The annual meeting of USRBC is seen as historically significant given that USRBC has never held a meeting oThe evening, hosted at the exquisite Stonebrook Court Estate was considered the official welcoming night bringing together the cream of the business world in the Silicon Valley region that included both U.S. and Russian business people. Viktor Vekselberg was the keynote speaker at the Stronebrook Mansion, an architectural masterpiece in Los Altos Hills, California. Arriving with his business colleagues from the Renova Group, he was immediately surrounded by other guests who were curious to learn more about the Skolkovo project. n the West Coast, in Silicon Valley, a place that holds a huge impact on Russian and U.S. energy, technology and nanotechnology enterprises. Kiventures along with AmBAR created a day of education and discussions at the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center at Stanford University.
The guests arrived at the Stonebrook Mansion around 6 p.m. after the day-long event at Stanford University and drew a number of prominent business people. Kiventures hosts, Inessa Obenhuber and Katya Stesin welcomed theirs guests that included USRBC president, Edward Verona, USRBC board members Charles Ryan of UFG Asset Management, Drew Guff of Siguler Guff & Company and Paul Rodzianko from the Hermitage Museum Foundation. In addition, Kiventures was proud to have in attendance participants from the recent VC trip to Russia: Dixon Doll from DCM, Mark Gorenberg from Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, and Igor Agamerzyan, CEO of Russian Venture Company, as well as senior executives from Cisco Systems, Alcoa, Ernst and Young, Baker & McKenzie, Caterpillar, and Rusnano Corporation. Kiventures was also honored to have among its attendees, Mike Halloran, former Counselor to the Chairman and Deputy Chief of Staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Nancy Heinen, former General Counsel and Secretary of Apple Computer, Inc.
Our special guest and keynote speaker, Viktor Vekselberg, now responsible for managing the Skolkovo project spoke about Russia’s anticipation of success in creating a place that will rival the Silicon Valley as we know it. The goal, he explained is not to replicate California’s Silicon Valley, but to create a unique Russian center of innovation and technology and to reduce Russia’s reliance on natural resources in the future. He considers the work to be ambitious, but many leading organizations and businesses, not just in Russia, but around the world, are taking part in making it happen. Leading technology companies such as Google, Cisco Systems and Nokia are planning to have their R&D facilities on the Skolkovo Campus alongside innovative Russian Start-ups.
Among the special guests were a delegation of entrepreneurs selected by Cre@tovo, a joint project of Delovaya Rossiya (“Business Russia”—the association of medium-sized business enterprises in Russia) and UpSelf, a Russian social networking and knowledge management technology company. Delegation principles Boris Yurievich Titov, Chairman of Delovaya Rossiya and Aleksey Ermolin, Founder of UpSelf have helped to develop this summer school emphasizing innovation and commercialization of intellectual property for up and coming entrepreneurs.
The next day, Kiventures participated in the Delovaya Rossia Screening Session at Plug and Play. Kiventures partner, Inessa Obenhuber was part of the VC voting panel where judges screened 46 companies from Russia. The winner of the competition was Andrey Nikitin with 3D Television, a company that addresses problems that impede the development of 3D television. The winner received free office space and support for three months that will be extended six months utilizing all of the benefits of officing at Plug and Play in Sunnyvale. Kiventures plays a strong role in supporting entrepreneurs like Andrey Nikitin.
This entire week of events took place just one week after California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the Skolkovo center in Russia. The Governor, together with such prominent Venture Capitalists as Dixon Doll from DCM, Dick Kramlich from NEA, and Mark Gorenberg of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners met with leaders from Rusnano, Russian Venture Company (RVC) and Russian Venture funds and technology leaders in Moscow. The Governor spoke at the USRBC annual meeting acknowledging his own considerable excitement about U.S. and Russian partnerships saying that it was time to explore the good work that can be done. Governor Schwarzenegger said that he was graciously received in Moscow and thanked many, including Viktor Vekselberg and Alexandra Johnson from GTS who helped to organize the trip, and said that because of his commitment, he had to come and participate in USRBC’s annual meeting.
One issue that Governor Schwarzenegger attacked was the issue concerning Russia’s propensity for corruption and inflexibility towards entrepreneurship legal systems. Many wonder how start-ups will protect their intellectual property in Russia. He acknowledged those challenges and said that it was something that would have to be worked on. He said that Russians will “have to work to eliminate those problems. That’s very simple. Everything can be eliminated,” adding that “all of this takes time, it’s not from one day to the next, but it takes time.”
“Personally,” the Governor is quoted as saying, “the California people should never be discouraged from doing business over [in Russia] because … it is a goldmine.” Yes, he explained it was tough to do business, but business was doable. “A goldmine means that the potential is huge,” he offered.
Mr. Vekselberg said that he believes that the Russian government is ready to help jump start the innovation in Russia by providing funds and government contracts to promising start-ups as was done in Silicon Valley by the U.S. government. While some VCs and entrepreneurs remain cautious, like the Governor, they recognize the potential of Skolkovo. As the project gains more clarity on the rules and government regulations, confidence will grow.