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Technoparks. A cradle for innovations?

15 July 2011

On 15 July participants of the roundtable on technoparks within Innoprom discussed what must be done to enable Russian technoparks to perform the main function they are designed for – being a favourable environment for technical innovations, service and communications platform for companies producing innovative products. The key question – What an up to date efficient technopark must be like? – was proposed by the moderator, Mikhail Sneg (IRP Group).

The tone of the discussion was set by Dmitri Lyudomirski, Deputy Director General of the Technopark ‘Skolkovo’. In his view technoparks must be privately owned, be profit-driven (a technopark in Zurich is a good example). In Russia the meaning of the term ‘technopark’ is somewhat different: the majority of them are set up within universities, they are not engaged with markets and business, many were established simply because they were in fashion. A proper technopark must be a well equipped business incubator, combining services common for incubators helping startups with hi-tech centres of collective access.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (Russian Venture Company) joined in and supported the notion of a technopark as a profitable business. The Russia’s problem, in his opinion, lies in that technoparks here are perceived as high cost infrastructure projects; very few people understand what the business of incubating companies is like (the Novosibirsk technopark is a rare exception). Technoparks don’t have to be universal, the must be constructed around the equipment and technologies of a particular industry, IT or biotechnologies, for instance. Technoparks must be the next stage in evolution after business incubators; the latter help the startups package their ideas, make them a business while technoparks must be tuned for a business that has taken shape but needs technological support in order to start growing.

Oleg Lysak (ROSNANO) sees the Russian technoparks’ problem in that the majority of them are viewed by their creators as a property development project getting its profits mainly from renting out offices and warehouses. As a result management teams of technoparks are made up mainly of commercial real estate specialists whose main goal is to find a large tenant. The priorities must be changed, technoparks should shift to drawing profits from hi-tech venture companies. A solution here may be in separation of objectives of the establishment of infrastructure and creating the service environment for companies, assign them to different teams. It is possible that this will take shape of a public/private partnership in which the Government or a regional authorities establish the infrastructure while services are provided by private investors with their own portfolio of hi-tech projects. The ROSNANO own projects are aimed first of all at the development of the technology component of technoparks

Dr. Karl-Heinz Klinger, CEOof Technostart GmbH, a consulting firm, proposed a different vision of the needed technopark model. In Germany, whose experience can be considered a success, the majority of technoparks are governmental property, they are not expected to make profit but rather getting as many as possible successful companies and products to the market with the long term view that the state will get its money’s worth through taxes which these companies will be paying. Alongside specialised technoparks – as a rule these not large operations – in Germany there are some universal technoparks not tied to any particular type of technologies. Dr. Klinger sees the participation of large corporations – like the System Group or oil processing companies in Tatarstan – in technoparks as strong point of the Russian practices. In Germany the collaboration between large business and technoparks is only praised and encouraged (Aerobus, Behringer, Audi serve as examples of this kind of collaboration).

Irina Anisimova, Deputy Director of the INVEL (Russian abbr. for Innovations in Electric Power Engineering) partnership, and Igor Gerdt, the “Chemicals Park Tagil» Project Manager shared examples of successful experience of the support for hi-tech projects in Russia The projects they presented – ‘the energy home’ and ‘the chemicals park’ — build on the best practices in similar areas found abroad, mainly in the US and Germany. Irina Anisimova pointed out the social impact of the Energy Home project; these are the scientific developments, popularisation of energy saving technologies, the environmental impact. The Chemicals Park in Nizhniy Tagil is an example of highly specialised cluster of business projects specialising in a single industry; other participants also talked about the need for and the prospects of this kind of cluster collaboration.

Having focused selecting a desired technopark model the participants of the discussion only touched on possible measures needed to be undertaken to make a transition to this model. One of the key issues on which the participants did not manage to reach a consensus was legislative stipulations on the status of technoparks and innovations, and giving technoparks or companies, working in them tax concessions. On the one hand the governmental support would give the development of the sector a leg up, on the other – fears Evgeny Kuznetsov, a lawyer – the new source of concessions may well result in abuse. Vladimir Gerasimenko, a Member of the Sverdlovsk Oblast Duma (party “A Just Russia”) thought these concerns justified – it is his assessment that the adopted in the Oblast law on the support for innovation enterprises does not include the necessary clear criteria which means that the concessions are received mostly by businesses rather distant from innovations but close to the authorities. So far it has not been possible to make amendments to this law, the Member of the Duma said, any changes are blocked by the we-are-tight-with-the-authorities businesses gaining from the existing deficient version.

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