Much of the GTS panel was spent discussing how countries outside the United States can develop their own innovation infrastructures, though many tend to replicate Chinese or Israeli models. Russia is similar to China in its large government-owned enterprises such as banks, and panelists were wary of replicating Silicon Valley.
“As we continue to put together this ecosystem in Russia, we will probably learn to take the best of what worked in other markets… and be some sort of hybrid model. But, clearly, Russia will have its own way,” Karpovich said.
While the Russian government, industry, and educational institutions try to connect innovators to specific programs, projects, and exchanges, the country needs to do more to encourage technological development. This is compounded by the fact that Russia has little history doing business, according to Akhanov.
“We have had and we do have scientists, and those scientists… don’t have experience with bringing that to the market,” he said.
Russian innovators and entrepreneurs lack skills for developing business plans and negotiation, Karpovich added. While that can be taught, the country needs to develop a culture of entrepreneurship where people can see examples of success.
“The country needs to learn that the culture of failure has to be tolerated, which is not quite the case today. It's quite likely that you’ll fail two to four times before you hit the nail on the head; 20 years ago you could go to jail for speculating,” Karpovich said.
There should also be a Silicon Valley-like path from the lab to prototyping, with few barriers, Akhanov asserted. If such a system existed in Russia, manufacturing would be much easier.
“I see no reason why there would be a barrier between Russia and Taiwan,” he said. “There is an issue of experience. There should be people who know how to take things from the lab, to the prototype, to the manufacturer, and it’s not an easy process.”
Panelists advocated for a change in economy from an emphasis on natural resources to technological innovation, with a focus on manufacturing resources in Eastern Russia. The Russian government has invested billions to encourage startup culture, with dubious success.
“If we don’t start to develop this market for innovations, it will never come,” said Petrov. “There is some positive movement that [state-owned companies] will become customers of innovative companies in the near future.”
Moderator Alexandra Johnson, managing director of DFJ VTB Capital Aurora in Russia, took a hard line on private sector responsibility:
“The government allocated so much money. The private sector needs to get its act together and start working.”
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times