A Chance to Get Noticed
Minsk hosted a startup tour of the Russian Skolkovo Foundation
In the last few years the startup movement in Belarus and Russia has been advancing swiftly. More and more university students, scientists, and entrepreneurs are trying to find their place in the private sector. The infrastructure of the startup movement is rapidly evolving; conditions are being enabled for implementing ideas. The organization of events bringing together initiators and investors is also getting better. The all-Russia startup tour of the Skolkovo Foundation is definitely one of these events. One of the stages of the startup tour took place in Minsk. Last year Belarusians debuted by filing about 900 applications. This year the number was slightly more than 100. The difference is attributed to the transformation of quantity into quality, not to fading interest. The participants now better understand what projects may receive Skolkovo’s support. Getting an Idea Into Shape
The Minsk stage of the startup tour took place at the Belarusian Agrarian Technical University. There are reasons behind it. The nomination “Biotechnologies in agriculture and industry” was introduced this year. These areas are actively developing and the interest of Belarusians in them is getting stronger. The share of applications targeting biotechnologies was close to 20%. Applications concerning information technologies accounted for the largest share of all applications as usual – about 35%. Apart from that, the nominations included biological and medical technologies, industrial technologies and materials, power engineering and energy-effective technologies.
Over 500 people – entrepreneurs and scientists from Belarus – were registered as participants of the startup tour. Slightly more than 100 projects were submitted, with 55 of them shortlisted by the experts and presented before the judging panel. For instance, this year’s applications included artificial intelligence, a plant designed to purify air from mercury vapors, a 3D printer, a new-generation anti-tuberculosis medication, an idea to create a nanoinjector-based adhesive plaster, smart walls, and a wavepowered power plant.
Market experts – prominent businessmen, mentors, business angels, representatives of investment funds and development institutions – were invited to take part in the startup tour. Presenting their capabilities is not enough for young companies. They would like to get some feedback, to get their ideas evaluated by professionals. Belarusians were able to attend educational sessions focusing on global trends and international practices, training sessions meant to develop personal and professional qualities of entrepreneurs. Mentor sessions were arranged as well. During these sessions startups were mentored by specialists with a view to adjusting their business models and methods of raising investments.
The final stage of the contest that took place in Moscow in June featured 15 projects by Belarusians.
“Belarusians have a welldeveloped entrepreneurship gene. The country’s production sector does not rely on oil, this is why they have to do business and focus on it in the future. In the next few decades Belarusian factories will not be able to create new jobs, since various mechanisms and robots are increasingly used instead of human labor. It is the participants of such startup tours that should generate new jobs for their country,” said Pekka Viljakainen, Advisor to the Skolkovo Foundation President.
By the way, during last year’s contest the Turbosphere project by Belarusian Kirill Levkov was awarded RUB300,000. For the sake of getting the grant the application was submitted by the Russian
The Skolkovo Foundation can grant up to RUB300 million but partial co-financing is a must. Depending on how far the project has advanced, the share of partial co-financing varies from 25% to 75%
company OOO Turboenergy, which is registered in the innovative center Skolkovo.
“The Turbosphere project provides for designing a new type of plant to recover secondary energy resources, namely the energy of excessive pressure of natural gas. The manufacturing enterprise is located in Belarus, namely in the BNTU technopark Polytechnic. Plans have been made to export the product to Kazakhstan,” said Alexander Shumilin, Chairman of the State Science and Technology Committee of Belarus.
The Skolkovo Foundation can grant up to RUB300 million but partial co-financing is a must. Depending on how far the project has advanced, the share of partial co-financing varies from 25% to 75%. Naturally the Skolkovo Foundation will need a report in return. Blueprints will not suffice. A concrete product that will have to pass an independent test is required. Both Skolkovo and the developer need it. Once the product is brought to the market, potential buyers will want to know who can confirm the advertised parameters of the product.
“We are less interested in e-commerce startups or dating websites. We are more interested in new technologies or old technologies used in new ways to earn money,” specified Renat Batyrov, Director General of the Skolkovo Technopark.
It is worth noting that Skolkovo’s services are not limited to financial grants. For instance, Skolkovo can help find investors, protect intellectual property, and can provide equipment in collective use centers.
