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20 Oct, 2014 12:14

Moscow: an innovators paradise

Moscow: an innovators paradise

As never before, Russia embodies opportunity, driven by an empowered, upbeat, workforce. Warning: this may run entirely contrary to reports seen elsewhere...

In a world of data overload, misinformation can be pumped around the world with ferocious velocity, driven by anybody with an axe to grind whether justified or fantasized. Thus the serial battle for objectivity can fall victim to web trolls, or those eager to ignore evidence on the ground and deliver damning indictments driven by ignorance or malice.

Photo by Patrick Young

Meanwhile, with a nation the size of Russia it is easy to maintain a hidden side. Amidst the riddle, contradictions and sheer enigma of the vast state, unseen angles can easily lurk, accidentally overseen or deliberately overlooked by network bias.

Returning to Moscow last week was a trip of delightful revelation.

There, I’ve said it.

Read that and weep if you expect a tale of poverty or powerlessness as a result of Western sanctions which have easily self-inflicted as much damage as they are bringing to Russia. Said sanctions squabble has proven entirely counterproductive as (alas!) I accurately suggested previously.

Russia struggling to cope with a Western embargo is a mirage. Substitution effects are occurring. The winner will be the East as the West continues to lose power (and face) in a multipolar world. However, let’s avoid raking over the failing diplomatic coals of a flawed political generation, and look at the economic benefits of innovation in a digital world. For everything from recently enacted ordnances for business (in September) left me encouraged that the opportunity for future economic growth has established firm roots in Russia.

Moscow itself - for 20 years a fascinating entrepot, is buzzing. The city retains a 24-hour vibrancy absent even in the only genuinely cosmopolitan Western European megacity, London. The last decade has seen the shift to a genuine service culture across Moscow and the result is a (customer) friendly atmosphere which belies a city inhabited by 11.5 million. It wasn’t merely the improved sense of purpose, of a genuine service focus, or broad confidence which caught my eye; it was also a most remarkable event at which I was proud to be a minor participant.

Photo by Patrick Young

The third Open Innovation Forum assembled a massive pool of talent honed through the impressive Russian education system where hard coding as opposed to soft skills has long been prized. In an area equivalent to 17 times the fabled Red Square, innovators from around the globe gathered amongst some 15,000 delegates to debate and discuss the future of technology and business while interacting with a massive range of exhibits showcasing the best of Russian ingenuity and this year’s national partner: China (underpinning that eastern pivot).

This incredible event took place in Technopolis, a former car plant of staggering Soviet scale (the Moskvitch factory, seeing as you asked) - some 220,000 square meters in all. From large scale silicon wafers to biotech with a dash of nanotech thrown in, the units of Technopolis hummed with productivity as delegates gathered for the conference - a city within a city devoted to the future economy.

From carbon composite racing cars via robots to all manner of startups, here, writ large was a message the West ignores at its peril: the vast suite of innovative engineering faculties which made rockets and armed the Warsaw pact is now combining with a free market economy to unleash the creativity of a well-educated, increasingly confident, populace. Moreover, the engineering excellence came from not merely a vast swathe of geography; the breadth of input from both sexes suggests a nation well ahead of the West in enabling and educating a female engineering revolution.

A flawed belief has been seeded in the West that Russia risks becoming a stagnant backwater. It suits a blithe narrative of European superiority where the EU seeks to draw an agitprop veil over the economic disaster that is its overstretched imperial delusion of centralized multinational regulation. Brussels ought to bury its egotistical pride and endorse trade across the vast range of innovations showcasing in Technopolis last week.

The art of investment often involves contradicting a flawed prevailing wisdom. As the crowd rushes one way, opportunity runs opposite to the prevailing orthodoxy. In Moscow last week, I witnessed more opportunity than I could have dreamed of in my most optimistic vision. Flying home with Aeroflot merely reinforced the new Russian nexus of service culture and engineering excellence…

Times are changing for the better.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.