East-West Digital News
On May 13-15, scientists, businessmen and public servants met to discuss new opportunities for companies and universities at the VIII International “From science to business” Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia. More than 200 participants from 50 cities and 10 countries gathered at the event. The event was co-organized by ITMO, a St Petersburg based national technical university, from which no fewer than 39 SMBs have emerged over the past few years.
Nina Yanykina, head of ITMO’s Department for Innovation Management lamented the lack of business angels and startup accelerators in Russia.
This idea was supported by John Morris, Co-founder of Tech Coast Angels — the second most active US angel network. His vision is that cooperation between business angels and universities will one day give the former an avenue to reach young researchers when they are in most need of funding. As for Russia, the process of searching for prospective projects in the regions, both by Moscow-based and foreign investors, is just now starting.
Regarding technology transfers, World Bank Innovation Policy Advisor Peter Lindholm mentioned several problems that impact startup development and commercialization in Russia. According to him, the Russian government frequently supports inefficient projects, and the domestic entrepreneurial culture is still too immature, while young businessmen don’t always have a coherent strategy.
“Interest in commercialization is like love on the Internet — it exists, but there’s no hard evidence,” says Lindholm. As an example, Facebook is equal to the 20 largest Russian IT companies (Yandex, Mail,ru, Ozon etc.). The speaker further recommended that Russia not try to copy Silicon Valley, because its model is outdated, but rather to create something new.
More practical advice about technology transfers was given by the world renowned expert Eugene Buff, Founder & President of Primary Care Innovation Consulting in the US.  Mr. Buff considers timely killed projects a success, because they free up resources to pursue other projects with better prospects. The big difference in researchers’ behavior today, compared with the situation 10 years ago, is that they are ready to collaborate – with other scientists and people from the business community. “One of the central differences between science and business is that researchers seek the best solution, but businessmen only want something that is good enough,”  says Buff.
The third day of the Forum was dedicated to social entrepreneurship. This topic is new for Russia, but there were already plenty of volunteers, fund representatives, and young entrepreneurs in attendance looking for best practices. The biggest hurdle is a deficiency of government support for this field, so very little growth is expected in this sector over the next 10 years.
In spite of this fact, Russian universities show a readiness to support student’s social projects and help to make them profitable, using their own innovation infrastructure.