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Russia Churns Out Skolkovo as Latest R&D Innovation Hub

17 December 2013

Skolkovo, a 100-acre industrial park and business incubator on the outskirts of Moscow, recently re-elected the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, as Skolkovo Foundation chairman.

Amid controversies of where science and technology are heading in post-Soviet times, Skolkovo seems to be the bellwether many progressive forces are supporting to bring Russia into the 21st century of hi-tech.

In his opening remarks at a recent Skolkovo Board of Trustees meeting, Medvedev said: "The state is interested in the success of the [Skolkovo] project [to make sure] that the money invested in the project could be used with maximum efficiency."

A set of agreements was signed at the meeting among Skolkovo and the Boeing Company, the "Industrial Investors" Group and another group of Russian companies under the "Transas" name to establish the Skolkovo Aviation Training Center. Here R&D projects will be launched aimed at increasing air transport security. The center is scheduled to open in 2015.

The Skolkovo Foundation also signed an agreement with Schneider Electric to establish the Schneider Electric R&D Center in Skolkovo to create products for advanced management systems of the electrical grid. The center will start operations in 2015 and by 2017 is expected to employ 100 qualified Russian scientists and engineers.

According to Viktor Vekselberg, president of the Skolkovo Foundation, since its founding in 2010 some 12,000 new jobs have been created. "Upon achieving the key targets set for the Skolkovo project for 2020, its integral contribution into the Russian economy will total 200 billion rubles [about US$6.1 billion]," he said.

To that end, Skolkovo has held yearly startup tours of Russian cities to garner regional interest in innovation projects. The next startup tour will be held in 26 Russian cities from January to April 2014 and is expected to attract 6,000 participants. The tour will culminate in Skolkovo's Startup Village event, to be held June 2-3, 2014. The aim of this activity is to form a Russian innovation community and integrate it into the global innovation process.

The Skolkovo Innovation Center comprises companies and startups, a Technopark, the Skolkovo Institute of Technology (Skoltech) and a new graduate research University established in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The Russian government organized the Skolkovo Foundation as a nonprofit in September 2010 to accelerate transformation of Russia from a resource-intensive to an innovation-based economy.

Some 28 global corporations, including Boeing, Cisco Systems, EADS, GE, Johnson & Johnson, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Siemens, Nokia and Samsung, among others, have signed R&D partnership agreements with the Foundation.

Among the R&D projects, a few stand out for their unique innovations, at least by their attempts to attract outsiders. The following Russian companies use Skolkovo space for R&D work in space applications, one of five innovation directions (the others being energy, biomed, IT and nuclear):

Skoltech

On the academic side, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) is a two-year-old school established in cooperation with MIT and led by President Edward Crawley, who was formerly the Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT.

"It's a time of transformation and transition in Russia and around the world, and we want to prepare you to be agents of change in that transition," said Crawley, greeting the school's students at the beginning of the academic year in September.

Among other MIT faculty in various technical disciplines involved with Skoltech classes this fall is Jacob White, the Cecil H. Green Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, a principal investigator of the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (White was honored at the 50th DAC this past June with the ACM/IEEE A. Richard Newton Technical Impact Award in Electronic Design Automation for "seminal work on fast integral equation solvers for integrated circuit parasitic extraction.")

MIT's involvement in Skoltech is centered on leveraging Russia's legacy as a leader in fundamental scientific research by incorporating that tradition with elements of MIT's renowned innovation ecosystem, according to MIT administrators.

Students at Skoltech will study and research basic scientific principles related to their specialized fields and learn concepts of entrepreneurship, such as turning a scientific idea into a commercial product.

"The launch of Skoltech classes is an amazing accomplishment and brings to life this new university in a way that nothing else can," said Robin Lemp, executive director of the MIT Skoltech Initiative, based in Cambridge, Mass. "MIT's role in making this exciting come-to-life moment happen was fundamental, and it is a demonstration of the depth and intensity of our commitment."

Currently, Skoltech is housed in the Skoltech Innovation Center and Business School. By 2020, Skoltech plans to have its own campus completed, which will host 1,200 students, 200 faculty, 15 research centers and 400 postdocs.

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