VLADIVOSTOK — On his way back to Moscow from a tour of the United States in 1959, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev stopped off in Russia’s Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok. Inspired by what he had just seen in America and the basic parallels between Vladivostok and San Francisco — a picturesque Pacific bay location and steep hillside streets — Krushchev called on the city’s residents to turn their home into a Soviet San Francisco. 

It was a tall order, not least given Vladivostok’s then-status as a closed city, due it being the base for the country’s Pacific Fleet, and it would be more than half a century before the Russian port got its own Golden Gate Bridge, in the form of the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge. Nearly 60 years later, Vladivostok is very much open for business, and is once again looking to its hi-tech Pacific cousin for inspiration as it hosts Russky MeetUp, a three-day forum devoted to IT.

Vladivostok's Far Eastern Federal University is hosting Russky MeetUp at its campus on Russky Island. Photo: Sk.ru.

Russky MeetUp is designed to be a meeting place for software and hardware development companies from across Russia, where developers, business leaders and investors from across the Asia Pacific region can create joint projects and implement ambitious projects. 

Like the rest of Russia, Vladivostok — home to the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) — produces plenty of skilled programmers, but many of those seeking to pursue a career in IT currently leave the region, says Ilya Mirin, head of Skolkovo’s Far East office, which is co-organising Russky MeetUp. Local tech entrepreneurs told sk.ru that it was becoming increasingly difficult to find the IT specialists they need, and Alexander Loginov, head of Rostelecom’s Far Eastern division, said there is a “huge deficit of IT security personnel” in the region. Events like Russky MeetUp are designed to show the local tech community that there are excellent opportunities available at home, and encourage local talent to stay in the region, said Mirin. 

“We have very good scientific developments and enormous personnel potential,” said Andrei Tarasenko, acting governor of the Primorsky Krai region that includes Vladivostok, at the opening of Russky MeetUp on Monday. 

“Russians are being headhunted around the world. It’s important that talented programmers, engineers and mathematicians stay in Primorye [Primorsky Krai], and don’t move away to central Russia or to the West. We need you here,” said Tarasenko.

Dmitry Peskov of the ASI (left) and FEFU acting rector Nikita Anisimov sign off on the official opening of a Boiling Point meeting space inside the university. Photo: Sk.ru.

Russky MeetUp is the brainchild of FEFU, which was created in 2010 by merging together four of the Far East’s leading universities, and which is hosting Russky MeetUp at its state-of-the-art campus on Russky Island. Of the more than 1,000 participants on Monday, many were students. 

“FEFU is an excellent place to bring together the region’s IT community,” said Mirin. “The university’s management invited us to join them in organizing the event, and we were delighted to have the chance and agreed.”

As Russky MeetUp kicked off on Monday morning, a Tochka Kipeniya (Boiling Point) space was opened at FEFU. Boiling Point is a format set up by Russia’s Agency for Strategic Initiatives, and is already in use in other Russian cities including Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk to enable innovative project leaders and representatives of industry and business, as well as social entrepreneurs, to meet and develop their ideas. 

L-R: Primorsky Krai Acting Governor Andrei Tarasenko, Rostelecom's Alexander Loginov, and Vladimir Solodov, deputy presidential plenipotentiary in the Far East. Photo: FEFU.

“Boiling Point is a free space devoted to the future,” Dmitry Peskov, director of the young professionals project within the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, told participants of Russky MeetUp.

“If you want to have a project designed to change the world for the better, Boiling Point is the best place to discuss it,” he said.

The Boiling Point at FEFU will focus on tasks related to the digital economy, said the university’s acting rector, Nikita Anisimov. 

Unlike other state programmes devoted to the digital economy, however, it is organised not by bureaucrats, but by business, said Peskov. 

“The government is putting its stake on data over oil,” he said, outlining the government’s plan for the development of the digital economy through 2024, which includes 97 percent of Russian homes having access to broadband, the export of Russian IT solutions abroad, and the practical application of digital solutions in areas such as state bureaucracy, smart cities and healthcare.  

The digital economy as a window of opportunity for the Far East was the focus of one of Russky MeetUp’s first sessions on Monday, where mostly regional experts discussed how Vladivostok could take advantage of its location on the Sea of Japan and excellent access to Asia Pacific markets including China, Korea and Japan. 

Located on Russia's southern tip on the Sea of Japan, Vladivostok is looking to Asia for economic opportunities. Photo: Sk.ru.

“We have a unique geographical location: we are the closest European city to Asia. We can be a conductor of digital technology to Asia,” said Dmitry Alexeev, director general of DNS Digital Store, an electronics retailer that has a factory close to Vladivostok. He said that while Japan, China and Korea are renowned for their hardware, they are not as skilled in programming and software, representing a golden opportunity for developers in Vladivostok and the surrounding region.

Those working in the highly promising field of virtual reality also have a good chance of breaking through to Asian markets, said Alexeev. 

Vladimir Solodov, deputy presidential plenipotentiary in the Far East, said the region was not making the most of its location at the centre of the Asia Pacific region because of a lack of understanding of the mentality and business culture in Asian countries. 

“We have launched a programme devoted to doing business in Asia,” said Solodov. “The first intake will only be Russian entrepreneurs, but later it will be expanded for foreigners.” 

Solodov and Alexeev also said that Russian students should be encouraged to gain experience by studying in China.

The Russian federal government has made concerted efforts to develop the Far East region in recent years, launching a ministry specifically for that purpose and building several large infrastructure projects in Vladivostok, including three major bridges connecting the city’s islands and a new campus on Russky Island for FEFU. But located at the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway more than 9,000 kilometres from Moscow, Vladivostok is far closer to China, Korea and Japan than it is to most of Russia, and both federal and regional authorities are aware that the key to the region’s development may well lie East. 

The opening of a Skolkovo technopark at FEFA last month was part of an official plan approved by the Russian government in May to develop Russky Island as a science and education cluster that will become a platform for Russia’s integration into the Asia-Pacific region. Under that plan, events such as Russky MeetUp look set to become a regular occurrence, and next year Vladivostok will host the annual Asian Science Park Association conference.