Thousands of tech entrepreneurs, investors and curious visitors from across Russia and around the world gathered in glorious sunshine at the Skolkovo innovation centre on Thursday at the opening of the fourth Startup Village, an annual two-day open-air event devoted to innovations in science and technology.
Skolkovo president Viktor Vekselberg (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich at the opening. Photo: Sk.ru.
The Startup Village is both the culmination of the Startup Tour, in which tech startups were selected from around Russia and will now compete for prizes of up to 3 million rubles ($46,000), as well as a platform for other startups to showcase their inventions at the Startup Bazaar, and a conference featuring successful science and tech experts, investors and entrepreneurs from all over the world.
Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, a member of the Skolkovo Foundation board of trustees, took to the main stage to open the Startup Village and welcome the audience of entrepreneurs from all over Russia.
“My colleagues and I went around Russian cities during the last four months and found hundreds of wonderful projects,” he said. “Thousands of projects were submitted, and that shows that we are moving forward, and that you are joining in with the initiatives that are coming out of Moscow and that it is happening everywhere.”
Noting that there were also many international visitors at the event, Dvorkovich said this was proof that the Skolkovo Foundation is not alone and is open to international cooperation.
“We don’t have any barriers, we work together and are ready to accept innovations and knowledge from outside Russia, as well as sharing our experience and knowledge with other countries,” the deputy prime minister said.
Looking out at the sea of faces, Skolkovo Foundation president Viktor Vekselberg said it was an emotional moment to see so many people gathered at the innovation centre, which was founded just six years ago.
“We encounter all sorts of different problems, when we have to go around different offices to prove what we are doing, why we’re doing it, and most importantly, who it’s for, and often I see either distrust or a lack of understanding, or a lack of willingness,” said Vekselberg, himself a highly successful entrepreneur and investor.
He contrasted those reactions with what he saw before him: “a huge community of like-minded people … who all want to move in the right direction” and use their intellect to achieve success.
“We have always said that the success of the [Skolkovo] project is your success,” he said.
Visitors to the Startup Village take a moment to enjoy the sunshine. Photo: Sk.ru
Pekka Viljakainen, a Finnish entrepreneur and advisor to the president of the Skolkovo Foundation, challenged visitors to the Startup Village to judge the results of the foundation for themselves by assessing the projects on show at the Startup Bazaar.
“In any country, there are many issues which are not transparent. It’s difficult for ordinary people to see whether something is developing,” said Viljakainen, the driving force behind the Startup Tour and Village.
“I have been in 70 Russian cities in the past two years … and I have seen tens of thousands of startups. It is very transparent where new companies are being born and growing.
"Our success in the Startup Village and at Skolkovo is very clear: [it depends on] if we can generate new companies and new jobs. If not, we have failed. So I encourage you all during these two days to check for yourself … if there are good companies. If there are good companies, Skolkovo is real. If not, Skolkovo is fake,” he said.
Vekselberg pointed out that the Startup Village – at which 12,000 people are this year expected – is not so much a village anymore. “It’s at least an urban settlement,” he joked.
Referring to one of the foundation’s aims of reversing the brain drain that in recent decades has seen many Russian scientists move abroad to work, Vekselberg said the innovations city rising from the greenfield site outside Moscow has everything Russia’s scientific talent needs to live and work there.
“We don’t need to go abroad or work for Western companies – we can do everything ourselves here,” he said.