Market should turn to innovations
Are innovations in demand in Russia?
Investments are needed primarily for the domestic market as long as perhaps only the IT products of the Russian high-tech items can be successfully exported. According to statistics, Russia in terms of innovation activity is considerably inferior to the leaders, such as Sweden, the USA, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Germany. According to experts, in the next 25 years we will belong to the group of countries with an average potential for innovation. Therefore, in recent years the state has significantly increased its innovation activities; under the government’s aegis a special commission for high technologies and innovations is working; various federal programmes are approved and the innovation infrastructure is being rapidly established. It is quite clear that private investments will enter en masse the venture market only when there are more potentially successful technology projects. We seek to participate in the creation of that system acting as a private investor for the projects.
It is believed that the world has passed five technological waves, and now there is a transition to the sixth one where innovations play an important role. Innovations also play a key role in the modernisation of Russia. It is essential that entrepreneurs can perceive and develop new technologies that are the only way to close the gap and ensure that modern products are released. This is an interesting and promising kind of business certainly associated with a certain degree of risk and the need for investments in the production infrastructure, and it is able to provide high returns especially for projects directed towards the mass market.
Now, the investment market in the innovative businesses is still in its infancy. So far, public development institutions or public-private partnerships have been investing in innovations in Russia. But the world’s practice shows that serious development is possible only if private money is spent as it is not possible to make the economy innovative with the efforts of the institutions. In my opinion, the market should turn to innovation; a demand for new things should be generated. Among the positive changes it should be noted that some major Russian companies have begun to foster their own innovative programmes.
How to change the situation in the economy for the better?
In my view, investment foundations should focus on the initial seed financing of fundamental and applied research preceding the product output itself, which will create a solid technological platform to follow up projects. This, in turn, will contribute to the more effective development of the scientific and technological industry in Russia as a whole and will open the possibility of creating high-tech devices in the short term in order to meet the present investment requirements associated with high-tech manufacturing
The ZNTC is part of the Russian network of support to high-tech projects. We have not only the ‘light’ infrastructure as services are now called in law, finance, marketing and management in order to successfully develop the final product and effectively bring it to the market but also the manufacturing infrastructure. In particular, we have our own technology infrastructure for microelectronics and a bio-analytical laboratory designed to carry out research and experiments, create prototypes and manufacture small series of products. This distinguishes us from the business incubators that provide only space, legal and accounting support.
What projects are you working on?
Originally, our focus was on microelectronics, devices and associated products. Now start-ups also obtain support at the interface of areas of knowledge, technologies and markets. This includes smart systems that provide energy efficiency, medical products and devices in the most innovative sector of biotechnology. In all cases, a project should have a technological component as well as the market and specific consumers. Investments primarily mean business.
Currently, the investment portfolio of the Zelenograd Nanotechnology Centre has about 30 projects, 30% of which account for microelectronics, 40–50% for projects in the field of biotechnology and about 20% for robotics. Since we invest ‘private’ money, in order to mitigate our own risks and at the same time increase the amount invested in a project, we attract other development institutions to invest. The amount of funding raised has exceeded 100 million roubles, and the revenue of start-ups was more than 90 million roubles.
What is the key to the success of the project, team, product or market?
All components are important but the environment, in which the project is growing and developing, is also quite essential. To create a nanotechnology start-up, ideas alone are not enough; we should also implement and make a prototype. We are looking for investment partners and production sites.
Could you provide any successful reference projects?
A good example is the company PICASO 3D manufacturing 3D-printers. PICASO 3D was created in 2011 by graduates of MIET in collaboration with our centre, and it became a market leader from a start-up for a few years. This is not just a story of success but also the meteoric rise.
Today PICASO 3D is a leading developer and manufacturer of 3D-printers accounting for about 30% of the domestic market. In 2014, an agreement on cooperation with the Russian manufacturer of CAD software for 3D-modeling, the Ascon Company was signed. Since 3D-printers are turning into an indispensable tool of an engineer, this cooperation will be beneficial for both companies.
PICASO 3D is constantly improving its product line. In 2015, a new model of the 3D printer DesignerPRO250, which can print complex designs in two materials using water soluble support, was introduced to the market. According to some evaluations, this technology allows to reduce the financial cost of creating prototypes by 10–40 times, and the time input by 5–15 times compared with milling, for example.
In 2014, the project managed to achieve self-sufficiency. The dealer network has more than 10 partners across Russia, you will agree, that is not bad for a startup.