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Sergei Yushko: “The state counts on technoparks”

The Kazan-based Idea technology park a short while ago was granted membership with the European Association of Technoparks and Business Incubators, despite that Russia is not a EU member. The park’s general director Sergei Yushko told a video conference at Tatar-inform of the park’s core activities and plans. The meeting was hosted by Oleg Pavlov.

Q: What was the reason for granting membership with such a respected organisation, the European Association, to the Kazan’s park?
A: The technopark Idea first became a member at the Russian Union of Innovation and Technology Centres. After that, using a grant from the organisation, we visited some larger technoparks and business incubators in Europe, where we held impressive presentations. We talked to the people who had been the originators of the European network, and found a lot in common with our mission. After that, we agreed on a potential possibility of filing our resume and all the appropriate documents. Experts conducted an internal audit check at Idea, using the European business incubator questionnaire. And we realised we had answers to all the questions that were asked. On 29 April, the board of directors of the European technopark network decided that Idea complied with all the requirements, and granted us membership.

Q: What is your mission?
A: Both in Europe and in Russia, the key mission of technoparks and business incubators is to create jobs at smaller companies, engaged in engineering and high technologies. It is my pleasure to state that Russia at that time was one of the European association’s priorities.

Q: What benefits does it produce?
A: First of all, it is highly prestigious to joint the network. Besides, you could praise yourself all you want, but when people have built such technoparks for 25 years, based on the best practices, and they say to you: “Right, guys, we are on the same wavelength with you, and we comply with each other’s expectations”, it is a good result. Since Idea is one of the best in Europe, foreign companies will consider cooperating with us an honour. Most importantly, it allows cooperation. Creating new jobs is probabilistic, it may or may not come out. But the more there are contracts and cooperation, the more probable is success. A Sony manager said once that your success is directly proportional to the number of prawns you eat at a breakfast with successful people.

Q: This year, Idea marks its 5th anniversary. What have you done over the time? What have you impressed and surprised Europe with?
A: We were very lucky to begin with, when the government of Tatarstan decided to build our park not for political but for economic reasons. Technoparks and business incubators are an instrument of restructuring the economy all over the world. We were lucky to be set up as a closed corporation, not as a ministry or department that originally lacks business initiative. I cannot fail to mention the great number of industrial partners. All that, including the board of directors, pre-conditioned that since 2004, we, thanks to our industrial partners Kamaz and Tatneft, have created over 4,000 jobs with small and medium-sized companies. It is pleasing that 105 firms are working and developing in the territory of the Idea park, we have nurtured several ambitious smaller companies that are implementing landmark projects in Russia. A great many prominent persons from various regions came to attend our first anniversary, which is great. They are finance and venture fund stars, and experts. The most important thing is that we have shown to the world that building technopark not generating losses is possible in Russia. A total of 250 million roubles is annually contributed to the republic’s budget by our firms, meaning that money invested in our entity is returned in at most 5 years. If the republic’s parliament ever considers allocating extra funds to develop the infrastructure, there is solid evidence that the deputies will invest in a business that pays. Abroad, most of the technoparks and business incubators are 80-percent funded by the government.

Q: It is clear now, why you aroused an interest. Eighty and zero is very different.
A: It is very pleasing to realise that Idea has displayed the best practice in building technoparks and business incubators. That is why we aroused an interest from the European network. There are things we can learn, as the European Space Agency is in the network, that does fantastic things. We want our tenants to have the opportunity to participate in the programmes. We are not just talking of accessing European Union’s funds; it is a great help, of course, but we have money too. We are going to Europe to find the best practices of creating effective jobs.

Q: How is a technopark different from a business centre?
A: They are like two pictures, where you should find several differences. They are very alike. The business model of a technopark that we implement includes earning on larger companies and spending on smaller ones. Of course, the main source of our earnings is rental, but if we seriously gain on the larger tenants, we provide privileges for the smaller companies, whereas no business centre offers privileges in its territory. Abroad, the state compensates to smaller businesses the money they have to spend on rental, and business then becomes profitable, there is an opportunity to attract funds from the stock market, to establish technoparks. Another difference of our technopark from a business centre is that there is no trading company there; they are mostly engineering and technology process automation ones.

