Russia has fallen behind even Vietnam, which now has $20 billion worth of annual electronics exports, largely thanks to a $12 billion Samsung facility, said Timour Paltashev, a Russian-born senior software engineering manager at AMD. But the country has some elements of every aspect of the silicon supply chain, with a few sectors ripe for growth.
"Russia has smart engineers, many of whom I have worked with closely over the years, and while their numbers are small I can see opportunities exist," said Yuri Panchulo, a senior hardware design engineer for Imagination Technologies who travels from Silicon Valley to Russia twice a year.
Russian universities need to modernize their curricula to make them more relevant to industry needs. But if they do, "I honestly believe we can achieve in hardware more than we have in software, with the right execution," he said.
Russia suffers from "a broken connection between R&D and industry," said Andrey Golushko, chief commercial officer of JSC Mikron, Russia's biggest chipmaker.
Mikron, not to be confused with the US-based Micron, is ramping 90nm technology licensed from STMicroelectronics in an eight-inch fab outside Moscow. While it is four nodes behind its counterparts in the US, Russia's second largest fab is about four nodes behind it, said Golushko.
Although behind, Russia is picking up its pace. Bertrand Cambou, chief executive of startup Crocus, said he was able quickly to set up a functioning cleanroom in a Moscow facility to deposit a secure magnetic storage layer on wafers.
"We will have revenue from the facility this year, and we are doing prototype wafers now, 12 months after we started work," said Cambou, whose startup has taken in $170 million to date, some of it from Russian investors.
"One of the best decisions I made was to open a Russian R&D center in 2009 -- our experience has been very positive," said Mahesh Lingareddy, chief executive of S Machines, a stealth-mode startup working on products related to the Internet of Things.