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As the Skolkovo innovations city prepares to host its fifth annual Startup Village, a giant two-day festival outside Moscow for entrepreneurs and investors, the event’s godfather, Finnish entrepreneur Pekka Viljakainen, is crystal clear on its draw.
“There are absolutely fabulous investment opportunities,” he says.
The winners of last year's Startup Village pitching competition with Viljakainen (kneeling). Photo: Sk.ru.
Almost seven years after the Skolkovo Foundation was set up with the aim of weaning the Russian economy off its dependence on hydrocarbon exports and transforming it into a hi-tech innovations-based model, the foundation has more than 1,600 resident startups. And at this year’s Startup Village on June 6-7, according to Viljakainen – an advisor to Skolkovo Foundation president Victor Vekselberg – the quality of the companies present will be better than ever.
“Our companies are more mature. I hope that the quality has increased in every single aspect,” he says, adding that he hopes people will not take his word for it.
“I don’t want to say it will be great, because I want people to see for themselves that it’s great,” he says.
The outdoor event is always an international affair, attended by foreign tech gurus and investors, as well as by international entrepreneurs, diplomats and journalists, and this year will be more international than ever before, says Viljakainen.
“It will be the most international event ever held in Moscow in the area of business and entrepreneurship, because we have almost 70 foreign specialists from various fields coming, and I’m really proud of that,” he told Sk.ru in an interview ahead of the event.
This year, about 20,000 people are expected to attend the Startup Village, including 800 investors from across the world, and representatives of about 4,000 startups.
Skolkovo’s mission, according to Viljakainen, is to unite those people and get them to work together.
About 150 tech startups from around the world – not only those with Skolkovo residency status – will demonstrate their products and services at the Startup Bazaar, and some will take part in pitching sessions, with the chance to win up to 80,000 euros in prize money. Between examining the tech solutions on offer and meeting with entrepreneurs and scientists seeking investment, tech experts will take part in a series of panel discussions throughout the two days devoted to topics ranging from space technologies and the Internet of Things to smart cities and the sharing economy.
Among those taking part in the pitching competition are the winners of each regional stage of Skolkovo’s Open Innovations Startup Tour, a roving quest for talented tech startups in Russia’s regions that this year visited 11 cities across Russia, as well as neighbouring Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
But despite its name, the Startup Village is not just for and about startups, Viljakainen insists.
“The Startup Village is all about business and the economy – it’s not just for startups,” he says, adding that established companies right up to the level of state giants play an active role in the event.
“They support the Startup Village by sending their teams to check what kind of technology Russian banks, Russian energy companies, retailers, hotels, whatever other industry, can take from startups,” he said.
“Startup Village should be seen as a place where you can find technologies for your own growth.”
The Startup Village will take place at the Skolkovo innovation city on June 6-7. For more information about the Startup Village and to register, visit: https://startupvillage.ru/en/registration. All events are held in both English and Russian.