Togliatti was the first Russian city, where The Russian Startup Tour - 2014 started today. The road show, organized by the Skolkovo Foundation, together with Rosmolodezh, RVC and Rusnano covers 27 cities, nearly twice as much as the previous tour. Pekka Viljakainen, advisor of the Skolkovo Foundation President, gave an interview to the editor-in-chief of the Sk.ru website, right before the tour started.
Pekka, since you are the person, who initiated the Startup Tour, you must have been already probably interviewed many times. What is the most typical question you were asked?
Probably, the most typical question: “is it really so, that there are good companies also in small cities (of Russia)”. And I think there is a misconception here. As many believe that there are scientific people (in regions), but there are no entrepreneurs in small cities. And another quite typical question: “is it kind of a show we are doing, as a promotion of Skolkovo”. I would not call it a show at all. Because we are not promoting Skolkovo, we are promoting entrepreneurship. And still, the point is to make sure that we would guide the young talents to find the best help available in the Russian Federation.
Pekka Viljakainen, photo by the SkReview magazine
Also, as there is a tendency to think in Russia, that you are alone and nobody is out there to help you. And if you are successful, there is always somebody out there to take it (laughing). So, we are to try to fight this idea and to show some practical examples. Yes, there are many people, who are quite skeptical about entrepreneurship here. But same abroad, I’ve seen people in big cities, in capital areas all over the world, who are skeptical. I think they became a bit lazy, as there are so many opportunities available around them. And I came from a village of 250 people there are not that many opportunities there. And you have to fight for them.
And that’s why I like companies, who have this kind of fighting and entrepreneurial spirit to solve problems, wherever they are. But the good news is that twenty years ago to make god business success in remote areas was impossible. Today it is difficult but it’s definitively possible because of the internet, the form of distribute and sales and good connections. And I think that the world in that sense is getting more equal. You can build an electric car in Astrakhan, as well as in Helsinki or New-York, or Moscow.
You wrote a book, the main conception of it is “No Fear”. Are you still thinking that this mentality is possible in Russian entrepreneurship?
Absolutely. And this is the only way of doing it. If you are an entrepreneur, and you are afraid of everything, you will never succeed, no other options. Of course, you should be cautious and wise. But you should never be fearful. A day before yesterday I met an entrepreneur here. He isn’t in Skolkovo, but wants to be. He came to my room and explained in a very solid manner, that he wasn’t rich, his parents weren’t rich, and that he wasn’t connected to any “power group”. But he told me how he was planning to make his enhanced product a world success. And I asked him if he was afraid of anything. And his answer was that he was only afraid that he won’t find right people, won’t find a team. But then he told me that he would solve this issue anyway. And this is a no fear mentality, he came to me to ask advice to find right contacts, he didn’t ask financing. But I told him that he had such a good spirit, that I would finance him.
So, the philosophy of “No Fear” isn’t only about not to be afraid to start business. But it’s also not to be afraid to deal with people. And I talk so much about entrepreneurship society, because nobody can teach you entrepreneurship, except other entrepreneurs, you can’t learn it from the school, you can’t just read my book and become an entrepreneur. You can only “get bits and pieces”.
And it is so fast developing story, that the only way to know how it’s happening is to be always connected, in a very open way. And you can’t be connected if you are afraid that somebody is stealing your idea. Finns, by the way, aren’t that talkative either, and the Slush is an exceptional event in Finland, so this is the same thing I want to do in these cities. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if we go five times to Astrakhan, I am sure that for the fifth time there will be much more people, who know each other there.
And most important story is not what we are telling, but what they say to themselves, we just put some gasoline in these flames (in the regions). They become automatically better connected with other cities, then go to the Startup Village, and so on. This is a good momentum, and I am searching for it. The momentum will not start just with money. The momentum (should appear) between people, and then supported with money, supported with people.
Viljakainen at the StartUp Village, photo by the SkReview magazine
In almost every city I’ve been there are up to five people, not from any structure, who say they already doing these things, connecting the community. And this is like enlightening moments. People like Anna Khan, a 19 y.o. student in Kaliningrad. She has just started making those events. First, for 2-3 people, now there are 200 people (connected there). She was just an example, not from government or any organization. So, it’s coming bottom-up, and this is what we have to support.
How can you compare it to the previous tour?
Many cities this time prepared themselves better. Last time we went to some places and started defining, what the word “startup” means, seriously. Now cities have seen and heard from others. There have been companies now, who visited the Startup Village, and they came back to their cities. So, there are cities now, who know what to expect. I think that companies are well prepared, they’ve been so active, the business angel community and incubators are better developed. For example, ministry of IT, Mr. Nikiforov: they put so many efforts in those techno-parks. And this is not only about buildings, it also about how you coach these companies.
I also know for sure that the university community, which was previously kind of watching to see what the startup thing means, became more active. Last year the university community, teachers were practically non-existing (at our events).I hope that educational sector is much more active now. And I also hope that the local media will get dipper (covering the tour), but I want them to talk to entrepreneurs in these cities, we need to see local heroes (in media). I want “the flame”, as I called it, starts to burn. We aren’t there for one day, so If then we see afterwards, that they were good and then stopped, we’d add some flames, so to say. Besides, there are cities, which are really already good enough. Novosibirsk, Kazan, St. Petersburg not to mention. And, of course, we’ll support those, who need support, not just those, who want it. It’s not a “beauty contest” of cities, you know….