The website Wikipedia refers to Andorra as “one of the smaller states of Europe” and says that the country’s name probably comes from the word “andurrial,” which, in the Navarro-Aragonese dialect, means “shrub-covered land” or “woodland.”
Today the small population of this, “woodland” are among the most affluent of Europeans, and Andorra as a country seeks to become the European Innovations Laboratory. The delegation from Andorra attended the Startup Village conference, and used the visit to study cooperation opportunities with Skolkovo. For instance, the principality from the Pyrenees could provide Skolkovo projects opportunities for expedient project prototyping. This was what Mark Ponce, Executive Director of Innovation Hub Andorra told Sk.ru in his interview. This public-private organization has been coordinating the country's innovation strategy.
Delegation from Innovation Hub Andorra, visit Skolkovo Techno-park. Has anyone remained in Andorra? Photo: Sk.ru
According to Mr. Ponce, Andorra is very familiar with the sound of the Russian language, since many Russian tourists come here. Local residents know also about Russian football, yet their knowledge about Russia as a country and its technological capabilities in particular is more fragmentary. Meanwhile, there was a curious episode in the history of the two states, when in 1934 a retired Russian officer Boris Skosyrev declared himself Boris I, the King of Andorra. Skosyrev’s Kingdom existed for just 12 days, in which the new king had time to declare all of the democratic freedoms, after which he disappeared into oblivion.
Today the government of Andorra would like to establish a more extensive and long-term relationship with Russia. The process is already underway, Mark Ponce said. The Russian delegation headed by the Minister, visited Andorra in September 2018. This visit helped confirm that cooperation between the two countries in the field of innovations had some potential. “We were invited to the Open Innovations Forum in Skolkovo but we had little time before the event was to begin, so we used this invitation to take part in the Startup Village,” head of Innovation Hub Andorra said.
Our two day visit to Skolkovo, he says, was quite successful. The delegation had a number of meetings with the management of the Foundation, investors and startups. “Our first impressions are very good and they have exceeded our expectations. Andorra is a small country with a population of only 70 thousand people, we probably could all fit in your technology park,” he laughs. On a more serious note, he adds: “Small size has its advantages. It allows us to act quickly, implement technologies quickly, and quickly bring together decision-makers in politics and business with researchers and startups.”
The idea of creating ‘Innovation Hub Andorra’ was based on the aforesaid competitive advantages of the tiny principality.
“This is an ecosystem in which international startups can beta test their technologies,” Mark Ponce says. “Moreover, any product or service can be implemented very fast, and the project can be discussed with a decision-maker at any level quite quickly. In just a couple of days you can coordinate a meeting at any level. We can create a prototype that could be tested in our country, and then scaled to any other European location”.
“This is what constitutes our competitive advantage. We believe that this could interest startup companies and researchers from Skolkovo, and this was the offer that we delivered to Startup Village – to create a live lab in real life conditions in Andorra for your startups and researchers. In Andorra they can check the viability of any of their ideas, concepts or any ready-to-use technology.”
Mark Ponce: “We came to the Startup Village with the offer to create a live lab in real life conditions in Andorra for your startups and researchers.” Photo: Sk.ru
What technological directions are in most demand in Andorra? We should remember that tourism and retail serve as the foundation of the principality's economy, and that 90% of local companies are small and medium-sized. Any product that might help make tourism services more effective or increase retail revenue, would be treated with due attention in Andorra, Mark Ponce said. This is the first point.
Secondly, Andorra has been recognized internationally for its health care, sport and wellness sectors. Today Andorra is home to the greatest number of professional cyclists, with its excellent training infrastructure and high living standards. Sport technologies, biomedical research and other wellness areas (wellness not being the term easily translated into Russian yet) have already attracted the attention of a number of Skolkovo startups. These innovations will be welcomed with open arms in Andorra, our interlocutor told Sk.ru.
And thirdly we are looking at everything that has to do with the sustainable development in mobility and energy efficiency. Andorra, like a drop of water, reflects the problems of any society in any other western country, and innovators are given the opportunity to offer their own ways to change the mobility model and offer smart uses of energy.
The fourth point concerns big data. “No matter how small Andorra is, we need big data to improve services and life conditions,” the head of Innovation Hub Andorra says. “The scale of our country allows us to use big data effectively. This is what we call “a data-driven approach.”
“We cannot pretend to be able to create our own mega structure, but we are confident that we can serve as a laboratory for the development of innovations that could be applied in larger countries of the world. In this capacity Andorra could be of interest to Skolkovo.”
Our strong side is the speed with which applied products can be implemented into practice," he says confidently.
However, the competitive advantages of the principality are not limited to just this one sphere.
Another advantage concerns taxes. “Andorra does not fall under the tax paradise jurisdiction; we follow all the international norms but we do have low taxes: 10% profit tax for companies, and 15% individual income tax,” Mark Ponce says. “These are fairly attractive terms if you compare them with such countries as Switzerland or Luxembourg.
At the same time, Andorra is the window to the Spanish and French markets; we are very much integrated into the economy of these two countries. Moreover, in 2020 Andorra will host the Iberia-American Summit, and will lead this international organization, which includes all countries of Latin America, Spain and Portugal, for two years. The theme of the summit, by the way, is “Innovation for Sustainable Development.” Thus, Andorra is also a window to Latin America for startups.”
Going back to the meetings that the delegation had at Startup Village, Mark Ponce mentions that they will have direct practical results: “We are starting work on the cooperation agreement, which we hope to sign with Skolkovo during the Open Innovations event. We expect a high-level delegation from Andorra to attend this conference; it will include politicians and managers of startups.”
This cooperation could turn Skolkovo into one of the international partners of the Andorra Innovation Hub, which today includes such partners as MIT, Business France and Barcelona Tech City. “We cannot pretend to be able to create our own mega structure, but we are confident that we can serve as a laboratory for development of innovations that could be applied in larger countries of the world. In this capacity we could be of interest to Skolkovo,” Mark Ponce says confidently.
The first experience of dealing with Skolkovo startups was quite positive for the Andorra delegation: “In this sense, taking part in Startup Village was also quite useful. We are used to dealing with French and Spanish startups, but here in Russia, networking proceeded even faster, which pleasantly surprised us. We found a common language with many startups quite easily. Before coming here, we planned to establish institutional ties only, but during the visit itself we have created direct contacts with a number of Skolkovo startups. Hopefully, all these projects will continue developing.”