Despite the 9,000 kilometres between them, the Skolkovo innovation centre outside Moscow and Russia’s Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) in Vladivostok have a lot in common. They were both created in 2010, when four of the Far East’s leading universities were merged to create FEFU, and when Russia’s then-President Dmitry Medvedev signed off on the creation of the Skolkovo innovation centre. While FEFU was built on Russky Island, a former closed military territory in the port city of Vladivostok, Skolkovo began to emerge from a greenfield site just outside Moscow.
With a shared focus on the future, it was only logical for Skolkovo’s Far East representative office to move into premises at FEFU and conduct its operations from the heart of Vladivostok’s innovations scene. In September, the two forward-looking organisations formalized their cooperation with the opening of the Russky Technopark within FEFU: a joint venture between Skolkovo and FEFU aimed at fostering young tech entrepreneurs.
Nikita Anisimov, acting rector of the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok. Photo: FEFU.
“Our two projects – the university on Russky Island and Skolkovo – are very similar models of development, and we view their implementation in broadly the same way, and so everything we are doing together is destined for success,” FEFU acting rector Nikita Anisimov told Sk.ru in an interview on the sidelines of the Russky MeetUp IT forum held at FEFU last week, whose co-organisers included FEFU and the Skolkovo Foundation.
The newly opened Russky Technopark aims to create the necessary conditions for the region’s talented youth to unlock its potential, turn ideas into profitable companies and receive financial support from development institutes to do so, said Anisimov.
Russky Technopark will eventually get its own building on the sprawling territory of the FEFU during the university’s second stage of construction. For now, like the Far East representative office of the Skolkovo Foundation, it is housed inside FEFU’s main administrative building.
“I would call the temporary location, which can be seen now on the eighth floor of the FEFU building, the seed version of the technopark,” said Anisimov.
“The Skolkovo Technopark wasn’t built in a day either. It’s a long process, and a network of partners will be formed while the technopark is still being built.”
To look at how other technoparks function in partnership with specific universities, representatives of FEFU went to Beijing and learned how Tuspark science and business park operates at Tsinghua University, he said.
“It’s an example of the classical management model for establishing a technopark, when a separate legal entity is created and cooperates as closely as possibly with the students from a specific university, while at the same time remaining open to student groups from other universities, the R&D subdivisions of major companies and so on,” explained Anisimov.
The Russky Technopark will also probably be set up as a separate legal entity within FEFU, which is home to 20,000 students from across Russia and abroad, he said. The university is already seeing a lot of interest in the project from both Russian companies and foreign businesses, in particular from the Asia Pacific region, said the acting rector.
“The Koreans, Chinese and Japanese are interested in ‘landing’ their companies and opening offices here,” he said. “For them, it’s important to be close to the university, where the best young minds of the Primorye region – and indeed of all Russia – are concentrated.”
There is a worldwide hunt for talent underway, and “our job is to create the most favourable conditions for our people to realise their potential in their home country. We’ll also be very pleased if foreigners can realise themselves in our country and contribute to the development of the Far East,” added Anisimov.
FEFU occupies a sprawling site on Russky Island in Vladivostok, where a separate building for the Russky Technopark will eventually be built during the university's second stage of construction. Photo: Sk.ru.
Next year, FEFU and Skolkovo will join forces on another project, the annual Asian Science Park Association (ASPA) conference. The Skolkovo Foundation launched a successful bid to host the event at FEFU, which has extensive experience of hosting large-scale prominent conferences: its campus was built to accommodate the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2012, and the Eastern Economic Forum has taken place at the university since 2015.
The university will take full advantage of the opportunity to establish useful contacts and utilize the experience of the experts at ASPA to establish an efficient legal and management model for the Russky Technopark, said Anisimov.
“The idea of the conference of technoparks is precisely for participants to share their experience and vision and opinions on which instruments to develop, how to work with investors and business and so on,” he said.
Ties are also strong between FEFU and Skolkovo’s own university, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech), a graduate research university set up in cooperation with MIT. Skoltech president Alexander Kuleshov and Anisimov – who are both mathematicians – have visited each other’s universities, and have already identified several areas of cooperation.
Skoltech professor Konstantin Severinov curates a joint biomed programme with FEFU on the Skoltech side. Photo: Sk.ru.
“We actively cooperate with Skoltech in the field of biomedicine, and are implementing a joint educational programme,” said Anisimov, adding that on the Skoltech side, that programme is curated by Professor Konstantin Severinov, director of Skoltech’s centre for data-intensive biomedicine and biotechnology, who has also visited FEFU.
“FEFU also has a strong school of biomedicine. This year, Alexander Kagansky, who previously worked at the University of Edinburgh, joined the team on a permanent basis. We have opened a genome medicine lab, and this is also an area with good potential for cooperation,” said Anisimov.
The FEFU rector also sees opportunities for collaboration in climate research and robotics.
“During our visit to Skoltech, we saw some impressive projects in the field of robotics and construction of robotised objects,” he told Sk.ru. “On our part, FEFU has made some serious progress in the field of underwater robotics. We are very interested in utilising the scientific potential of Skoltech and its state-of-the-art lab facilities to work on underwater robotics.”
Together with the Far East branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, FEFU also has plenty of expertise to share with its partners, such as in the field of marine biology, the rector said. Russky Island is also home to a large oceanarium with a dedicated marine biology research and education centre.
There is also great potential for exchange programmes between FEFU and Skoltech, for both students and teachers, said Anisimov, adding that Mikhail Gelfand, a professor at Skoltech’s centre for data-intensive biomedicine and biotechology, has already delivered a cycle of lectures at FEFU.
Anisimov is counting on Skoltech to join an initiative proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin at this year’s Eastern Economic Forum for the country’s leading universities to open fundamental science departments at FEFU, he said.
“I suggested this to Kuleshov, and he was glad to approve the idea. It’s great that Alexander Petrovich [Kuleshov] always supports the Far East’s initiatives, since he understands that we need to develop and help the region,” said Anisimov.
“If, together with Skoltech and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, we create a department here for our natural science and engineering students in fundamental disciplines, that would be a huge step forward.”