Recent events in Ukraine and Crimea have put the spotlight on Putin’s Russia and how it operates on a global stage, but will this have recriminations for Moscow’s emerging tech ecosystem?
Last year at the inaugural Startup Village event on the outskirts of Moscow, Prime Minister Medvedev arrived by helicopter on the second day. Security levels were sky-high, special forces abseiled down the Hypercube building in the middle of the event and it felt more like being in a Chetnya war zone than a trade show.
The Moscow event was the main event of the country’s Startup Village tour that had encompassed 16 Russian cities across the country and covered 21,000 kilometres over two months to encourage Russian entrepreneurship and whether it actually existed in Russia.
The official figures stated that over three days in Moscow it was attended by 200 Russian and global startups, 2,000 companies, 43 regions of Russia and 26 countries, as well as hundred of investors, students and representatives from the government. Moreover, it discovered there was a very big emerging Russian entrepreneurial sector.
Medvedev’s arrival was key to the future of the event. There had been nervousness about whether the Russian Government, despite plunging billions of roubles into the Skolkovo project, was going to continue to support Russian entrepreneurship and the creation of what some call ‘Kremlin Valley’.
After Medvedev’s departure, it was as if he left something in the air and it felt like the whole spectacle relaxed, the word was that the event had been rubber-stamped and it would take place the following year; it was a big deal.
That was a year ago and a lot has happened in the interim, not least the events in Crimea and Ukraine in what seems like a return to the darker Soviet days. Russia appears to be retreating into itself, unconcerned about how it is perceived by the rest of the world… and perhaps bringing to an end these early attempts to create a tech ecosystem where entrepreneurs could flourish.
But not if the people behind Startup Village and its backer, the Skolkovo Foundation have anything to do with it. This year’s event has exploded in size and scope. The Startup Tour has already visited 27 cities (up from 16 in 2013) and a startup competition where up to four winners per city were chosen, there were 900 applications; 15% of which were from foreign startups. The organisers expect a staggering 20,000 people to attend the Moscow event, which runs from June 1st-3rd.
“During these first days of June thousands of talented, educated, confident and intelligent people will gather here in Skolkovo. I am entirely convinced that these people are at the forefront of social development. They are the ones who create, promote, finance and implement those new technologies that will define the unique look of our country and our planet in the foreseeable future.
“Many of us will find people holding the same view along with new partners, investors, and, of course, friends. This in whole will contribute to the further development of the innovative community in Russia that will concentrate the efforts for the future developments and extraordinary discoveries,” says Victor Vekselberg, President of the Skolkovo Foundation.
It will be interesting to see if Vekselberg’s words come to pass at the conference. Last year the event was held mainly outside and the constant drizzle managed to dampen a lot of spirits, of which many were energised by the excitement of Medvedev’s arrival.
This year’s Startup Village has very ambitious plans to continue supporting the Skolkovo Foundation’s continuing nurturing of Russian entrepreneurs who have great scientific and technical skills, but perhaps lack the marketing and financial expertise that is needed for every successful startup.
Medvedev may decide to turn up this time by means of less dramatic transport than a military helicopter, Putin might even show his face or both may decide to stay away. But what is certain is that in spite of global geopolitical troubles, Russian entrepreneurs are not going anywhere.