A Chance to Get No­ticed

Minsk hosted a startup tour of the Rus­sian Skolkovo Foun­da­tion

Economy of Belarus - - CONTENTS - Irina KONTSAVENKO

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.

Source: Skolkovo Foun­da­tion press ser­vice

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