“The broad choice of support instruments is available to ensure faster development of startups, help them cross the so-called ‘Valley of Death’ – the time when, on the one hand, fundamental research is over and state institutions no longer finance the effort and, on the other hand,
the private sector is not ready to join the project because it sees no end product and is afraid of taking big risks. Our job is to help startups reach the stage when the product is ready for manufacturing,” explained Oleg Pertsovsky, Director for Science of the Energy-Effective Technologies Cluster of the Skolkovo Foundation.
Monetize Your Brain
Russia’s Skolkovo Foundation differs from research institutes that can also implement various projects. Scientists are focused on completing research projects while Skolkovo aims to get profit. Proceeds from startups are the key indicator the foundation works for, the key indicator it reports to the Russian Federation government. At the same time the foundation is a non-for-profit organization. Respectively it does not earn money from implementing these projects.
During the startup tour in Minsk the State Science and Technology Committee of Belarus and the Skolkovo Foundation reached an agreement on cooperation in commercializing intellectual property assets.
“Plans have been made to submit two or three pilot innovative projects in healthcare, power engineering, housing and utilities industry for assimilation at enterprises and organizations of Belarus and Russia soon. If their commercialization is successful, cooperation will become permanent. It will enable Belarusian developers to enter the Russian market while Belarusian enterprises will be able to assimilate innovative products of Russian copyright holders,” specified the Committee’s press service.
By the way, cooperation between the Belarusian committee and the Russian foundation was not limited to startup tours in the past either. For example, Skolkovo representatives took part in the series of business matchmaking sessions organized by the State Science and Technology Committee under the title “Fair of Innovative Products”. Such sessions include presentations when projects having a high potential for commercialization are introduced to prospective buyers and consumers.
“Your innovation may be the work of a genius but without a marketing strategy it will fall flat. Selling your product is one of the key tasks. Hiring a good sales manager or a trade representative is not enough. The idea needs to be sold not only to the investor and the consumer but to the people involved in the project. A university cannot teach a young developer to do business. An educational institution gives certain knowledge and skills while doing business can be learned from colleagues instead of textbooks,” believes Pekka Viljakainen.
Taking part in contests like the startup tour is not a requirement for becoming a Skolkovo resident. One can just submit an application via the official website. Then the project will be evaluated by independent experts. By the way, if the project is rejected, the applicant will be told what is wrong with it. Skolkovo representatives noted that sometimes the same project can be submitted multiple times to be accepted on the third or fourth attempt. Nevertheless, the status of a Skolkovo resident is not a reason for complacency. Some startups fade away with time due to lack of effort. On the whole, over the course of four years the Skolkovo Foundation received over 8,000 applications and approved 1,400 of them. At present Skolkovo is home to one hundredth of the world’s startups.
“The recent decline in oil prices spurred innovations. In 2015 we received twice as many applications as the year before. As a matter of principle, if a team has a good technology, it can sometimes secure success without our aid. With our aid the probability of success grows by many times. There is no doubt that it is necessary to aim for making a product that will become the world’s best. Reproducing existing products while enjoying preferences will only help you to occupy part of the market. It will not allow you to export your product,” noted Igor Karavayev, Vice President, Executive Director of the Nuclear Technologies, New Industrial Technologies and Materials Cluster.
By the way, nine teams from Belarus already enjoy Skolkovo’s support. Their projects are represented in all the clusters, namely biomedical and
energy-effective technologies, nuclear, information, and space technologies.
“Belarus offers interesting research products. Many of them originate in the scientific sector, namely the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. Since basic conditions for innovators are similar in the countries due to historic reasons, it is quite difficult to determine who is at the forefront and who is behind. In this case we would better talk about complementarity instead of competition. Some areas are more developed in Russia while other ones are more advanced in Belarus. It is now important to find synergy. On our part we are intent on supporting and enhancing ties between the research sector and the production sector both in Russia and Belarus,” said Oleg Pertsovsky.
The possibility of setting up a Skolkovo Foundation branch in Belarus was discussed in the past but specialists believe doing it is not particularly necessary. They say that thanks to Internet technologies one can work remotely, and staying in touch with the Skolkovo Foundation personnel is not mandatory.