Moscow 'Smart City' Update: From the Desk of CATA Director & i-CANADA Chair Bill Hutchison: Skolkovo: a multibillion dollar initiative of the Russian government innovation & commercialization initiative
February 21, 2012
Skolkovo is a multibillion dollar initiative of the Russian government focused on
academic research, post graduate education, innovation and commercialization. It was
announced in 2010 and construction has already begun on 1000 acres of green field
land on the outskirts of Moscow. I am pleased to be a Member of the Skolkovo Smart
City Expert Advisory Board.
The initiative is intended to help resolve a number of social and economic issues for
Russia and the strategy includes significant foreign collaboration and partnering which
means many international opportunities. For complete details on Skolkovo and its
mandate, structure, funding, initiatives and opportunities go to this URL:
Skolkovo's MIT Seeks to Stop Brain Drain
Here is a summary of an article in this week’s Moscow Times, describing a recent
gathering in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the founding conference of the Skolkovo
Institute of Science and Technology or SkTech – a joint venture of MIT and Russian
President Dimitry Medvedev’s Skolkovo Innovation Centre. The complete article follows
• Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, or SkTech — a joint venture
of MIT and President Dmitry Medvedev's Skolkovo Innovation Center announced
in October, 2011.
• The new institute will be situated at the Skolkovo site in the Moscow suburbs, its
core language will be English, and it will be focused on entrepreneurship
and bringing research to market.
• The new university is intended for Russian graduate students so they can attend
a world-class research-based institution while staying in the Russian Federation,
said SkTech president Edward Crawley, an MIT professor who has served as
chairman of the NASA technology and commercialization advisory committee.
• Designed to help reverse a Russian brain drain that has had a major impact
on the nation's economy and educational system. Each year, 15 percent
of graduates leave the country, and since the fall of the Soviet Union, 800
institutes have closed their doors. In all, about 800,000 scientists have emigrated
from Russia, said Almaz Capital partner Sergei Beloussov during a presentation
at the conference.
• SkTech is expected to open the doors of its $1 billion campus, designed
by Beijing Olympic stadium architects Herzog and de Meuron, in 2014. By the
end of the decade, it aspires to reach the scale of CalTech, with 200 faculty, 300
post doctorates and about 1,200 graduate students.
The Moscow Times
Skolkovo's MIT Seeks to Stop Brain Drain
17 February 2012
By Justin Varilek
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts —
"I'm probably not going to move back for a couple
of decades," said Yekaterina Paramonova, a third-year undergraduate majoring
in nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
echoing the sentiment of many Russians who have tasted life outside the motherland.
"In the United States, there are secure job opportunities, and you know the process
to obtain a job isn't really corrupt, but in Russia you need to have connections," she
Paramonova, an aspiring young scientist whose parents immigrated to the United
States four months before she was born, was one of many representatives of the
Russian diaspora gathered last week in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the founding
conference of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, or SkTech — a joint
venture of MIT and President Dmitry Medvedev's Skolkovo Innovation Center
announced in October.
The new institute will be situated at the Skolkovo site in the Moscow suburbs, its core
language will be English, and it will be focused on entrepreneurship and bringing
research to market.
The Skolkovo Innovation Center is a government initiative striving to concentrate
industry, academia and investors in a single location to form a Silicon Valley on the
outskirts of the country's capital.
The new university is intended for Russian graduate students so they can attend
a world-class research-based institution while staying in the Russian Federation, said
SkTech president Edward Crawley, an MIT professor who has served as chairman
of the NASA technology and commercialization advisory committee.
The brain drain has had a major impact on the nation's economy and educational
system. Each year, 15 percent of graduates leave the country, and since the fall of the
Soviet Union, 800 institutes have closed their doors. In all, about 800,000 scientists have emigrated from Russia, said Almaz Capital partner Sergei Beloussov during
a presentation at the conference.
Rutgers University professor of molecular biology Konstantin Severinov bucked
the trend and returned to head a lab at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute
of Molecular Genetics in Moscow in 2005. Since then, he has become one of four
faculty fellows for SkTech. He witnessed 40 talented Russian students passing through
his Rutgers' lab, but only two returned home — a tendency he hopes to reverse.
"We want to create the opportunity for those who have left to come back," MIT's
Crawley declared at the conference, in concert with Severinov's aspirations.
The drain has reached such a scale that president Crawley, an American, was the only
representative of any Russian academic institution at the World Economic Forum
in Davos, Switzerland, at the end of January. Presidents of about 20 of the world's top
universities attended the event, including Cambridge, Columbia University, Harvard,
MIT, National University of Singapore, Oxford, Tsinghua University and University
SkTech: Russia's Response
SkTech is expected to open the doors of its $1 billion campus, designed by Beijing
Olympic stadium architects Herzog and de Meuron, in 2014. By the end of the decade,
it aspires to reach the scale of CalTech, with 200 faculty, 300 post doctorates and about
1,200 graduate students.
All of the faculty and student body will be engaged in research to solve problems in five
strategic scientific areas defined by the Russian government: biomedical, nuclear,
space, information and energy science.
Within the framework of these five fields, about 15 research centers — with budgets
of $6 million to $12 million each — will form an integral part of SkTech. Each center will
combine faculty and students of a Russian university with those of a non-Russian
university and SkTech to collaborate on research projects, which will "solve
the problems of the 21st century."
