This year’s Open Innovations Startup Tour, the Skolkovo Foundation’s annual roving quest for talented tech startups across Russia and neighbouring countries, began Monday in the northern city of Yakutsk, just a few hundred kilometres below the Arctic Circle.

Representatives of the Skolkovo Foundation get a taste of the traditional way of life in Yakutia as they prepare to mentor promising tech entrepreneurs at the first event of this year's Open Innovations Startup Tour. Photo:

In each city the Startup Tour visits, local scientists and tech entrepreneurs have the chance to pitch their projects to a jury of experts who then select the three most promising ideas in each of three areas: biomedicine, IT and industrial technologies. Those winners are awarded tickets to the Startup Village at the Skolkovo innovation centre in June, where they have the chance to pitch to international investors.

Russia's republic of Yakutia, also known as the republic of Sakha, is the coldest inhabited place on Earth, and its main city Yakutsk is the biggest city in the world located in a permafrost zone. Unsurprisingly, some of the projects submitted for the opening event – which was also open to entrepreneurs from neighbouring regions including the Far Eastern Kamchatkta Peninsula and the Magadan and Chukotka regions – reflected local conditions. These included a remote-controlled UAV capable of transporting up to 300 kilograms across distances of up to 650 kilometers, designed to deliver essential goods such as food, fuel and building materials to the inhabitants of remote Arctic regions that are difficult to reach by road. The drone was designed by Vitaly Manyakhin, a final-year student at the Chukotka branch of the Ammosov North-Eastern Federal University. His project was one of 189 submitted for the opening phase of the Startup Tour, which will next go on to the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk near the Chinese border on February 2-3.

This year, the Startup Tour is being organised in partnership with Russian Venture Company and other state development institutes, along with regional innovations programmes. The tour will take in 11 Russian cities, as well as the Kazakh city of Almaty, the Armenian capital Yerevan and Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.

 “We expect that the projects will receive not only a useful expert assessment, but also attract investment from federal foundations,” Anatoly Semenov, director of the Yakutia technopark, was quoted by state news agency RIA Novosti as saying ahead of the opening event.

“We hope that the Skolkovo Foundation will see Yakutia’s potential as the innovations centre of the Far East, with infrastructure opportunities that facilitate the appearance of cutting-edge technologies,” he added.  

The annual Startup Tour aims to create local communities of entrepreneurs in order to facilitate the creation of hi-tech jobs across the country, as part of the Skolkovo Foundation’s ultimate mission of transforming Russia’s energy exports-dependent economy into a modern model based on innovation.

About 2,000 startups are expected to take part in this year’s Startup Tour, which winds up in the southern city of Astrakhan on April 25-26.