Russia's (Future) Silicon Valley

Russian media has recently been buzzing with news about the Skolkovo project, dubbed Russia’s Silicon Valley. Named after a business school nearby, Skolkovo will be a modern tech-hub for development and commercialization of new technology in the fields of energy, IT, communication, biomedical research and nuclear technology. Russia's president Dmitry Medvedev signed the decree to build Skolkovo already in 2009, building works will start in the second half of 2011 and construction is estimated to take 3-7 years. The overall budget for the project is $4-6 billion. Half of the sum would come from Russia's Federal budget, the other from co-financing agreements. Built on the outskirts of Moscow covering 3.7 km2, Skolkovo will be home for 40,000 people. Although Skolkovo currently exists only on paper, the project has already signed partnership deals with Nokia, Microsoft, Siemens and Rusatom, just to name a few.

The tech-hub will be open for foreign innovators and investors. Arkadi Dvorkovich, Russia’s presidential adviser, recently stated that the government is looking for ways to simplify or eliminate the visa regime for foreign residents wishing to come to Skolkovo. “We do need foreign high-skilled experts working and living here,” he said, adding:” We are a European country and we need to have a common market with Europe.” Surprised? Read on.

“We won’t make any difference between foreign and Russian investors,” Dvorkovich also stated. “Still, I would like foreigners to pay attention to several things. There is a common belief that it is difficult for foreigners to work in Russia. It is difficult to get a visa and permission for work; it is difficult to send children to a good school, to have an interesting work and good living conditions. However, if the Skolkovo project is a success, foreign workers will be able to get all this there. They will have working and living conditions that are in no point worse than the ones in any other part of the globe.” On top of being open and foreign-friendly, Skolkovo might also prompt weakening of the tax burden for high-tech start-ups.

If everything goes to plan (and when it comes to Russia, it's a big 'if'), Skolkovo will mark the beginning of  a new era for technology-oriented businesses in Russia. It will provide space and resources for bright ideas to flourish, supposedly surpassing Russia's infamous bureaucracy. This is the first time ever Russia's government is showing signs of support for technology and business (outside of the military sector). In that context, Skolkovo sounds almost too good to be true. Whatever comes out of it, the project will be a true test of Russia's commitment to innovation, cooperation and technological advancement.

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