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The Skolkovo Project: Can Russia Recreate Silicon Valley?

Will a new tech innovation hub rise on the outskirts of Moscow? The Russian government is dropping billions—and hiring Cisco—to power their own innovation hub.

Tomorrow’s Silicon Valley may not be in California, or even the U.S. It might be in Russia—and it may be powered by Cisco.

The ultimate goal of the new innovation city outside of Moscow, dubbed the Skolkovo Project, is to create a smart, dynamic hotbed for technology ventures. Skolkovo is yet another example of attempts trying to intentionally recreate their own version of Silicon Valley, after attempts by India, Taiwan, and Ireland to name a few.

The Russian government put about $300 million into the project in 2011 and is expected to invest about $4 billion by 2013. The city already has a new academic institution modeled after Stanford and influenced by MIT, called the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management. Beyond the school, the Skolkovo Inograd (innovation city) is a planned innovation hub with big ambitions. In the city’s own words:

"Skolkovo is more than a science or technology park: it is a full-fledged city, though it is a special city in which creativity is the rule rather than an exception; a prototype for the city of the future. The Innovation Centre plans to ensure optimal conditions for research and business as well as create a rich and aesthetically appealing urban environment that is equally convenient for both guests and residents. The city’s main backbone elements will be the University and the Technopark. Alongside them will be a Congress Centre, various office and laboratory buildings, apartment buildings, fitness centres and stores."

This "city of the future" will eventually house 30,000 innovators and entrepreneurs. Skolkovo aims to build a wired live/work environment designed to stimulate innovation in information and communications tech, biotech, aerospace, energy efficiency technologies, and nuclear technology. To encourage more startup participation, the Skolkovo Foundation offers grants, tax breaks, and access to their innovation facilities and services.

The city claims to already be home to more than 350 startups in these clusters. Q Module Laboratory received a $50,000 grant to focus on enabling electronic devices to be battery-free. T-Smart received almost $1 million to focus on portable 3-D telemedicine technology for first responders.

So what does Cisco have to do with the creation of a new Silicon Valley in Russia? Cisco has been tasked with creating the technology master plan for the Skolkovo Technograd. The Russian government is tapping into Cisco’s expertise in ICT innovation to build the infrastructure that will allow Skolkovo to become a virtual, borderless hub of innovation. In a recent post here on Co.Exist, I wrote about the importance of integrating concepts of "startup cities" into the creation of smart cities. Cisco and the Skolkovo Foundation aim to do just that leveraging Cisco’s ICT solutions. Mohseen Moazimi, a Cisco VP, recently summarized the company’s involvement:

"Most industrial clustering in recent times has regarded technology as an industry to be attracted or supported, rather than as a catalyst for a city’s own innovation and growth. Virtual Skolkovo is therefore a fantastic opportunity to exploit all the opportunities of the digital economy in terms of collaboration, partnerships, virtualization, and resource sharing to generate capabilities and innovation for Skolkovo city."

I have little doubt that Cisco has the capabilities to support the planning and implementation of the technology infrastructure of this "city of the future." Perhaps the bigger question is whether an intentionally planned innovation hub in Russia can successfully recreate the entrepreneurial culture and vibe of the Valley and stimulate the types of economic development the government is hoping. There are, of course, cultural barriers and some pesky corruption issues (Russia ranks among the worst in the world in transparency).

Only time will tell.

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  • Jonathan

    Cisco will only ever bring incremental improvement because that's what the Ethernet economy is based upon...and the perennial quest for bandwidth will never stop, even when every major expert has reported to the FCC that the Internet of today will not become the Internet of tomorrow...there is no migration path.  The problem that has kept IP from performing as well as cable TV/satellite networks is not one of speed or is the network architecture.  Ethernet for instance, was invented as a broadcast technology, but it didn't work.  So switch/routers had to be invented to do the heavy lifting for the lackluster protocol.  It would have been unacceptable to have to build Public Switched Telephone Network 2 or cable network 2, after dumping billions into the first iteration.  However, when it comes to the Net, we seem to be okay building Internet2 on the same fundamental technology as Internet1. Our solution, Ether2, will be debuting the culmination of 20 years of fundamental research and architectural fix with a migration path for legacy 802.x.x devices at the SAE World Congress for automotive apps on 4/26.  However, eliminating layers of asynchronous router networks that sit on top of the telephone company networks will be the key to future apps such as smart grid and ensemble computing, where the wisdom of groups of devices still awaits us and security is built in...not the burden of the end user.