An architect’s rendering of the innovation city of Skolkovo. In addition to research facilities, the campus will include housing for scientists. Source: Press Photo
The founders of the Skolkovo city of innovation hope it will
become not only the engine of the Russian economy, but a major player in global
research and development as well. They have their work cut out for them: At the
moment, Skolkovo exists more as a concept than as a reality. But nevertheless,
the place is making its mark in Russia’s consciousness. Skolkovo as a brand is
already widely known, and more words with the prefix “nano” are popping up in
everyday language, along with “innovation” and “modernization.” Skolkovo has
also revived an older Russian acronym: Niokr, basically the Russian equivalent
It refers to a full-cycle research center where scientists come up with new
technology, build a pilot product, test it and, if the test is successful,
launch it into mass production. In the United States, $382.6 billion or 2.7
percent of G.D.P. is spent each year on research and development. In contrast,
Russian firms spend just a little over $23 billion, or 1 percent of G.D.P.
Skolkovo wants to change that.
“Our main task now is to create the most comfortable conditions and
environment,” said Roman Romanovsky, Skolkovo’s operating director for key
partners. “Innovation centers are usually thought to be exclusively aimed at
start-ups, but that’s not the case. Nor are we committed only to corporate
research. We seek to make the circulation of ideas at Skolkovo constant, so
that everyone can find what they came here for. Major companies would get young
talent, start-ups would meet investors and investors would get promising new
ideas, and so on.”
2.7% of G.D.P. is what American companies spend each year on research and development. Russian companies spend 1 percent of G.D.P. 150 is the number of employees Siemens hopes to have working in its research center at Skolkovo by 2015. $30 million is the amount the Skolkovo Foundation is contributing to Siemens’ Skolkovo project.
The approach has proven to be popular with foreign companies, many of which
have already expressed a desire to open research centers at Skolkovo. Most
companies have just given verbal assurances of participation, but some concrete
agreements have already been signed.
German electronics giant Siemens has signed a document providing for the phased
development of its operations in Skolkovo. By 2015, it hopes to have a staff of
150 at the center. The total sum of joint investments will be about $80 million,
with $50 million to be put up by Siemens and $30 million by Skolkovo Foundation
“For us, [Skolkovo] is interesting as a pilot project that will transform
Russia’s future,” said Alexander Averyanov, head of the Siemens project at
Skolkovo. “It’s no coincidence that Siemens C.E.O Peter Löscher is a member of
the Skolkovo Foundation Board. We are also cooperating with the foundation to
promote the Skolkovo brand around the world, and are dealing with the
infrastructure issues.” Siemens has not disclosed details of its project, but
some statements indicate that is likely to be related to radioisotope
diagnosis. The first grant of more than $4 million has already been issued for
the research project.
Nokia, Finland’s mobile phone powerhouse, has a somewhat different vision of
its partnership with the foundation, with a focus on inventing and introducing
inline production of everyday devices.
“[Skolkovo Foundation President Viktor] Vekselberg and I signed an agreement
confirming the specific stages of the center’s development,” said Nokia
representative Tatiana Oberemova. “The center will develop powerful mobile
computing systems and offer solutions in the field of nanotechnology. Nokia’s
investments in the center amount to a double-digit number in the millions of
euros, which is the standard budget for Nokia’s R&D centers.”
The Nokia project developed at a dizzying pace: The construction contract was
signed in June and a handset research facility was opened in November.
Eventually, the company hopes to not only construct laboratories but also
develop large-scale commercialization projects involving mass production of
electronic devices using nanotechnology.
Nokia competitor Ericsson sees Skolkovo as an excellent platform for research
in the sphere of telecommunications, cloud and telematics technologies. Its
first research effort will be smart power-supply networks whose main goal is to
save energy. These smart meters installed into phones will allow end users to
provide up-to-the-minute information to distribution companies, allowing both
the company and the consumer to monitor consumption patterns more closely.
Ericsson Vice President for Work with Government Agencies Mikhail Podoprygalov
said: “There used to be a lot of talk about the need to develop our economy,
noncommodity exports — and now we have a place, an ecosystem where this can be
accomplished. Skolkovo provides an ecosystem, and that’s an important
cornerstone,” said Podoprygalov. “Some things could have been done better and
differently, but given the ambitious task Skolkovo is tackling and its vast
range of goals, it is hard to say what’s justified and what isn’t.”
Timofei Shatskikh, a financial analyst with RosBusinessConsulting, said that showing that Skolkovo is not just talk, but action is crucial to its success: “This is really Skolkovo’s main problem. Until the first project is implemented, in the minds of most Russians, not to mention domestic investors, it will remain just another ambitious government idea. People don’t see Skolkovo as a scientific institution, but rather as a political one aimed at projecting a positive image. Even the foundation’s established partnerships with Western companies cannot dissuade them of this. Until the first scientific idea that germinated within the walls of Skolkovo is presented, that opinion won’t change. But the creation of several R&D centers may rectify the situation. Then you can at least argue that the generation of new ideas will happen serially.”
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