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Make use of Skolkovo’s opportunities for foreign companies, Vekselberg urges diplomats

 Skolkovo Foundation president Victor Vekselberg called on Moscow’s foreign diplomats to make full use of the opportunities offered to international companies by the Skolkovo innovation city on Wednesday.

Skolkovo Foundation president Victor Vekselberg at the opening of Startup Village on Tuesday. Photo: Sk.ru.

Addressing more than 50 ambassadors during Skolkovo’s Startup Village, Vekselberg urged them to use the opportunities Skolkovo presents to help their countries to be more active on the Russian market.

“Skolkovo is one of the best places to promote advanced products,” he told the diplomats, many of whose embassies already work closely with the foundation by hosting joint science conferences or seminars for Russian companies seeking to enter foreign markets and vice versa.

“Russia is a big market, a big country with a growing economy, and big demand for new technology,” said Vekselberg. More specifically, the innovation city has a unique advantage: it has the right to test smart city technology that cannot legally be tested elsewhere in Russia, such as driverless vehicles, he said.

“We can demonstrate and test new technology on our territory,” said Vekselberg, citing drones, communications technology, infrastructure solutions, driverless tech and new materials as examples of some of the innovations that have been tested at Skolkovo. As an additional bonus, the foundation is a non-profit organisation and is not, therefore, looking for commercial gain from these activities, he said.

Many international companies have already opened offices, R&D centres and labs at Skolkovo. The most recent addition is the Dutch electronics giant Philips, which signed off on the official opening of its first innovation centre in Russia, located inside the new Skolkovo Technopark, at the Startup Village on Tuesday.

People from more than 80 countries are attending this year’s Startup Village, a two-day open-air conference for hi-tech entrepreneurs and investors that is now in its fifth year, said Pekka Viljakainen, a Finnish advisor to Vekselberg.

“Skolkovo is getting more and more international,” he told the diplomats.

Visitors to Startup Village examine a driverless bus on Wednesday. Driverless technology can be tested legally inside the Skolkovo innovation city, Vekselberg reminded the foreign diplomats on Wednesday. Photo: Sk.ru

Finnish trade in Russia grew 29 percent in the first quarter, said Viljakainen, citing the latest figures.

“More and more of the trade and business is being done not by the big companies, but by tech companies,” he said, and echoed Vekselberg’s call for the ambassadors to make their countries’ companies aware of the opportunities for cooperation with Skolkovo.  

“Share the message with your business communities just to come and see for themselves what is available – don’t take our word for it, come and see. That is normally enough,” said Viljakainen.

One of the ambassadors present recalled the first time he did just that.

“I was amazed by what I found here, not only by the amazing buildings, but by the people, the community of young companies that is growing,” said Jean-Claude Knebeler, Luxembourg’s ambassador in Moscow. He said his embassy had already taken Vekselberg up on his offer, and had connected Skolkovo startups with incubators in Luxembourg.

“We can be a gateway to the European market for Russia startups, including Skolkovo ones,” Knebeler told his colleagues.

“On the other hand, Skolkovo is also a soft landing spot for our small companies that very often don’t have much Russian experience and need encouragement and that ‘managed entry’ into the Moscow market and the wider Russian market,” he said.

U.S. aviation giant Boeing opened a state-of-the-art training and research centre at Skolkovo last year. Photo: Sk.ru.

The ambassadors also heard from German Gavrilov, head of corporate business development at Panasonic Russia, a key partner of the Skolkovo Foundation that has an R&D centre here and which took several Skolkovo startups on a tech tour of Japan earlier this year. Alexander Alexandrov, medical director of Hepatera, a resident startup of Skolkovo’s biomed cluster, presented his company’s drug for hepatitis B as an example of successful cooperation between Germany and Russia: the research into the drug was carried out in Heidelberg, Germany, and its clinical development is being carried out in Russia with support from institutions including Skolkovo and German venture companies, he said.

Skolkovo’s biggest foreign partner, however, is not Japan or Germany. It may come as a surprise to some, but the foundation’s most active partner is the U.S., Vekselberg told the diplomats.

At last year’s Startup Village, the U.S. aerospace heavyweight Boeing opened a combined training and R&D centre at Skolkovo, while one of the innovation city’s first tenants was the U.S. IT giant Cisco.

“We have strong relations with MIT, we have very efficient, very good collaboration with them,” said Vekselberg. The Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) was set up in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the two universities held their biggest joint scientific conference at Skolkovo earlier this year.

The foundation also has strong ties with U.S. venture funds, said Vekselberg.