Faced with a choice between diversifying from its natural resources economy into high-tech fields or falling further behind the West in innovation, Russia has undertaken a massive program of infusing nanotechnology into the minds of the nation's fledgling entrepreneurs.
For its part, Skolkovo, the Russian government-sponsored hi-tech entrepreneurship entity, will next year reach out beyond its headquarters on the outskirts of the Russian capital to create regional centers of innovation. The ultimate goal is to reach innovation talent spread across seven Russian time zones in 25 cities.
In January, Skolkovo will launch its third four-month Russian Startup Tour designed to spur nationwide interest in innovations in IT, biomedical, industrial and green technologies. Six hundred participants will be invited to a startup conference in Moscow in June that will feature presentations on more than 200 of innovation projects.
The Russian government has placed its full weight behind Skolkovo and other relevant hi-tech government-owned innovation entities such as the unique research, development and entrepreneur center Rusnano, and Russian Venture Company (RVC), the Russian government venture fund, to lift the economy—so reliant on natural resources—into a 21st century beacon of Russian know-how.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a number of large Western companies, including IBM and Intel, are cooperating in one form or another to bring the ambitious entrepreneurial plan to fruition. To them, it makes good business sense: the vast talent and superb university education system can be put to good use in a global commercial world.
The regional Skolkovo tour was announced at the second annual Open Innovations Forum held in Moscow in late October. The forum with its accompanying exhibits has become the largest demonstration of hi-tech innovation in Russia and the former Soviet republics.
Both forum and exhibits served as a venue for exchanging experiences in successfully implementing innovative projects, as well as an effective place for government, business and science to interact.
Organizers reached out to Russian and foreign heads of government to give their vision on Russian innovation. Prime ministers Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, Jean-Marc Eyraud of France and Jyrki Katainen of Finland all expressed willingness to work together.
Speaking at the event, Medvedev said that the Russian government has adopted a plan to spur innovation through 2020. "We expect that as a result of its implementation we will add somewhere in the neighborhood of one percentage point in our economic growth," Medvedev said.
At the plenary session, Jason Pontin, chief editor and publisher of MIT Technology Review and chairman of the MIT Enterprise Forum, predicted that nanotechnologies will account for 15 percent of the total $2.6 trillion global production costs of all kinds of goods.
During the two days of the forum, more than three dozen agreements were signed on cooperation in the aerospace, chemical and IT industries as well as in education, training and business development.
In one such case, Vnesheconombank (the export bank), the Fund Skolkovo and BPIFrance Financement SA agreed to have French companies be residents of the Skolkovo innovation center. The agreement provides insurance protection for French business from possible economic risks in Russia, covering up to 50 percent of the possible loss.
RVC and the largest European aerospace and defense concern, EADS, agreed on the transfer of technology from EADS' portfolio of new technologies covered by some 30,000 patents.
Perhaps entrepreneur extraordinaire Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize Fund, said it best in his forum presentation: "Structures of today's governments were created when the world was far more different—thousands of people didn't have such access to technology. Governments are going to undergo turbulent times."
Russia, for its part, identifies development of the composites industry as one of the priorities for the national economy. Medvedev at the end of July approved the road map for production of Russian composite materials which will be of equal quality to composite production globally.
At the Open Innovations Forum, Rusnano CEO Anatoly Chubais and Karlsruhe Institute of Nanotechnology professor Herbert Gleiter presented the Rusnanoprize to Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, and Omid Farkhzad, associate professor at Harvard Medical School, for developing nanoparticle technologies for medical applications. The two recipients created combined nanoparticles whose surfaces are covered with biological ligands, molecules specifically enabled to recognize certain targets in the body, for example, the surface of cancer cells.
The work of Langer and Farokhzad is at the intersection of biotechnology and materials science. "The self-assembly technology is easily realized in large-scale production," said Denis Andreyuk, executive vice president of the Russian Society of Nanotechnology.
The award for commercializing the advances made by Langer and Farokhzad went to American company Bind Therapeutics Inc. Bind developed a new class of highly selective therapeutics with targeted and programmable actions, called Accurins. The prize goes to developers of nanotechnology and to the company that has introduced those developments into commercial production with earnings of $10 million or more per year.
Open Innovations Forum exhibitors consisted of 530 companies and organizations from nine countries. Next year's event will be held Oct. 30 to Nov 1.
The forum is held under the auspices of the Government of the Russian Federation, NGO Agency for Strategic initiatives and the Russian Chamber of Commerce, among others.