A delegation from the United Arab Emirates visited the Skolkovo innovation city on Thursday to discuss cooperation in areas including food technology.

L-R: Skolkovo's Arkady Dvorkovich, Mariam Al Mehairi and Skolkovo Ventures' Vasily Belov. Photo: Sk.ru.

The delegation from the federation of seven emirates was headed by Her Excellency Mariam Al Mehairi, the country’s minister for food security, who described Skolkovo as “very impressive.”

“It’s an environment in which you want to innovate and make something that will be a game-changer,” Al Mehairi said at a meeting in the Skolkovo Technopark headed on the Russian side by Skolkovo Foundation chairman Arkady Dvorkovich.

“We have an important international presence within Skolkovo, both in terms of people and business: we have R&D from all around the world,” said Dvorkovich, adding that he hoped the meeting would not be limited to a discussion, but would be followed up with concrete cooperation that would help both Russian and UAE tech companies.

Al Mehairi, an expert in environmental engineering, was appointed minister of state for food security just over a year ago.

“We are already planning a kind of ‘food valley’ in the UAE that I think will be similar [to Skolkovo]: you’re fostering startups, attracting R&D from all around the world. Since we are a hot climate with very little water, we need to innovate if we want to produce food in our side of the world. So I’d be really interested in cooperation [with Skolkovo] to really drive R&D together,” she told the meeting.

Al Mehairi, an environmental engineering expert, was appointed minister for food security last year. Photo: Sk.ru.

The UAE is studying how crops grow in closed systems, something Panasonic is also working on at the Skolkovo Technopark. The Persian Gulf country is interested not just in food production, but also in food processing, logistics and transport, said Al Mehairi. Dvorkovich said that Skolkovo startups are already working with the international wholesaler METRO in this area, while Vasily Belov, CEO of Skolkovo Ventures, noted that one of Skolkovo Ventures’ three investment funds is devoted to agricultural technology.

The UAE delegation offered to help Russian startups with practical aspects of entering the UAE market, such as registering their companies there.

Multiple Skolkovo startups are already present in the UAE, mainly working in the oil and gas industry and IT, said Kirill Kaem, Skolkovo’s senior vice president for innovations. One company – Hoversurf – is working together with the Dubai police to introduce its hoverbikes (drones that can transport people) there, he noted.

Hoversurf signed an MOU with the Dubai police last year while taking part in GITEX, a computer and electronics trade show in Dubai that Skolkovo startups have taken part in twice.

Skolkovo's Kirill Kaem (left), Dvorkovich and Belov discussed possible areas of cooperation with the UAE delegation. Photo: Sk.ru.

Laboratoria Budushchego (Laboratory of the Future), a resident of the IT cluster, has launched a pilot scheme for its Kanatokhod device – a robotic complex for the diagnosis and technical service of overhead power lines – together with Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.

Other Skolkovo resident startups already present in the UAE or who have set their sights on entering the market in the near future include Promobot, whose promotional robots work in Emirates Mail, exoskeleton-maker ExoAtlet and VR headset-maker Fibrum.

On Thursday, four Skolkovo residents presented their solutions to the UAE delegation. They were EuroBioChem, Elementaree, Entoprotech and Plazmatron.

In 2006 – four years before the Skolkovo project was launched – the United Arab Emirates founded its own innovation centre, Masdar City, in Abu Dhabi in order to transform the UAE’s oil and gas-focused economy via “a greenprint for sustainable development.” Just as Skolkovo is home to the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech), Masdar City has its own research university: the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. Al Mehairi also expressed interest in learning how the UAE’s educational institutes could start cooperating with Skoltech.

A year ago, the Skolkovo Foundation and the Russian Export Centre, a state body that helps Russian companies enter foreign markets, announced the establishment of a Russian innovations hub in Dubai.