Russians aim to ease trade worries with a bid to create 'Silicon Valley'

Thursday, February 16, 2012



The leaders of an ambitious Russian project to create a "Silicon Valley" outside Moscow have dismissed fears that it is difficult to do business while Vladimir Putin is running the country.

Representatives of the Skolkovo Foundation, on a visit to London to drum up support, pointed to the fact that at least 14 global firms, including BP, Nokia, Siemens and SAP, are investing in the project.

Viktor Vekselberg, president of the Skolkovo Foundation, said: "We believe the Skolkovo initiative will be one of those projects that will change Russia."

The foundation, which has got $4bn (£2.5bn) in funding largely from the Russian government, plans to create a "world-class" technology and science research hub. This will include a university campus which might follow the lead of Stanford or Berkeley in Silicon Valley, where Google and many other US tech companies began.

The Skolkovo project will also build five key research centres dedicated to IT, biomedicine, energy, nuclear and space as well as a business park and a town for 26,000.

Russia has said it is keen to move from an economy reliant on natural resources to one focused on technology, knowledge and entrepreneurship. The government has gifted 500 hectares of vacant land to the foundation, with a possible 2014 opening date.

Mr Vekselberg admitted: "We'll never be able to repeat the Silicon Valley success. We don't have that target."

He and other members of the Skolkovo Foundation have visited universities including Oxford, Cambridge and London's Imperial College this week in the hope of creating alliances.

As part of that move, BP yesterday signed a £9.3m joint research deal with the Skolkovo Foundation and Imperial College to make oil refining in Russia more environmentally sustainable. UK Trade & Investment, the Whitehall body that supports UK business overseas, is backing the project.

Some overseas companies have run into trouble in Russia in the past, including BP, which had a bust-up over its joint venture with TNK.