Technology investment theme flourishes in Russia

The theme of investment in innovation and technology has reached Russia, with various projects underway to promote this focus.

The recently initiated Skolkovo project is gaining ground and the country’s president Vladimir Putin is bullish on boosting technological progress. Speaking at VTB Capital’s “Russia Calling!” annual investment forum in Moscow last month he advocated investment in technology.

Skolkovo is a high-tech business hub outside Moscow, initiated in 2009. Its strategic goal is to concentrate international intellectual capital to stimulate the development of break-through projects and technologies. The innovation centre is financed primarily from the Russian federal budget, with over RUB17bn (€425m) set aside for the coming year.

Russia’s government is very keen to raise the profile of this development. At the start of this month, the Skolkovo project was visited by Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook. There, he met with Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev to discuss possible cooperation with the project.

Moscow’s desire to achieve a step change in Russian technology, which has led to the creation of such initiatives as Skolkovo, is also shared by venture firms and investment funds. One such fund is I2BF Global Ventures.

I2BF operates four investment vehicles, focused primarily on technology transfer between Russia and the Western countries. These are I2BF Holdings I and I2BF Venture Fund II, both international, early stage cleantech venture funds, as well as Russia-Kazakhstan Nanotechnology Fund and I2BF-Rusnano Strategic Resources Fund, both backed by Rusnano, a government owned company aimed at commercialising developments in nanotechnology.

The Russia-Kazakhstan fund is also funded by Rusnano’s Kazak equivalent, with a remit to buy into technologies inside Russia and Kazakhstan. It was launched as a joint venture between I2BF and VTB Capital and seeks to drive further private capital inflows into the nanotech sector by leading deals for international syndication.

Aidar Kaliev, head of venture at VTB Capital, said at the time of the fund opening last year that the launch marks the first time in the history of the CIS that a venture fund will invest in frontier technology in both Russia and Kazakhstan.

I2BF is led by an international team of partners. Its managing and founding partner Ilya Golubovich is himself Russian and heavily involved in creating a “bridge” between Russian capital and US and international venture backed technology.

Having studied for a masters degree at Stanford and built connections in the US and Middle East, he is well placed to form this bridge. He is currently involved in consulting with government entities in Russia around creating effective frameworks for the next generation of entrepreneurs and technologies to flourish. He also serves as a senior investment advisor to the board of Arbat Capital Management, the $500m Moscow-based asset management group.

Currently he is completing a best-practice framework for technology innovation on behalf of the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, and has also advised the Russian government on the creation of Skolkovo.

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