Skolkovo makes its pitch in the UK

President of the Skolkovo Foundation Viktor Vekselberg, Coordinator of the UNIHEAT program Paul Docx, Dr. Martin Knight from Imperial Innovations, and  Head of BP Russia David Peattie. Source: Press Photo

President of the Skolkovo Foundation Viktor Vekselberg, Coordinator of the UNIHEAT program Paul Docx, Dr. Martin Knight from Imperial Innovations, and Head of BP Russia David Peattie. Source: Press Photo

In its best-attended roadshow event to date, Russia’s Skolkovo Foundation promoted itself in mid-February in London.

Satellites that can help forecast earthquakes; renewable energy generated from vodka and whisky waste; stent tube advances that can help save lives: These are just three of the processes UK and Russian scientists are developing thanks to funding from Russia’s Skolkovo Foundation.

The projects were revealed to an overflow audience of 300 delegates attending the Skolkovo Foundation and Innovation Center roadshow organized by UK Trade  & Investment and the UK Science and Innovation Network in London on Feb. 15. It was by far the biggest roadshow put on by Skolkovo since its inception, according to Chief Operating Officer Steven Geiger.

The aim of the roadshow was to showcase the many opportunities for British companies at Skolkovo in everything from space-age innovation to biomedical research. According to Geiger, Skolkovo is approaching the UK in a three-stage process. “The three stages are creating awareness in the UK of Skolkovo, then generating interest and stage three is engagement, closing deals,” Geiger said.  

Work has already begun on the modern science park, sometimes called Russia’s Silicon Valley, located 25 miles southwest of Moscow. Partially funded by the Russian government, Skolkovo’s goal is to modernize Russia’s technology base. The country has a huge scientific sector, but it has adjusted poorly to the needs of the modern marketplace.

 “We have to catch-up,” said Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s ambassador to the UK. Yakovenko said that at this point, the most important thing is to “find the right partners.” The ambassador also stressed that more government and private investment will be poured into R&D.

An indicator of the size of the problem is evident from the statistics: In the United States, 2.6 percent of GDP is spent on R&D, while Russian firms currently spend only 1 percent of GDP on R&D.

According to Skolkovo Foundation President Viktor Vekselberg, “Innovation is the key to modernizing the Russian economy.” Vekselberg also stressed the need for Russia to move away from an economy dependent on oil, gas and energy. This philosophy is behind the decision to emphasize five areas for applied research at Skolkovo: space and telecommunications, IT, nuclear, biomedical and energy efficiency.  “We have big plans, and working together with British companies, we can make these a reality,” said Vekeselberg.

British companies are already excited about the funding available at Skolkovo. University College London and Russian space systems developer VNIIM are working on a project called TwinSat, a pair of satellites that can help forecast earthquakes and navigate disaster management. According to the developers, TwinSat could be operational in two to four years.

Another project is slightly closer to operation. M Power World, a spin-off company born at Edinburgh University, has received funding from both the Skolkovo Foundation and British bank TSB to produce energy from the distillation process. The project harvests the power generated by the bio-electrochemical reaction produced when organic by-products are separated from liquid during the production of alcohol.

A Russian company, Stentex, is collaborating with the UK’s Strathclyde University on developing new kinds of stents and catheter extension tubes for heart patients. Skolkovo provided funds to the Russian company, which in turn is giving research funds to the Scottish university.

And although the Russia economy is working to wean itself from oil and gas, the energy industry will be the workhorse of the Russian economy for years to com. As a result, Skolkovo has also approved the funding of a $14.7 million project to improve BP, Imperial College London and the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis will work on UNIHEAT, a project being funded jointly by Skolkovo and BP Russia.

Attendees at the roadshow event interested in getting funding had their questions answered by Skolkovo Institute President Edward Crawley, who said that interested parties only needed to “go the web site and apply.” Crawley added that applications are processed very quickly.

Skolovo is ready to fund interesting projects. The organization has an annual budget of $1.5 billion and so far has added to that corporate R&D investments of $400 million and an additional $290 million from venture capital funds. Currently, start-ups with viable projects are eligible for funding in the region of $3 million to $5 million while established companies focused on innovation can receive research grants ranging from $50,000 to $10 million.

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