Irish play key role in $8bn plan for Russia’s Silicon Valley – the Skolkovo Innovation Center outside of Moscow

Lenihan has key role in $8bn plan for Russia’s Silicon Valley Ex-Fianna Fail minister says that the Irish were key to massive project

By Nick Webb

Sunday July 22 2012

The Independent


Former Fianna Fail Minister for Innovation Conor Lenihan is at the heart of a hugely ambitious $8bn (€6.5bn) plan to establish Russia’s Silicon Valley.

Speaking at length for the first time since leaving Irish politics after the 2011 general election, Lenihan told the Sunday Independent of his pivotal role in the massive Skolkovo project taking shape just outside Moscow. The plan is to create a vast hub of innovation and research anchored by the Skolkovo Tech University — a Silicon Valley with more vodka, stray bears and furry hats.

“I was asked to join by Victor Vekselberg,” Lenihan said. Vekselberg is a billionaire Russian oligarch who has been tasked with making the project happen. “I conduct active negotiations with large global corporations — usually at CEO level. That’s my role,” he says. In effect, Lenihan is a one-man IDA.

There’s a bigger budget than anything the IDA has to offer though. The Russian state has already spent $4.2bn (€3.4bn) on the project but the overall bill could be up towards $80bn. “About 70 per cent of that is in city build. This will be a city of 31,000 people,” Lenihan said.

“It would take three to six years to move something like this in the EU. It’s a great tribute to the Russians that they have been able to mobilise their resources. It has been hugely impressive,” he said.

Some 25 global companies ranging from IBM, Microsoft, Cisco and Boeing have set up research and development operations at Skolkovo. The key strands of research are bio-technology, IT, clean tech, nuclear and space technology — with the project anchored by a major partnership with the world famous MIT.

“The main objective for them is in talent, market access and alignment with a high-profile government- backed project,” according to Lenihan. The key thrust of the project is to move the research along through to market — when it can actually make money. “The heart of the project is the commercialisation of research,” he confirmed.

There is also a pipeline of 500 start-up companies at Skolkovo. “We’ve funded 100 companies,” he says. Grants range from $2m to $5m and don’t have all the bells and whistles that Irish grants have. The Russians don’t have claw-backs, equity stakes or profit shares.

Read the full article in The Independent

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