The stereotypical image of captive Russian scientists working away at a top-secret laboratory in Siberia – popularized in Cold War mythology by James Bond moviesand the like – persists to this day. But in 21st century Russia, the reality is different: highly prized technological know-how is still among the best in the world, but it won’t be a secret for much longer.
This time, it’s a range of killer, high tech apps that are about to hit international markets, with the potential to change, greatly enhance and simplify the way we do many everyday tasks. Today’s generation of Russian startup geniuses also have a strong scientific background: now in mathematics, physics and computer programming. The challenge is to match these (often unsung) brilliant talents with the finance and business acumen to turn these ideas into startups, and from there into world-class businesses.
It’s true that the Russian startup scene is a few years behind its most advanced equivalents in the United States and elsewhere (when it comes to finance and marketing, almost certainly), but there is also an amazing opportunity here for potential investors, whether they be private business angels, risk-taking venture capitalists or large corporations to get in on the ground level.
Although the business environment in Russia holds many challenges for young Russian startup entrepreneurs (the word has even entered the Russian language as стартаперы, or startupers) – not least the struggle to combat corruption and bureaucracy – they have some advantages, too, over their Western counterparts.
The first is the state support and encouragement for Russian startups, borne out of projects such as Moscow’s Skolkovo Innovation Center, which is now beginning to bear fruit. It’s a different model from the American approach, naturally, but the commitment to high-tech projects is very apparent at the highest levels of government.
Other advantages are down to young Russians themselves. One is the hyper-development of the Russian Internet, which (thanks to the burgeoning middle class) is taking off exponentially after a slow start, becoming Europe’s biggest market at 50 million users and growing.
The second is perhaps more traditional: Russians’ perennial ability to find smart practical solutions in difficult environments. (If you’ve ever seen the difference between ingenious Russian car drivers and their Western counterparts in below zero temperatures, you’ll know what I mean.)
RBTH will roll out the full version of our tablet app “Top 50 Russian Startups” in February 2013. We sincerely hope that this multimedia project will help to shine a light on some truly innovative projects.