Millions into Intellect
Russia’s Skolkovo Foundation will branch out into Belarus
The doors of the Russian “Silicon Valley” will soon open to Belarus’ scientists. At a recent meeting in Minsk this autumn the Skolkovo Advisory Scientific Council (ASC) supported the initiative of establishing a Skolkovo office in Belarus. This way Belarusian developers will soon have an opportunity to apply for grants to fund their groundbreaking projects without having to move to Russia.
Truth be told, Belarusian scientists can become residents of the Skolkovo Foundation even today. However to do so, they need to set up a legal entity in Russia and pass a shortlisting process. This option is available to both individual developers and research teams, including large institutes. Some Belarusian scientists have already taken this opportunity.
By the way, to become a Skolkovo resident and receive a grant (which varies from $50,000 to $10 million) a developer has to prepare a set of documents that has to include a project presentation, a grant memorandum and a roadmap (a detailed plan of the project development). Then, the project will be scrutinized by a tough selection commission comprised of ten experts, half of whom are Russian and the other half are foreign specialists. They examine not only the relevance and innovative side of the project but also its practical application and marketability.
In fact, the foundation is open for developers from all countries, but due to considerable privileges it is more of interest to Russian scientists. In the near future Skolkovo will become as attractive for Belarusians as well. First, an expert panel responsible for the selection of projects will be formed in Belarus. Then, a fully operational subsidiary of the Russian foundation will be opened in Minsk.
This scenario is beneficial for both Russians and Belarusians. Owing to this intellectual union Skolkovo will raise its international standing and extend its influence by including the most promising scientific projects of Belarus into its business plan, while Belarusian developers will get financial assistance for implementing their ideas without leaving the country.
The leading Belarusian research facilities that are unwilling to open subsidiaries in Russia due to certain reasons will soon be able to become Skolkovo residents. Russian grants will help them materialize applied projects promising considerable profits in the mid-term perspective. Thus, the Russian foundation pins its hopes on the Belarusian know-how in physics, biomedicine, information, nuclear and space technologies.
Exceptions in the Best Interests
However, it may take years before the Skolkovo subsidiary opens in Minsk. First of all, the Russian leg- islation needs to be changed and this is a painstakingly long process. The matter is only legal entities registered in Russia are eligible for the preferences now. Moreover, by 2014 all Skolkovo residents will have to be physically present on the territory of the Skolkovo Innovation City which is now under construction.
The Advisory Scientific Council of the Skolkovo Foundation has decided to make an exception for Belarus. The recent ASC meeting was held in Minsk on 20-21 September and was attended by more than 500 scientists from all over the world, including three Nobel Prize winners: Mr Zhores Alferov, Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Mr Roger David Kornberg, professor at Stanford University, and Mr JeanMarie Lehn, founder of the supramolecular chemistry and professor at Strasburg University.
On the eve of the meeting in Minsk, the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (NASB) and the Skolkovo Foundation co-organized a forum titled “Russia-Belarus: Single Innovation Space” showcasing promising Belarusian projects.
Apparently, the Belarusian projects made a good impression on the renowned guests as the latter unilaterally decided to speed up the subsidiary opening. “Amendments might be introduced to accommodate Belarus that has a great scientific potential. Especially since we see Skolkovo as not just a project, but rather an ideology aimed to foster research and development,” noted Mr Valentin Parmon, Director
of the Institute of Catalysis named after G.K. Boreskov and an ASC member.
Co-chair of the Advisory Scientific Council Zhores Alferov shares this opinion. “Skolkovo is an ideology, not just a Moscow suburb, and it has to go beyond Russia to Belarus that is also part of the Union State. Belarusian companies should be required to meet the same conditions as their Russian counterparts that are residents of the foundation,” the Nobel Prize winner believes.
Establishing the Skolkovo subsidiary requires concessions from the Belarusian party as well. Thus, the tax preferences enjoyed by foundation residents in Russia have to be provided in Belarus as well. Belarus has already gained some experience in this area. For instance, residents of the High-Tech Park of Belarus are exempt from the VAT and profit tax.
The Belarusian government is ready to support creation of the Skolkovo subsidiary. Prime Minister Mr Mikhail Myasnikovich promised an environment conducive to its operation in Belarus, which in turn will help materialize the revolutionary ideas of Belarusian developers. “We will find funds for promising projects. The government will not stand aside,” he assured.
By the way, the Belarusian academic elite are not idly waiting for the official opening of the subsidiary: the NASB has already submitted dozens of research projects in all five Skolkovo clusters. NASB employees believe that the participation of Belarusian scientists in the activities of the foundation will strengthen R&D ties between Belarus and Russia.
It should be noted that Skolkovo has five clusters: biomedical technologies, information technologies, energy efficient technologies, space technologies and nuclear technologies. Apart from grants, residents can count on external funds. In 2011 alone private investors, including European ones, funded $150 million worth of projects.
