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21 Mar, 2010 10:37

New home for science in Russia

Russia is launching its answer to Silicon Valley – a large scientific centre that will pioneer the country's research and innovation.

The high-tech town for young and creative scientists and businesspeople will be built from scratch near Moscow.

It will lead research in areas considered critical for Russia's modernization.

Russia is going to marry science and business, and their new home will be in Skolkovo. The name of the place does not reveal much now, but what Skolkovo already has is a top level business school, dubbed by some as “the Russian Harvard.” But in the next couple of years it will also host five different scientific communities.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said during his speech to young scientists on March 19: “Energy, IT, biomedical science, communications, nuclear studies – that is what we'll focus on. We need such a center and we need it now.” He also added: “I hope the town will be built for you, and, of course, for the best scientists and specialists.”

But will Skolkovo be able to attract enough brains?

One person, Dmitry, who owns an IT company, says he would be ready to go there if it offers better working conditions.

“Well if it becomes a haven where internet and cafeteria is free, I'll definitely consider that. Speaking seriously, the most important condition would be people of course. It's important who you work with. And also if the ‘valley’, so to speak, provides easier ways to reach our clients and to sell ideas.”

David Yang, chairman of the Abbyy company, also believes the project will be successful.

“If we create a new environment which will be attractive enough and will give scientists new possibilities and new options, they will surely come,” he told RT.

The practical application of science is the goal behind the project.

Last year alone the government spent almost 40 billion dollars on innovation projects – but only an estimated 50 startups were launched as a result, which is many times less than the number of projects started in the US for less money.

Specialists say it is not the government’s job to deal with innovators, what officials should do is marry business and science the right way.

“We are not the Arab emirates; we are a very big nation and we live in the north. Oil won't feed us. We need to make money with our brains,” believes Vladislav Surkov, First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office.

Vladislav, who is overseeing the Skolkovo project, says it is meant to be the momentum of the state's larger goal of modernization.

Russia already has quite a few scientific centers, most of them were built during the Soviet Union, but the innovation center will be built from scratch.

“We don't want to renovate our soviet house, we need a new house, a new Russia, with a new economy, and sometimes it is not bad to start in the open field,” Surkov adds.

Always in high demand, Russian scientists continue to leave the country looking for a better life and working conditions abroad. Around six thousand of them left last year. Many say stopping the brain drain is crucial for the country's future.

Analysts in Russia believe that the country is good at researches and studies, but bad with coming up with concrete products and innovations, because there's no demand, and not enough money for different reasons. But most agree that such a Silicon Valley of its own could give Russia a chance to put its scientific brain to use.