Thirdly, we do not find our clients outside, but we nurture them. We invest incomes in not only providing rental privileges for such residents, but in various events. We invite famous coaches who share the best practices with us; we educate people at the Russian National Economy Academy. That is to say, we are a short link between the republic’s authorities and smaller businesses.

It pleasing that 105 companies in our territory get along well with each other. I can say we are not just a company with 1,740 employees but a sort of a condominium.

Q: So, pluses emerge that you never thought of when the technopark was set up?
A: In the time of the financial crisis, many of our companies have protected themselves through close association and partnership. Some use each other to find jobs for someone. Others buy equipment because someone has corporate discounts. It is a communion.

Q: But you said there are few companies from the outside. Who are the ones you do admit?
A: We are completely open and would admit anyone happily, even if they have no education or legal person. We would present him or her the full list of services, including the free-of-charge ones, that could help them be implemented. We have already received over 1,200 applications, 400 of them from school students, as we involve children in this activity as well.

Q: Today, at the time of a financial crisis, when the state suggests people start their own businesses, many clutch their heads fearing they will fail.
A: The most complex things are as a rule the most obvious ones. If a person has no experience of starting up a business, they will never do it. I, for instance, could not travel to the Moon tomorrow, because I do not know how to do it. We invite people who will definitely help though. Knowledge is like a flashlight that lights the way, so a newcomer understands it is not scary there. Through role playing, they get accustomed to the thought it is not difficult. Then, they will need to talk to someone who shortly before started up a business and, gaining faith in their powers, to set sail.

Q: The state should place stakes on you – jobs, employment...
A: The state does do so. It is the state that made the first investments in our ideas, it believed in us. The Idea park’s residents last year created a total of 900 jobs. I do not think it is a reason to stop, success should be increasing like a snowball.

Q: My next question is about younger people. You have a Lego Centre, could you tell about it in more detail.
A: We are simply creating conditions, so that younger people could be implemented. We need to work for the future, that is why we have set up the centre. I would really like that school graduates went to work for not only Kamaz, Tatneft and Nizhnekamskneftechim, but tried to set up their own technology businesses. To know what a person will be, look at the toys he or she played with as a child. They should be the most advanced ones and should contribute to technical creativity. Children grasp in a flash, when presented as a game, mechanics, cinematics and programming. When they enter a higher educational establishment, they know what is expected of them, and when they graduate, it is unthinkable... The younger a person, the more motivated he or she is.

Q: Do people over 30 come to you?
A: Of course. After special training courses, a person begins to realise what type of personality he or she is. What he or she needs to build up on and what to aim for, to set up their own business. Nobody is considered doomed from the beginning. This type of people have a specific feature, many are afraid to admit they do not know something. It is engraved in our minds that when getting old, a person knows everything and needs nobody, and that hampers development. Those who realise it, make a successful shift from the role of a director to a role of a business owner. When implementing this or that business, there comes a time when you need to step aside and to delegate everything to somebody who may not understand all the technical nuances but knows how to sell and promote a product. Cases like that are certainly more frequent among the older generation. The engineering teams have even designed a special term for it, “he needs a younger one to be leaned on”.

Q: What is your view of Idea’s further development?
A: Our prospects are fully laid out in our new strategy. They are related to promoting the public access high-technology equipment centres. We, as a management company, provide access for our residents to various services. What we do now is we allow to generate businesses at the engineering level, but we want to do business with a high exporting potential. To do that, we need to produce something that would be in demand abroad, and for that, appropriate education, equipment and cooperation is needed.

Prepared by Artur Yenikeyev
IA "Tatar-inform", 12 May 2009.