Russia's answer to California's IT hub has yet to materialize
The USSR was ripe with brilliant scientists and top level academics, even if quite a few ended up defecting to the West. Russia today remains the birthplace of numerous IT entrepreneurial genius - but then again, a lot of them pack up and offer their talent overseas. And mostly they settle in the digital hotspot of the planet: the Silicon Valley.
In an attempt to stem the flow, Russia announced earlier this year an ambitious scheme to develop its own version of the famed US innovation hub. At stake is not really a will to compete head to head with America - rather the project aims at showing that Moscow’s model of growth, so far essentially based on energy exports, can successfully diversify away from oil and gas and manufacture technology giants of its own.
So Skolkovo’s ambassadors are touring the world and courting contributors, including American ones. The list of companies showing interest is impressive: Intel, Cisco, Siemens, GE, Nokia, have pledged to build R&D centers on the site, whilst the MIT projects the creation of a joint university by 2014.
Yet a the moment the site is still as flat as a Macbook Air, and firm commitments in cash from multinationals amount to very little. Despite their good will, companies are still unsure about Moscow’s long-term commitment to the project, and remain wary of Russia’s unstable business climate. Above all, they’re still waiting for cues as to who will to be president next year, and whoever it is, which economic philosophy will dictate the Kremlin’s priorities.
Meanwhile, 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the East-West brain drain continues.