The Second Annual Russian Innovation Week kicked off on Tuesday right here in Boston with a thirteen-hour marathon of food, presentations, and networking opportunities. The event offered first-hand access to leaders of government and commerce, as well as founders' stories of how and why they chose to partner with Russian entrepreneurs and organizations.
One key message throughout the day was access to resources, both people and funding. The panels were impressively representative of that message, as within the first hour, we had heard from and/or met with local favorite Greg Bialecki, former US Ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, President of the Republic of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, the CEO of Russian Venture Corporation, and the Chairman of the Executive Board of RUSNANO's $10 billion dollar state backed venture fund. Not only did we get to hear from Viktor Vekselberg, Chairman of the Board of Skolkovo Foundation, we even got the opportunity to speak with him briefly about how his non—profit aims to accelerate the transformation of Russia into an innovation-based economy through strategic partnerships with leading scientists and innovators around the world. Founded in only 2010, Skolkovo strives to turn cutting edge research into world-class products by facilitating innovation in five key clusters: IT, Energy Efficiency, Nuclear Technology, Biomedicine and Space.
I had a chance to speak with Mark Austin, Venture Partner at Bright Capital, about clean energy, and at length with Jurij Parasczck, Director of IBM Research Industry solutions and leader for their Research Smarter Cities program. Jurij's refreshing humor was bolstered by IBM Venture Capital group's focus on acquiring mature companies rather than start-ups. He echoed earlier speakers' comments that Russia invests in energy and transportation, real core human needs that bode well for long term investment. Jurij stressed that while Russia may showcase long-term engineering investment in admirable areas that affect the basics of life on our planet, they need to get beyond the "Slavic only" circle of conversation, reach out, and communicate to the world community at large. I strongly believe that this week's Russian Innovation tour is a major step in this direction.
The evening closed with a sumptuous gala dinner and an impressive Fireside Chat between Noubar Afeyan, of Flagship Ventures, and Stephen Saber, Chairman and CEO of The Pulse Network. Noubar's comments alone were worth staying for the entire thirteen-hour event. Key takeaways from a man who has launched 26 companies:
Bet on the Future (don't look so much to the past)
Bet on "entrepreneurism" as an evolving profession – we today are mostly accidental entrepreneurs and while we can teach entrepreneuring (he has been teaching at MIT's Sloan school for the last eleven years amongst his other duties) we can not teach entrepreneurship.
This last comment sparked a lively discussion with the audience and an example from Noubar of protective and pre-emptive patents that laid the basis for a successful exit. Technical teams take note- you need a strategic thinker and business marketer in every tech plan.
Stephen Saber's closing remark, "Don't solve the problem that nobody wants to pay for," ended an incredible day of networking, communications and knowledge transfer from one group to another. The very definition of mentoring on clear display.
As for me, I'm taking Noubar's advice and betting on the future: I can't wait to see what is grown over the next 12 months, leading into Russian Innovation Week 2014!
Keith, for the team at Kendall Press