Thursday, June 23, 2016

Techno Parks – the Latest Edition of Russia’s Traditional ‘Potemkin Villages’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – Russia’s new technology parks, places which Dmitry Medvedev has boasted about so often, “offer conference halls, restaurants and plenty of parking instead of laboratories,” Aleksandr Sitnikov says, and thus are the latest version of the Potemkin villages Russian officials have so often erected to deceive rulers and foreigners alike.

            Even before Moscow launched its major import substitution drive in the face of Western sanctions in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Russian government a decade ago began building technology parks to encourage innovation and promote business development in the IT sector, the Moscow commentator says (

            Moscow has been quite successful in building these parks, he continues, noting that according to various sources, there are now as many as 179 of them, with the central authorities being especially proud of Skolkovo and Rosnano.  But if the parks exist, they aren’t fulfilling the government’s plans by promoting new business breakthroughs.

            In Europe, almost all firms that turn to the continent’s innovation business centers get help; in Russia, fewer than ten percent do, Sitnikov says, either because there is no money to support these firms or because the technology parks the Russian government has created are nothing of the kind.

            The biggest roadblock to innovative development with the help of techno parks, he continues is that there are no “authoritative and innovative expert councils and leaders” in these supposed “’incubators’” of progress. Instead, they have become little more than “’talk shops’” which at best allow those with ideas sometimes to meet those with money.

            Thus, “100 percent” of Russia’s techno centers have space for “training, seminars and lectures,” for “consulting and the organization of symposiums and conferences and the like,” and only slightly fewer offer well-stocked restaurants and “free parking” for visitors.   All very impressive to visitors but not very useful as far as the parks’ ostensible purposes go.

            Only about a quarter of Russia’s techno parks have “real possibilities for the technical realization of projects of their residents,” and only about the same share have “the necessary scientific equipment” on site. That stands in sharp contrast to the situation in Europe and the United States, Sitnikov says.

            Thus, the Russian versions “a priori cannot be considered techno parks and should not have government support. This is the alpha and omega of all successful incubators of startups in the world which are financed by tax-payer money.”

            Indeed, he says, in Russia today, the impression exists that “many Russian techno parks have been transformed” into places where business types can make money from the government by producing “’beautiful presentations’” without showing anything more in return.  As long as that continues, Moscow will never meet its goals for technological innovation.

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