Reassessing Russia

When Information Age reported on the state of Russia’s technology industry in July, the impression we got was of a dormant powerhouse blessed with a highly-skilled workforce but stymied by overbearing bureaucracy and widespread corruption.

Since the publication of that article, Sergei Beloussov, the Russian-born CEO of virtualisation provider Parallels, got in touch to give his own thoughts on what he thought was a pessimistic assessment of the country’s latest attempt to attract IT investment.

“The marketing and PR of the Russian IT industry both internally and externally creates motivation for people to innovate, which creates motivation for investors to invest,” he claims. “That’s already happening – people are writing about it and people are thinking about it.”

Beloussov also praised Russian government-led initiatives such as tax incentives and loosening of restrictions on importing foreign workers and technologies, as well as the foundation of the Skolkovo Valley technology enclave near Moscow. These measures "level the field with other places that compete in technology," he says.

The Parallels CEO reiterated that Russia has an enviable history of technology leadership. “When Russia was first becoming an industrialised country, it was creating all kinds of innovations,” he observes, “both in the pre-revolution era, and especially in the Soviet era – like nuclear bombs and nuclear submarines.”

And he said that the country had little option but to build on this pedigree. “Natural resources tend to run out,” he says, “so converting to a knowledge and innovation-based economy makes a lot of sense.”

In his own effort to spur Russia’s next technology revolution, Beloussov has founded Runa Capital, a $30 million investment fund that will target pre-start-up stage Internet and software projects in Russia. He is joined by other high-tech industry figures who are familiar with this notoriously complex market, including Ilya Zubarev, co-founder of back-up firm Acronis and Igor Daniloff, founder of anti-virus software company Dr Web.

Runa is searching for early stage projects with the capability to “go global”, as Beloussov puts it, although the initial capital it provides will be small, with a ceiling of $2 million. “Most of the investments will be in hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he explains. “In many cases [these projects] may not have even a main product, and certainly no revenue and no customers or partners, and then we provide the funding until these things materialise.”

The Parallels CEO concedes that it will take many years for Russia’s technology industry to realise anything like its full potential. But he is more interested in the cultural impact the resurgence of that industry might have.

Gradually, Beloussov says, people in the heartland of the former Soviet Union are shedding their aspirations to become petty government officials and managers and discovering their entrepreneurial spirit. “Up until recently there was no motivation for young people to actually go and do innovation-based businesses," he said. "But that’s changing."

Peter Done

Peter Done is managing director of Peninsula Business Services, the personnel and employment law consultancy he set up having already built a successful betting shop business.

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