Applications for this year as part of Skolkovo Foundation's competition to identify the best projects for end-to-end digital technology are now closed. Several dozens of applications were submitted. What makes the competition remarkable is not only its broad and deep agenda, but also the fact that government funding through Skolkovo as the project operator will go to the manufacturing plants, who decide to implement a technology, rather than startups, who developed it.

Project selection will become a regular practice and continue in 2020 and 2021. Kirill Kaem, Senior Vice President for Innovations at the Skolkovo Foundation, calls for the applications to be worked out as thoroughly as possible.

The competition forms part of the federal project entitled "Digital Technologies" under the National Program for Digital Economy of the Russian Federation. The Skolkovo Foundation is responsible for the part of the program, which relates to the assessment and implementation of pilot projects aimed at implementing new technologies in the field of digital transformation of manufacturing plants, Mr. Kaem says. The grants covering 50% of costs will be awarded to the companies, who implement projects for the digital transformation of their respective production processes and businesses. They in their capacity as developers shall engage Russian developers, whose technologies are ready for commercialization. 

Kirill Kaem. Photo courtesy:

The competition organizers' line of thinking is clear. They assume that Russia has accumulated a pool of competitive and mature projects that can be commercialized and the reimbursement of half of pilot commercialization costs can potentially procure the market entry threshold to be reduced for such solutions. This would, in turn, allow kickstarting the process of digital transformation of top-priority branches of the economy based on domestic technology developments, including the technologies from the Skolkovo residents.

"Close partnership between the Skolkovo Foundation and major corporations has taken our relationships to the next level of trust, where we can frankly discuss the technological barriers that hamper business development."

By 2022, the Skolkovo Foundation will render more than RUB 16 billion worth of financial support to the winners for the implementation of such projects. "Our goal is to mitigate the risks of first launches, we therefore also call the program a discount on the first technology purchase," Kirill Kaem notes. "Most importantly, the recipient of the program is a company, who implements the technology. This is a critical contrast between the present competition and the previous ones, with the recipient being represented by the startups, who developed the technologies. It is a manufacturing plant to take the risks associated, for example, with ensuring an uninterrupted production process, with errors, or productivity reduction, while a new technology is being implemented. A startup (or a consortium of startups) is a contractor and an indirect awardee of funding. Government finance, a grant, is received by a manufacturing plant." Projects valued at RUB 200 million to RUB 400 million have the highest chances of being given a positive expert ranking with due regard for their implementation prospects, scaling potential, and the significance of digital transformation, Skolkovo's Senior Vice President forecasts.

The scaling potential concerned is among the crucial criteria for assessing the applications alongside their conformity to the scientific and technical objectives set forth in the roadmaps for seven end-to-end digital technologies. As part of this reasoning both the developer and the consumer of a technology assume the obligation to ensure that after the pilot project delivered with support from the government their technology is suitable for repeated iterations in subsequent years across multiple facilities with identical or similar profile.

If a startup for some reason fails to submit an application when due, that is within two weeks, it is not a big deal. "My general recommendation is that it would be a good idea to take your time and work out your application as thoroughly as possible in order to avoid receiving a negative response," Kirill Kaem recommends.

"The recipient of the program is a company, who implements the technology; this is a critical contrast between the present competition and the previous ones, with the recipient being represented by startups."

The pipeline includes several dozens of applications from the technology recipient/developer pairs. For instance, competitors are the companies engaged in the implementation of digital methods for production planning and predictive analytics, production robotization, digitalization of agriculture, more specifically, equipping farming equipment with sensors for precision farming, with solutions for controlling the technology part of the manufacturing plant's processes, mineral extraction, development of a platform for interactions with the tenants of apartment buildings and, broadly, public utilities, including smart home and smart energy systems.

The competition is waiting for teams, whose projects are related to virtual and augmented reality technologies, neurotechnologies and artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, new production technologies, robotics and sensorics components, distributed ledger systems, and wireless communications technologies. "The highest risks are inherent in the projects, in which any digital solutions that have not been time-tested yet are built into the production process. The government's willingness to contribute to the success of this initiative is therefore extremely important," Mr. Kaem says.

It is Skolkovo's first experience in participating in this kind of competition. Over nearly 10 years of its existence, the Foundation has gained a wealth of experience in searching, selecting, and assessing technology projects of varying degrees of maturity. In the past two years, special attention has been paid to responding to requests from specific corporate customers in search of a particular technology. "Close partnership between the Skolkovo Foundation and major corporations has taken our relationships to the next level of trust, where we can frankly and in plain terms discuss the technology barriers that hamper business development and the mechanisms to overcome these barriers," Kirill Kaem notes.