SkTech will strive to skip the evolutionary process that MIT, Harvard and Cambridge
underwent to become economic engines of growth, said Crawley, pointing to the
benefits of being surrounded by about 200 resident companies of Skolkovo, including
IBM and SAP.
Accordingly, one of its defining and novel features is the Center for Entrepreneurship
and Innovation, or CEI. This organization will provide two main functions:
entrepreneurship research and education as well as assistance in commercializing
research results. The center will offer grants — each worth up to 3 million rubles ($100,000)
per year — and mentoring to research centers and faculty so their projects reach the market. It will
also manage all bureaucratic tasks: patenting inventions, managing conflicts of interest and acting as liaisons to industry.
A Long Way to Go
However, since ground is not expected to be broken until late this spring, the only
presence SkTech has so far in Skolkovo is administrative offices within the Skolkovo
School of Management, a separate institution. Much work is required before
the aforementioned facilities and programs are up and running.
"The procedure, everything is being created as we speak," Severinov said.
To navigate the unmarked territory, the SkTech founders are organizing pilot programs
and expect a continuous ramping-up process.
Starting in August 2012, the first 20 students will participate in a three- to four-week
"boot camp," SkTech special projects manager Lyuba Semirog said. The program will
focus on courses in entrepreneurship and innovation as well as engineering.
Following that, the students will pass through a year long pilot program at MIT or
potentially Stanford, Imperial College London or ETH Zurich — with all expenses paid
for by SkTech.
Seeking to be financially independent, Crawley said the first development session
for the endowment has already taken place, and they are planning on raising $1 billion
with a long-term goal of $2 billion. The endowment, he said, should, within 10 to 20
years, be able to pay for 20 percent to 30 percent of all the university's costs.
The Skolkovo Foundation — the governing body funded from federal coffers and tasked
with developing conditions favorable for innovation — foots the bill for all of SkTech's
operating expenses and the creation of the research centers, said SkTech vice
president for administration and development Alexei Sitnikov. However, in time Crawley
foresees research projects contributing major sources of capital, as multinational
corporations, international grants and private investors fund projects.
Undergrad Paramonova told The Moscow Times that she would like to attend SkTech
for graduate studies, especially since the education was free, but the uncertainty of how
the master's degree would be accepted by international institutions and businesses
caused her to focus on universities in France.
To attract students, SkTech is providing three years of free education. During the
first year, students study abroad at a world-class international institution before
returning to SkTech for the final two years.
Franz Hover, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT attending the conference
to learn more about the research proposal process, said his greatest concern was
residency. He had already worked abroad in Singapore, and the experience had been
very difficult for his family and career.
Severinov, however, dismissed concerns that it will be difficult to attract professors
and researchers. "If the price is right, there will be no problem attracting Russian
professors," he said.
He pointed out that there is currently a large undersupply of funding in the United States
and that many labs are closing. Most research grants are $250,000 per year for four
years, he said, whereas SkTech would be able to provide twice that amount.
SkTech is also focusing on attracting younger professors, Severinov said.
Each junior faculty member will spend an all-expenses-paid year doing research under
a leading senior faculty mentor at another institution — at the moment MIT. However,
agreements are being made with other institutions, Crawley said. After the first year,
the professor will return to SkTech, but the mentoring relationship will continue to be
cultivated — a cost footed by SkTech.
Stanislav Emelianov, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin who emigrated
to the United States from Russia 20 years ago, visited the conference to evaluate
the potential SkTech may have as a collaborative satellite university for his institution.
His main concern for the research centers was whether all universities would be given
"a fair shake." He wanted to see more transparency in the research proposal selection
process — that politics would be kept out of it.
I want to be sure the distribution of money doesn't just turn into some "money
laundering" scheme, he said.
"Look, I'm leaving MIT to go and create this university," Crawley said in response
to questions of whether corruption could seep into the process for funding allocation.
"I'm not going to put up with anything. If I find something like that, I'll stop it and if I can't
stop it, I'll leave. So if you see me leave, ask why."
Not completely convinced, but further reassured, Ruslan Valiyev, head
of nanotechnologies at Ufa State Aviation Technical University, based in Russia's Bashkortostan republic, said he had arrived with 10 percent confidence in the potential
of SkTech, but after the two days, he was nearing 40 percent.
MIT professor of health sciences Leonid Mirny, an emigre, and bioengineering professor
Mikhail Gelfand at Moscow State University, are ready to jointly apply for a research
project in clinical and functional genetics, which would bring their respective universities
together in a collaborative project at SkTech. Mirny expects strong competition for the
funding, predicting possibly 20 applications in their field.
Crawley, however, doesn't gauge success by the number of applicants the university
receives or how confident professors are in SkTech's potential.
"The real measure of success," he said, "is when people start wanting to come
to Skolkovo to work. When the first graduate student applies to Skolkovo and MIT
and gets in to both places and goes to Skolkovo — that day I will smile all day."
After the conference, Paramonova was still convinced that she would most likely do her
graduate studies in Western Europe next year. But she said she foresees getting
a second degree at SkTech and joining the battle to stop the brain drain.
"I'm going to try to get everything I can," she said, "and then go back [to Russia] and try
to change something."