Skolkovo Under Fire; Government Innovation Policies May Be Reshaped

Skolkovo, the state-sponsored giant tech hub nearing completion on the outskirts of Moscow, has come under sharp criticism over the last several months, suggesting that government policies in support of innovation in the country could be reviewed.

Among the first signs of resistance to Skolkovo’s recent development were remarks made this past October by Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov, who cast doubt on the need for two expensive, monument-scale buildings planned by the Skolkovo Foundation.

Surkov’s remarks perhaps echoed the cynical views of Russian businessmen and officials who believe that Skolkovo’s actual raison d’être – behind the stated goal of stimulating innovation – is to create juicy real estate development opportunities.

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Skolkovo’s Influence Extending To Post Soviet Countries

In a renewed round of innovation cooperation in the post-Soviet area, the Skolkovo Foundation, the Russian organization in charge of building a world-class technology hub near Moscow, is expected to start screening and funding technology start-ups from the neighboring CIS countries.

The CIS Economic Council will vest the Foundation next month with full powers to run a ten-year interstate collaboration program, the Armenian Mediamax news agency reported.

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Skolkovo Gets The First Startup Funded

The Skolkovo Foundation, established last year in Russia, is the country's biggest project to enhance tech and business development. At the end of last year, Skolkovo was boasting about the high-tech innovation hub they are planning to build and turn the whole project into the Russian equivalent of Silicon Valley. While building work has not yet begun, the foundation has already started developing the ecosystem around itself. Most notably, Skolkovo Foundation assisted in choosing and funding the first start-up to be part of Skolkovo project - Pirate Pay. Pirate Pay is based in Perm and it has developed technology to block illegal downloads through peer-to-peer torrent sites. The seed funding was provided by Mircrosoft BizSpark programme in Russia and it amounted to $100 000, reports The Moscow Times. Head of Microsoft Russia Nikolai Pryanishnikov was reported to claim that Microsoft would fund 100 IT startups in the next 10 years, issuing grants ranging between $30,000 and $500,000.

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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.

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