ROAR: Tycoon Vekselberg to build Russia’s “Silicon Valley”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
President Dmitry Medvedev has appointed Viktor Vekselberg, chairman of the board of directors of the Renova Group, as the manager of Skolkovo, a high-tech research and production hub project.

The business tycoon will coordinate the creation of “the Russian Silicon Valley” in Skolkovo, near Moscow. Medvedev wants the Russian private sector to actively develop the research center, which will focus on energy, information technology, communication, biomedical research and nuclear technology.

The president announced the project in February as part of his policy of the country’s modernization. The legal status of the Skolkovo project will be defined shortly. It is expected to attract prominent Russian and foreign scientists and businessmen.

Vekselberg, who is estimated to be Russia’s 23rd richest man, believes that this ambitious project will be successful if international companies participate in it. The task to create a self-sufficient hi-tech research and production center “will take us 5-7 years,” he stressed.

The Renova head will be the main coordinator of the Russian part of the project, Vedomosti daily said. “The president did not specify why Vekselberg was the most appropriate candidate, but he noted that certain consultations had been held,” the paper said.

The businessman himself says that he learned about his appointment only on March 22, and did not reveal the details either, the daily noted. The reason behind the president’s decision “might be that the Renova group has been paying serious attention to nanoindustry and investment projects,” the paper quoted him as saying. “We genuinely believe in this, and we have relevant base and knowledge,” he said.

Renova has several ideas concerning creating research centers in Russia, including one on solar energy, Vedomosti said, adding that it is unclear now which projects will be taken by Skolkovo.

One of the main tasks for Vekselberg as the chief of the Russian version of the Silicon Valley will be choosing a foreign co-chairman. It should be a man who “shares the ideas of creating the valley, a like-minded person,” the paper quoted Vekselberg as saying.

He personally wants the foreign candidate to be “a successful businessman.” In any case, the final decision will be taken by the government and the presidential administration.

The Russian “Silicon Valley” will be constructed on 370 hectares near the Skolkovo business school, the paper noted. It is expected that the volume of the state’s financing of the project will be announced in April at a meeting of the presidential commission on modernization, it added.

As the state allocates money, private companies should step in, and not only Russian ones, online newspaper said. According to Dmitry Abzalov, analyst of the Center for Political Conjuncture, Vekselberg will be responsible for finding such companies.

Then the chief of the Skolkovo project will have to build an effective mechanism for selecting and working with innovation projects and link the research with the production, the analyst told the paper.

“If Vekselberg manages to solve these tasks affectively, Skolkovo may start working as an autonomous body without the participation of the state,” Abzalov said. “We will see the first results of his work by the summer or autumn 2010.”

The media ask why another tycoon, Mikhail Prokhorov, who has also dealt with innovation technologies for a long time, has not become the chief of the project. But Abzalov believes that the candidate for the Russian answer to the US’s Silicon Valley was chosen long ago.

Vekselberg’s business is well diversified, and “he has managed to settle practically all the serious conflicts, the analyst explains. At the same time a source close to Vekselberg told that Prokhorov might be more involved in his new projects in business and sports.

Igor Yurgens, executive chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR), where Medvedev chairs the Board of Trustees, described Vekselberg as an appropriate figure to head the new project. He has great experience in business and preparing personnel for his numerous assets and will be able to accomplish this task, Yurgens told Ekho Moskvy radio. However, he stressed that the choice of the tycoon was not connected with his money.

The Russian president believes that the personality of the general manager of the new research and production center “should be proportionate” to its scale, the first deputy chief of the presidential administration, Vladislav Surkov, said.

“On the other hand, it’s desirable that he represents private business, for I believe that bureaucrats should not be vested with such a task, Surkov told Vesti television channel. “Since the president is putting the question this way, this is going to be someone from Russia’s big business.”

Surkov’s opinion that a businessman should head the project rather than an official is “absolutely logical,” said Dmitry Orlov, general director of the Agency of Political and Economic Communications.

“Businessmen have different views, experience and values,” he said in a commentary for the United Russia party’s website. “The Western and our experience show that it is better if a businessman develops an innovation business,” he added.

“After Surkov’s interview the conception of innovation development proposed by the federal authorities starts to acquire specific details,” Orlov said. “I think it is important that the innovation course does not only involve one project.”

The analyst said the attraction of qualified and well-known Western specialists was justified, and this factor had brought success to Silicon Valley and other such projects.

Skolkovo should be headed by a businessman with the experience of big projects with huge investment, agrees Iosif Diskin, co-chairman of the Council on National Strategy. As for employees of the new center, we need specialists who are able to see in fundamental research the image of a future product, and Nobel Prize winners are not necessary for this, he told website.

The main task of the Russian Silicon Valley is not “to destroy the raw material industry, but to be able to create new, breakthrough things that other countries do not have,” believes Konstantin Simonov, director of the National Energy Security Fund. “And it does not matter which industry these breakthroughs will concern,” he told the same source.

People involved in innovations “should be admired in this country,” and Skolkovo should demonstrate that the state is ready to create special conditions for them, he said.

Sergey Borisov, RT
Russian Opinion and Analytics Review