Creation of high-tech infrastructure as natural stage of development of startups
Indeed, over the four years we several times changed the direction of development, adjusted strategy. Initially, our nanotechnology center has been focused on the creation of large infrastructure projects in the logic of centers for collective use of equipment. The application for participation in the competition organized by FIEP for selection of nanotechnology centers included a large number of projects from the region, and at first we analyzed their prospects, to decide whether to invest in them. The results of the analysis revealed that only few of them correspond to the investment criteria. Other nanotechnology centers came to the same conclusions about their own projects. In fact, it turned out that despite the large number of projects and ideas in the country, almost nobody is suitable for investments. Then it was decided that the nanotechnology centers should to generate projects on one's own. In collaboration with the FIEP, we have created a serious methodological base, modeled and tested the concept of startups’ "assembly". Now, we can argue that it is effective. The network of nanotechnology centers has generated more than 500 startups and has firmly taken its niche in the innovation structure of the country.
What makes a project successful? Have you complete any projects?
Success for us is the exit from the project with profit, the sale of the entire project or of share in it. Some deals already completed, but they mainly relate to companies who before receiving investment from nanotechnology centers already working for some time on the market and was quite successful. I believe that the success of the adopted strategy of development can be stated with the start of realization of startups created by nanotechnology centers that is those, which have been conceived, staffed by teams, incubated and invested by the nanotechnology centers.
What are the current tasks of the Center for Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials of the Republic of Mordovia?
We have built a portfolio of projects supported by shareholders, and the majority of them are already operating companies, which complete the study or start the pilot production. In the first years we did not hurry with the creation of our own infrastructure, long enough worked carefully, investing in the validation of concepts. On the basis of the experience acquired in various areas – power electronics, photonics, nanomaterials, chemistry – today we take an informed investment decisions on the establishment of research and production infrastructure. In particular, we create a site for the research of flexible printed electronics. This is a promising direction which is much spoken about abroad, and which is currently already at the stage of market launch. Own research site will allow us to create new intellectual property in cooperation with the international partners.
The next stage of the infrastructure development is construction of a multipurpose chemical production. We have already created a dozen startups that are ready to provide it with orders for ensuring profitability. In my opinion, the approach in which businesses are created first and then the infrastructure for them, is the most effective. It allows to minimize risks and to avoid situations when expensive infrastructure remains unclaimed and unprofitable.
What portfolio companies of your nanotechnology center have achieved the highest progress?
A number of companies already generating revenue, that is, provide services or produce and sell products. Most of these projects are associated with less complex technologies, such as the production of inks with various modifying additives, chemicals for environmentally friendly cleaning of heating equipment, and various building materials. Technologically sophisticated startups have a longer cycle of return on investment, but also their commercial prospects are more interesting. I would like to note the Russian-Finnish project Flexbright on creation of research center for the development of light-emitting films in Mordovia. Among FIEP’s nanotechnology centers we are first who have invested in a foreign startup for transfer of innovative technology to Russia. It is based on the use of roll screen printing for the formation of the conductive paths on the ultrathin polymer film with the integrated LEDs. I believe that this technology can change the light industry. Light-emitting film can be laminated on glass, embedded in textiles, it is possible to create on its basis the wallpapers and panels. We have the right to produce such a film in Russia and to participate in R&D to improve the technology.
How nanotechnology center interacts with other entities of the innovation infrastructure of the Republic of Mordovia?
We are integrated into the industrial park, which is our shareholder and provides premises for the project companies. Research projects are carried out on the basis of the Ogarev Mordovia State University. We also cooperate with a number of enterprises, for example, participate in cooperation on creation of the power electronics devices of the new generation and are involved in the implementation of innovative lighting systems in greenhouses.
Please tell us about the projects in the field of new energy.
Currently, the cluster for power electronics is created. The cluster is a very promising form of organization integrating infrastructure and competencies of existing enterprises, research organizations and technology startups. It is planned that one of the first projects will be the development of inverters and converters on the basis of power elements of a new generation on silicon carbide.
Another startup in the field of energy is Energorouter, which develops energy routers for smart grid. Solid-state transformers have been actively developed abroad. We expect to organize cooperation for creation and serial production of such devices in Russia.
A number of projects is aimed at the development of materials for energy. For example, in cooperation with VIAM we have created non-flammable dielectric composites for high-voltage thyristor devices. Such composites replacing iron in the fasteners – cable ties and insulating sites, and can also be used as case materials.
What problems are typical for your work?
The creation of successful businesses with competent team causes, especially in the early stages, certain requirements to the quality of research and industrial cooperation. Without own necessary technological infrastructure for a specific project, there is a need to use affiliate infrastructure. But it is not always possible to find necessary equipment of the proper quality and competent specialists to perform rather narrow tasks. Additionally, project development requires highly skilled personnel to full-time employment, often with unique competencies. Therefore, we are forced to look for such specialists, including in other regions.
What are the plans of development of the Center for Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials of the Republic of Mordovia?
The priority is to start production on the territory of technopark. We create modern infrastructure with an area of several thousand square meters, which will allow our startups to move forward and become commercially successful companies.
Interview: Dmitry Gudilin