Open Innovations tech forum opens at Skolkovo with focus on corporations

The Open Innovations forum kicked off on Monday morning at the Skolkovo innovation centre, attracting an estimated 18,000 people from all over the world to Russia’s biggest conference and exhibition devoted to homegrown innovative tech solutions.

The forum demonstrates the country’s leading tech startups – including residents of the Skolkovo Foundation – to an audience of investors, major companies that are possible users of their innovations, and potential partner companies, and aims to give small and medium-sized companies a boost.

“There are people walking around here who have a lot of money, so you can try to find them and interest them in your ideas,” said Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, addressing the startups present at the opening of the forum on Monday.

Skolkovo Foundation president Victor Vekselberg said 18,000 people had registered for the forum, 50 percent more than for last year’s event.

“This attests to the fact that Russia was and remains a very interesting space for advanced tech solutions, both from the point of view of developers – young scientists, engineers and researchers – and of large corporations that are the consumers of new interesting developments,” he told the audience.

“We have potential and opportunities, and we can really be competitive in today’s complex global economic arena,” added Vekselberg.

The Open Innovations forum, now in its sixth year, was first held at the giant Skolkovo Technopark last year, and appears to have found its natural home.

“Skolkovo is a place that brings together business, science and education, innovation and the commercialization of scientific ideas,” said Dvorkovich.

“I hope this centre will continue to be successful, and a space for achieving synergy between these elements. The Russian government supports innovations and their growth,” he said.

Dvorkovich was on hand to witness the signing of the first deal of the forum, between Skolkovo Ventures and United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), which makes both civilian and military aircraft. Under the terms of the deal, UAC, a state-controlled corporation that includes the Sukhoi, Tupolev and MiG aircraft design bureaus, will invest about 300 million rubles ($5.2 million) in Skolkovo Ventures, a recently formed venture fund.

“For us this is a strategic investment … and the start of a journey,” said Yury Slyusar, president of UAC. “It’s an investment in the people sitting in this room. I hope we can be useful to one another.”

Vasily Belov, CEO of Skolkovo Ventures, said the investment was “a big loan of trust” for his company.

“It’s not just investment, it means access to the market for our companies,” he said.

The first day of the forum was devoted to CorpTech, or innovations in business and industry. The following two days are themed around StateTech and HumanTech, respectively.

The first panel session of the forum was titled “Transform or die. The new lives of old industries,” and was moderated by Pekka Viljakainen, a Finnish entrepreneur, venture investor and advisor to Vekselberg. Participants including Gett founder Dave Waiser, KupiVip president Oskar Hartmann, and Sergei Matsotsky, chairman of the board of IBS, discussed how companies can stay relevant and survive in a world that is changing faster than ever before.

“The first industry that was turned upside down by the internet was prostitution,” said Hartmann.

“Previously, there were classified ads in the papers, then they went online. Dating came to it quite early too. Now, the very last industries are coming: food and drink, logistics and transport, property and construction. The biggest industries in the world are fundamentally changing right now. It’s an era of enormous opportunities,” he told the panel.

“We have to recognise that the price of inaction is much higher than the price of a mistake, so if anything, we have to take a hyperactive approach [to transformation],” said Hartmann.

The ride-sharing app Gett is a young company, but it needs to stay ahead of the game just as much as any established company in order to survive, said its founder Waiser.

“Two years ago, when our company was four years old, we realised that it wouldn’t be around in five years’ time if we didn’t get access to pilotless technology, as that would make our service 40 percent cheaper,” he told the panel.

Introducing the proceedings of the forum’s first day, Viljakainen announced that the Skolkovo Foundation’s annual Startup Tour, a series of events across Russia and neighbouring countries aimed at identifying and supporting promising tech entrepreneurs, would take place in eight cities this year.  

"There are still a lot of regional governors and a lot of babushkas who need to know why their smart children should start a business and not only work for Sberbank,” said Viljakainen.

“You have to have a dream, and entrepreneurship and running a business should be a very good dream.”