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The future of Russia is in knowledge intensive and high-tech production

Interview with Alexander Smetanov, General Director of Sapfir Technopark





Alexander Smetanov, General Director of Sapfir Technopark, tells about the decision to join the International Association of Science Parks, about international cooperation and prospects for development of technology parks in Russia.

— Sapfir Technopark has applied for membership in the International Association of Science Parks (IASP). What benefits will this membership give to Moscow’s first private technology park? 

Yes, indeed, we are Moscow’s first private technology park, we hope to join IASP and look forward to becoming its member. IASP membership opens up great opportunities for cooperation and experience sharing with the world’s leading technology parks. It is important to understand that any such site is focused on continuous search for partners to develop both its own business and its residents’ business. As a manager, I would like to have more information about development of technology parks elsewhere in the world besides Russia. International cooperation is also extremely important. It is just impossible without interfacing with colleagues in the innovative sector, clear perception of the direction of their development and exchange with practices. Besides financial aspects, new ideas are critically important for development of a technology park which can become a basis for engineering of new prospective products, technologies, solutions or services. All this can be done through international cooperation. 

— What experiences of foreign colleagues are the most interesting for Russian technology parks?

In my opinion, Russian technology parks lack bright breakthrough ideas – ideas that could be financed and eventually realized. Such ideas are in high deficit today. As a matter of fact, we have a lot of creatively thinking individuals but they need to be involved and interested. There was no such problem in the Soviet times. The leaders of innovative engineering thought such as Novosibirsk Academic Town were working on initiatives generated by “higher-ups”. There was a national governmental plan requiring invention of television transistors or, say, rocket fuel. And engineers did invent such things. By the way, innovative enthusiasm was evident in those times and people had “burning” eyes. Nowadays, we are just beginning to come back to that situation.

Also, we are very much interested in business models used by foreign technology parks. Namely, how they create conditions for innovative designs and how they raise funds. For instance, state-run technology parks in Germany or France offer their space for rental at prices 3 times lower than market rental rates. How do they do that? How are they subsidized? What output is expected from them? These and many other issues are very interesting for us.

— Is it possible to establish constructive cooperation without IASP membership? What are advantages of being an IASP member?

IASP membership enables to view the overall picture of innovative developments in full detail. Of course, “pinpoint” contacts and acquaintances are very useful. However, one can see and understand the general development vector only being a member of the Association and communicating with all representatives of the world innovative community. For instance, European specialists may be concentrated on certain areas of focus, while priorities in USA or Asian countries can be quite different. Furthermore, it is much easier to work on such problem as “brain drain” within the Association. Unfortunately, it should be stated that Russia is noticeably backward in terms of technological development in some industries. Not in all sectors, but in some ones such backwardness is quite noticeable. At the same time, other countries have their own gaps where ideas of Russian specialists might be welcomed. In this connection, I see that potential for exchanges with specialists is high. The more so that Moscow currently offers very attractive conditions for work in the innovative industry. We can freely invite foreign specialists for employment in Russia and learn their experiences and practices. Everybody does so all over the world. Why should we be an exception?

Russia’s entry to WTO, our membership in IASP, acquisition of the world’s experiences via cooperation in other formats - all this is a benefit for our country. One can move ahead only through mutual contacts. The world is multi-polar and very large. Any economic miracle or separate technology can appear only through interaction.

— “Sapfir” is a private technology park. What is its advantage over governmental institutions of development?

On the one hand, state-run technology parks avail themselves of using budgetary funds. On the other hand, they meet some difficulties due to the same reason. The state is not always an effective owner and there is much evidence of that. Yes, it expects that its investments will pay back. However, the risk of failure is less sensitive for a governmental manager than for a private entrepreneur. Private business risks its money and its company. That’s why being efficient and competitive is a vitally important task. Let’s face reality: the state sometimes takes its money from one pocket and puts it into another one. Private business cannot afford doing that. Therefore, it is much more motivated to perform efficiently. I don’t say that state-run technology parks are inefficient. They just perform in accordance with different rules. Thus, such rules enable them to assume responsibility for socially oriented businesses which are not always profitable. This is possible but more difficult for private technology parks. Anyway, I am sure that both technology park types should exist and complement each other.

— How would you assess prospects for development of technology parks in Russia?

It is vitally important for Russia to develop an innovative economy, knowledge-intensive production, engage in localization, adopt international experiences and learn. We don’t have any other choice. The question is how difficult this will be. According to all feelings and actual data, we move in the right direction. There is a goal and an objective – to introduce innovative approaches into our economy. There are tools and all other conditions for accomplishing this goal. We need to encourage more actively investors and entrepreneurs ready to invest in innovations and infrastructures. I believe that future of Russia) is in knowledge intensive and high-tech production.