkovo partners at the Hypercube. Photo: sk.ru
The foundation’s partner companies, mainly multinational giants of industry, form a crucial part of the Skolkovo ecosystem: By investing in R&D at the Skolkovo Innovation Center they have access to its lab facilities, intellectual capital and tax breaks while also passing on their knowledge to the local innovation community and help commercialize Russian innovations on international markets.
“Obviously the climate is challenging, and we all realize that,” Microsoft’s senior director Alexey Palladin told sk.ru on the sidelines of the meeting, which brought together representatives from 30 Skolkovo partners.
“But we are very optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead. One thing that is fueling our optimism is that Skolkovo has now created the critical mass when it comes to pulling together all the interested parties to support a new entrepreneurial spirit,” Palladin added.
Microsoft's Alexey Palladin. Photo: sk.ru
“We see this through our activities with the IT cluster of Skolkovo, which now has hundreds of startups participating … and we are very happy to support them in any way we can, through special offerings in our software, through special initiatives in our training, and through helping generate the next generation of entrepreneurs and partnerships with the likes of the Open University Skolkovo,” he said.
“Obviously there are challenges but we are here with Skolkovo to overcome them,” Palladin added.
“The Skolkovo initiative is crucial to send a sign that the government of Russia, and the nation of Russia is focused on these things,” he added. “We’re seeing that from the Kremlin and the Russian White House, the project is being supported.”
Dietrich Möller, the president of Siemens for Russia and Central Asia, noted, “The key point is that Siemens is working or organizing business on innovations. This business model – we are not selling oil or agriculture products or carpets, we are selling innovation for our customers in the field of energy and healthcare.”
“Skolkovo is very much an ecosystem where we are talking consistently about innovation. Innovative people, innovative ideas, innovative setups,” Möller told sk.ru.
“That’s why we are supporting it [Skolkovo]. We have our research center here, we are working on our projects, and we are very interested, of course, in people, in students, and we are contributing to that with our presence here. That is the reason why we love it.”
“To say it in other words: Worldwide, governments spend so much money on stupid things. The money spent on Skolkovo is definitely different. It’s a forward-thinking, positive, innovative hub for Russia that we support.”
Möller recognized the complex political situation, “but actually in Skolkovo, we are not talking about politics, we are talking about innovation. It could be a stabilizing factor. Our business is some kind of stabilizing factor. If you have recognized Siemens for 150 years in Russia with a lot of customers and partners, and this was even in times of the Cold War some communication channel and some stabilizing factor.”
Dietrich Möller, president of Siemens Russia and Central Asia. Photo: sk.ru
Siemens was Skolkovo’s first international partner and has promoted Skolkovo among the German business community.
Tuesday’s meeting at the Hypercube was opened by Skolkovo Foundation vice president Kirill Kaem, who presented eight ways in which cooperation between the partners could be ramped up.
Among them: More contests for participants; more systematic scouting networks to identify promising startups; developing the mentorship program; encouraging more joint projects between partners and residents such as Panasonic and Ensol’s work on forklift batteries and Datadvance’s collaboration with EADS; partners ordering R&D research from residents; and more education programs.
Skolkovo VP Kirill Kaem. Photo: sk.ru
“The ecosystem is partly formed but we need to make another big step,” Kaem said. “We expect more active participation of key partners. As a general framework, we expect more ideas and more companies with the support of key partners to develop support from existing ideas,” he added.
Three more areas of cooperation were identified in the course of the discussion that followed, before Kamil Isaev, the GM of R&D at EMC Russia, noted: “The last half year has been tough for everybody, for various reasons. We all need to learn to live in these circumstances.”
Isaev added: “We have no doubts that the project will built, the Technopark will be finished and Skoltech will continue with its success. That’s obviously very good.”
Isaev also called for more permanent contact between partners, saying meeting quarterly was insufficient to create the kind of synergy needed for the Skolkovo ecosystem.
One point of concern was raised by Microsoft’s Palladin, who called for speedier construction of the facilities at the Skolkovo Innovation Center.
“We live in an internet time, all over the world the connections are ubiquitous. But the physical presence and the connection and the ability for people to shake hands, to change ideas on a white board, to pencil out on a napkin the next startup, that is still crucial,” Palladin told sk.ru.
“One thing I would like to ask Skolkovo to do, if at all possible, is to accelerate the construction of the physical sites, which are the forums for such integration. Microsoft can be more present at Skolkovo, if Skolkovo was ready for that presence.”
Palladin got his answer in the form of a detailed presentation from Anton Yakovenko, Skolkovo’s director for construction.
The Skolkovo Innovation Center is a 400-hectare site just west of Moscow. It is to contain a Technopark – dry and wet labs for R&D work – as well as the Skoltech university and the full spectrum of amenities needed to function as a fully blown city, home to 30,000 workers.
Much of the construction is due to finish in the next couple of years, with the final touches due to be added by 2020.
In his progress report, Yakovenko outlined the state of play at each of the key facilities in the Skolkovo ecosystem.
The first facilities at the Technopark are to come online next year, with full functionality expected in the first half of 2016 when it will host the International Association of Science Parks World Conference.
Skoltech’s futuristic campus is due to open its doors – at least partly - in September 2015.
The 200,000 sq. m. Gallery business center, to be accessible by rail in 25 minutes from central Moscow, is scheduled to be complete at the end of 2015. Private research facilities for Boeing are due to open next September; for Russia’s Renova group in February or March; and for Dauria Aerospace in 2017. Russia’s biggest lender Sberbank is to open its megadata center and technopark facility by 2017, while TMK’s R&D arm is to have moved in by 2016.
Skolkovo construction chief Yakovenko. Photo: sk.ru
As for the infrastructure, the main transport hub which houses the main road and rail entry and exit points is to be finished by 2016 along with a standalone fitness center nearby.
The Skolkovo Innovation Center has already attracted $2.5 billion in funding, and requires a similar amount for completion through 2020.
“I’m very confident that we’re going to be able to achieve that,” Yakovenko said.
Asked to give guarantees that deadlines would be met, Yakovenko stressed that these dates are contractually binding, as opposed to those given in the past, which were more indicators.
Moderator Esko Aho, the former Prime Minister of Finland who joined Nokia as an executive director in 2008, and is a consulting partner at Skolkovo, expressed confidence the timeframes would be observed.
Another point of concern was raised by Igor Kaloshin of Intel, who noted that the council was putting too little energy into improving the investment climate.
Irina Bobb, who runs the Skolkovo-based R&D operation of Russia’s sixth-biggest oil company Tatneft, called for more engineers to be brought onto Skolkovo Foundation staff to encourage better innovation in energy efficiency.
“There is no innovation in the oil sector without the engineers themselves,” Bobb told sk.ru. “Creating a critical concentration of engineers and researchers in the oil and gas sector at Skolkovo would help establish an arena for real cooperation devoted to reseach and development in this sector," she added.
“That arena has been created here at Skolkovo. But for this to become truly efficient, we need more experts from the oil and gas sector that really understand the engineering specifics of our industry to work at Skolkovo,” she added.
But rounding off the meeting, Vyacheslav Gershov, SAP’s development director, summed up the mood in the room.
“We want to continue with our current commitments in Skolkovo,” he said.
The partners represented at the meeting included: Nokia, Cisco, Siemens, Boeing, Intel, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Tatneft, TMK, Honeywell, Rosatom, and Danfoss.
EMC's Kamil Isaev and Tatneft's Skolkovo research center director Irina Bobb. Photo: sk.ru