Interest in All Areas
What ideas and projects of Belarusian scientists are currently
The Advisory Scientific Council gave the green light to the project to create a fully protected quantum information transfer system of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus
considered to be interesting and promising? At the meeting of the Advisory Scientific Council the green light was given to the project to create a fully protected quantum information transfer system. Leading the project is Mr Sergei Kilin, NASB chief scientific secretary. The project participants suggest setting up a brand-new encryption system with the use of a certain laser that will be impossible to crack. This quantum key can be used for information exchange with space vehicles.
The Skolkovo Foundation also supported a project of the NASB Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry aimed at using supercomputers to generate new antifungal compounds. In particular, they can model a human body reaction to various organic compounds and determine the most effective ones. The findings will be useful in many fields from medicine to agriculture.
Skolkovo is also interested in the project of creating a simulator of neurosensory reprogramming. The project is being implemented by the Belarusian Scientific and Practical Center for Neurology and Neurosurgery in partnership with
the Russia-based V&A Laboratory (by the way, it was founded by Belarusian programmer Alexander Khromenkov). Special software analyzes movements of a patient, evaluates the state of his/her locomotor apparatus and helps doctors develop an optimal set of exercises.
Belarusian scientists have other promising projects which will surely attract attention of Skolkovo experts. Thus, the United Institute of Energy and Nuclear Research Sosny has been developing undercritical nuclear reactors which are much safer than the existing reactors. Both the EU and USA are interested in such projects. By the way, the institute has been involved in the development of mobile nuclear power plants since 1985.
Experts of the A.V. Lykov Institute of Heat and Mass Transfer together with their counterparts from Peleng have been developing space telescopes with a record high resolution. Special mirrors with magnetorheologic finish- ing will make it possible to take images with the resolution of several dozen centimeters. To compare: a Belarusian satellite takes images of the Earth with a 2.1-meter resolution.
The United Institute of Informatics Problems has been developing a multilingual system of speech synthesis. Thanks to this new technology it will be possible to dub texts in various languages of the CIS member states.
Mr Mikhail Tatur, a professor of the computer department of the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics, has also submitted an IT project. He wants to develop specialized processors to fulfill intellectual tasks related to data processing. This invention will be useful in many economic sectors, for instance in agriculture for developing operator-free farming. Although remotely controlled tractors and combine-harvesters seem to be something from science fic- tion, they may become reality in 10 to 15 years.
Price of an Idea
Skolkovo’s interest in the Belarusian R&D can be explained not only by relations within the Union State. Famous Russian scientists, many of whom work closely with their Belarusian counterparts, think much of the country’s sci-tech potential. “Belarus has preserved its high-tech sectors. Its R&D projects are both highly demanded abroad and effectively work for the country’s economy. Therefore cooperation between Skolkovo and Belarus will be very beneficial from the practical point of view,” Zhores Alferov noted. Valentin Parmon agrees with him: “Belarus is one of the CIS leaders in the IT development”.
Mr Evgeny Velikhov, President of the Kurchatov Institute, noted that Belarusian academicians are not isolated from the global scientific community and maintain close
contacts with the world-known R&D centers. It is important that the majority of Belarusian research projects are results-oriented and used in production, Evgeny Velikhov noted.
Russian experts see the space industry as another promising area of cooperation with Belarus. Mr Sergei Zhukov, Executive Director of the Skolkovo space technology and telecommunications cluster, believes in Belarusian success in this area. According to him, the country can produce competitive space vehicles. “Belarus can develop space equipment, including target devices and platforms which will be demanded in the global market,” he specified.
However, Skolkovo grants and investments are important not only for big scientific organizations which major projects are funded by the state budget, and manufacturers who will be welcome in the Belarusian-Chinese Industrial Park under construction in Smolevichi District. The Skolkovo Foundation is essential for Belarusian scientists and research teams dreaming to impress the world with their brilliant ideas.
The fact is Skolkovo is not afraid of investing millions in startups and even helps attract venture capital. Although there are bureaucratic delays in Skolkovo, too: after a project has been given a go-ahead, developers sometimes have to wait months for the promised grant.
By the way, it has to be taken into consideration that not all Belarusian know-how will be of interest to Skolkovo. Some of projects might overlap with similar research projects being done in Russia or might be commercially unviable. This means that Belarusian developers will have to be scientists and managers at the same time. They will have to strive for both scientific and commercial success. Although they say that ideas are priceless, the preference will be given to projects paying good dividends.
Prime Minister of Belarus Mikhail Myasnikovich and Nobel Prize winner Academician Zhores Alferov at a meeting of the Advisory Scientific Council of the Skolkovo Foundation, Minsk, September 2012