The 24th St. Petersburg Economic Forum (SPIEF) was organized with Qatar as its guest country, Sber as its title partner, Rosseti as a strategic partner, and VEB.RF and VTB as general partners. The main topic for Skolkovo Foundation (VEB.RF) speakers at the SPIEF was development institute reform, cooperation between business and state, and the effect of innovations on the pace at which we leave the current crisis. Several agreements have been reached as a result.

While businesses have relied upon international organizations such as the World Bank, governments of several countries are creating their own institutions to implement national development goals. These national development institutions have begun coming together to support various projects—the chairman of VEB.RF, Igor Shuvalov, noted that VEB is prepared to cooperate provided that a given project breaks even.

Igor Shuvalov, chairman of VEB.RF at "VEB Space: a space for trust between business and the state." Photo:

Igor Shuvalov, chairman of VEB.RF: “When the government discussed relaunching all development institutes, the question of a new innovation support model came to the fore. Thanks to organizations that are being transferred to VEB, we are building a powerful, seamless infrastructure for advancement, and we view this as a responsibility. We will learn and teach others. The most important partners that we have are Skoltech and the Skolkovo Foundation because they were created with the goal of completely changing the approach to innovation, creating an innovative environment, and transforming the market.”

A Unicorn Environment

To become a unicorn in biotechnology, a startup should offer the market a completely new product or a serious transformation of an existing one. In international practice, innovation in the biotech field is more often developed and created in a niche market and science area. During recent years in Russia, large industrial companies have been working closely with biotech startups, creating incubation and acceleration programs. As a result, young scientists under industrial leadership are developing entrepreneurial skills, developing innovative technologies at medical clinics, are learning to attract investment, and are gaining mentor support from experts. The speakers at the session titled “Entrepreneurship in Biotechnology. Are Unicorns Possible in Russia?” talked about what conditions are necessary for an inflow of investment into biotech startups, what kind of integration should there be between the state, universities, laboratories and industrial partners, and what innovative startups are focusing on now.

Speakers at "Entrepreneurship in the field of biotechnology. Are 'unicorns' possible in Russia?" discussed what conditions are necessary for an inflow of investments into biotech startups. Photo:

Arkady Dvorkovich, the chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation: "At our ecosystem, this is particularly visible in the field of biotech; startups show new success stories every day, but at the same time continue to learn. On the basis of this experience, we perfect our mechanisms, because Skolkovo's main task is not to give out loans and grants, and even tax benefits aren't that important, although they are a great help to startups; our main task is service support that is an exchange of experience, knowledge, the provision of production facilities, and coupling with potential partners. Interest in the topic of medicine is obvious right now, and has become noticeably more structured throughout the entire network - from science to putting a concrete product on the market. We have Skoltech with its advanced laboratories that are working on genetics and neurotechnologies, and our startups and partners are cooperating with other universities, science centers, fueled by the latest achievements in innovative thought."

Technological Entrepreneurship

According to the World Bank, the number of fast-growing companies in national economies doesn't exceed 10%; yet these new entities create half the new jobs and are the main driver in GDP growth and commodity exports. However, in Russia, their share amounts to 1.33%, and of this, only a fifth are innovative. Participants in the session talked about what kind of help Russian innovative companies need from the state, why Russia is behind western countries regarding the number of registered IP patents, and why we should create startups based on research institutions. They also covered development institution reform and its impact on further development in entrepreneurship in Russia. 

Igor Drozdov, the chairman of the board of the Skolkovo Foundation (fourth from the left), at the session "Technological entrepreneurship and commercialization of intellectual property." Photo:

Igor Drozdov, chairman of the board of the Skolkovo Foundation: "During the period of the pandemic, the average growth of companies at Skolkovo exceeded 40%. That is significantly higher than the average on the market and attests to the quality of expertise and services at the Foundation. At the same time, we don’t just provide services to technology startups, but also help industrial partners. The latter need technologies, while the former need markets. Most importantly, the Foundation specializes in non-financial services; that is, mentor support at the business idea stage, team creation, the search for investors through SK Ventures, and intellectual property protection. We apply particular attention to international patenting. According to statistics, 15% PCT-applications originate from Skolkovo companies.”

Digital Medicine

Innovation in biomedicine usually requires a significant scientific component. For example, if 80% of success in IT startups is marketing and the remaining 20% relies on technology, then biomedicine is a far more science-intensive field, and a prevailing proportion of deep-tech startups are involved in it. The result is that innovations in biomedicine mean long development periods, a high cost, the need for a highly specialized team, and an investor. These factors encourage the scaling up of domestic developments to a global, international level and influence the commercialization model. In medicine, this means the sale of intellectual property.

Kirill Kaem, the senior vice president of innovations at the Skolkovo Foundation: "Since access to the global market is extremely expensive, we recommend that a startup first works inside the Russian Federation to get pre-clinical and clinical data confirming the efficacy and safety of the development. The result is that the startup will have a case for a venture or a strategic investor, and it allows for the attraction of funding to overcome regulatory barriers in other countries – these sometimes run into the hundreds of millions of dollars to conduct clinical trials in the most attractive markets and to bring the development to those countries.”

Kirill Kaem, senior vice president of innovations at the Skolkovo Foundation (center), at the session titled "Innovation and global health: a wealth of opportunity in entrepreneurship." Photo:

Youth and Entrepreneurship

Only 20% of startups in Russia are founded by young people based at educational institutions, and only 5% remain afloat after three years. Experts have discussed why Russia remains behind western countries and how to involve the higher education system in entrepreneurship, creating entire ecosystems at institutes and universities, which is happening at Skolkovo. A network of regional operators – 17 already – are also doing so in conjunction with universities. With the help of different educational programs, the Foundation is helping technology projects, including student projects, become commercially successful and profitable. This multifaceted approach allows for three to five years to prepare the foundations for an economic breakthrough and creates the conditions for new types of entrepreneurs to appear.

Healthy Society

The “Healthy Society” section presented developments from the Skolkovo Foundation, one of which was from CareMentor AI, which offers a computer vision service for improved diagnostics; MedMe presented a platform for medical data exchange; NOE provides smart VR simulators for medical education. In addition, K-Skai presented its Webiomed platform for predictive analytics and risk management in medicine; Intellogic exhibited its AI system for recognizing medical images; Kromis company presented Favipiravir, an anti-viral drug; Pandica presented its new treatment methods and diagnostics in gastroenterology, oncology, and emergency surgery.

Skolkovo startups exhibiting their developments at the "Healthy Society" exhibition space at the SPIEF.