Expert opinions, STARTUPS

Time of “unicorns”: does Russia have a chance to take the lead in the start-up race?

Startups will no longer surprise anyone, but their quantity and quality are one from the right ways to assess the competitiveness of the economy. But time of hopes for “diamonds” passed, giving way to full-fledged factories and startup schools. How to survive in this new reality and, most importantly, how will Russia prove itself?

Global success

Startup ideology has long become one of the main approaches to economy development: the exceptional importance of such projects is spoken by world leaders and global company executives. Often radical changes in society and the economy are connected with the names of startups: let’s mention “uberization,” that crossed out permanently the previous model of consumption and receiving services, replacing it with an intermediary in the form of a digital platform.

The startup is almost constantly in the phase of the struggle for existence: 90% of projects live no longer than a year. But such statistics are not repulsive for entrepreneurs, on the contrary, it spurs their interest – after all, the opportunity to stand out, become a “unicorn” and win the attention of millions of investors justifies itself. The key role in the context of this competitive environment belongs to universities that have the main resource in the modern world – active young people with fresh ideas. It is no coincidence that the leader in the number of startups in the United States is famous MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): this university brought 244 startups to the American economy in just 10 years.

Moreover, one of the most important players is the state itself – in the same USA many organizations (SBIR, STTR, STEP, EDA) are engaged directly in supporting startups, not hiding their affiliation with executive authorities. Yes, the role of private funds is important, but the existing paradigm shows that the state is no less than business interested in supporting entrepreneurs and their ideas.

The only difference is that while Apple buys an AI startup to generate music and Alibaba acquires a Big Data Company, state players support also projects in which they are directly interested. So, without help and contracts from NASA, Space X could not develop. This is a common practice: the EU is attracting a startup to clear the Earth’s orbit of space debris, and China launches a program to support startups from selected industries, in their development its growing economy needs especially acute.

And what about Russia?

Our country is no exception, and the world practice of supporting young entrepreneurs and their projects gives its results. Notorious venture has long ceased to be an unfamiliar word, and private-state funds, for example, RVC, IIDF and others have long been operating in the vastness of Russia.

Do not forget about the work of accelerators – Skolkovo Accelerator, Sber500, and others also make a significant contribution to the development of the startup agenda. During 2021, the venture capital market in our country has grown 3.5 times.

In New Moscow, in Troitsk, there is a unique platform – deep tech startup studio “TechnoSpark”. For ten years TechnoSpark campus is involved in production of technological startups in various logs: robotics, systems of electric power storage, medical hi-tech equipment, cultivation of artificial diamonds, additive technologies, flexible electronics, solar and hydrogen power. A Russian model of rapid import substitution in the real sector has already been created on the basis of TechnoSpark. In addition, experience in creating startups within the studio allows to “grow” professional technology entrepreneurs.

The movement does not stop, and today it is time to introduce new approaches that allow you to find ideas, give young guys a chance to “open up.” And a better platform than universities, where all knowledge is already concentrated, cannot be found: firstly, this is evidenced by the already mentioned international experience, and secondly – it is an objective necessity, because for a young man without support it is still difficult to take the first step into the high-tech world.

It is for this that the federal project “Platform of university technological entrepreneurship” was launched in Russia  – initiative, enabling students to be involved in creating new technological solutions.

The platform will allow students to work on their projects right in universities – without interruption from the educational environment, but, if necessary, with the provision of deferrals from study while working on a startup.

The project has already included 243 universities, in 20 of them by the end of 2022 it is planned to create startup studios with projects in various areas: robotics, agro-industry, medicine, information, digital and plasma technologies, food, oil and gas, chemical industry and additive technologies.

Founders get necessary expert support, and in addition to technological hard skills they also get the opportunity to “pump” business skills – as part of trainings. In just one month from the start of the training program, 20,000 people passed entrepreneurial skills on the basis of Russian universities.

Vector is: moving forward

The issue of supporting startups today is a strategic priority for the development of any state that wants to build the economy of the XXI century and solve effectively the challenges it faces. New ideas and their successful implementation have a decisive impact on almost any sphere: from social and political to economic and medical one.

The cultural impact of the new development paradigm is also important: displacement of educational vector from theory to practice, even right during study, shortens the implementation time of ideas. This approach allows you to involve in entrepreneurship the most active segments of the population, opening their potential as fast as possible.

Focus on the youngest representatives of the future technological and creative elites is one of the strongest trumps available in our economy, and it can become the basis of the technological breakthrough, much needed in a variety of spheres.

By Oleg Lysak, expert of the University Technological Entrepreneurship Platform, General Director of TechnoSpark Group of Companies

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