“Skolkovo is one of the innovation centers, but let’s speak honestly: it is now the leading innovation center and probably, in terms of competency and capabilities, the most powerful center in the country.” This assessment was made during a meeting held by Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia and chairman of the Skolkovo Board of Trustees, which took place in video conference format with project participants and the Foundation’s leadership.
During his opening remarks, Dmitry Medvedev emphasized that the limitations of the pandemic, which has not yet ended, have taken their toll on Skolkovo and its participant companies’ activities.
“I want to thank those who have taken an active part in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus; the organizing of remote collaboration in medicine, education, and information security depended on your work,” he said. “Many tasks had to be solved in an emergency situation, but there are also results. There is a drug, an express test, distance learning technologies and other products related to facial and object recognition and so on.
“The success of companies engaged in fighting the coronavirus does not cancel out the achievements of startups from other fields, although the resources of the state have recently been devoted to the fight against the pandemic. Thanks to you, Skolkovo is turning into a multi-disciplinary service in the field of innovation, and it is important for the state to support the progress of all these projects. Our task is to help Skolkovo’s work be of the utmost quality and convenience, and to help you promote your products on the domestic and international markets.”
Following the chairman of the board of trustees, Elena Yakubova, the medical director of Kromis (the company that developed the Russian antiviral drug, Avifavir, which inhibits the replication mechanisms of the coronavirus) said that at the start of the pandemic the first place they turned to for support was the Skolkovo Foundation.
“This partnership has revealed several important principles,” says Elena Yakubova. “Firstly, it is the speed of decision-making and decisiveness with which people acted. I am also very thankful to the Foundation for its flexibility; I refer to the new approach that has been developed for making decisions concerning covid. Thanks to this, the first drug in Russia that is specifically effective against the coronavirus has appeared.”
The timeline for this development is as follows: During mid-March, Kromis turned to Skolkovo for support in developing the new drug and bringing it to market. On 24 April, Avifavir was already in clinics as part of a clinical trial, and, during the first days of June, the drug was shipped to 35 federal subjects to treat the coronavirus infection.
Sergey Sorokin, the CEO of Intellogic, talked about the new possibilities that have opened up during the crisis for the adoption of the Botkin.AI software platform, which was created by the company. The platform utilizes artificial intelligence for analyzing medical images. Today, the technology has the best indicators in the world for accuracy in cancer diagnosis. Pilot projects are currently taking place in the regions, which, according to Intellogic, can increase the detection of early stage lung cancer by 50%.
With the beginning of the pandemic in the country, a huge number of CT scans have been carried out to detect the coronavirus; over the course of three months, more CT scans were performed than the whole of the previous year. The Botkin.AI technology also allows those images to be reanalyzed in order to detect cancer. This will save thousands of lives and, according to Sergei Sorokin, will have a positive economic impact valued at six billion rubles.
Anzhei Zhimbiev, the CEO of Rapid Bio, brought another example of how a Skolkovo participant reoriented its development during the crisis. The company he heads is developing express tests for detecting the early signs of stroke. Using its previous experience, the company created a covid-19 express test in three months and registered it with Roszdravnadzor. With the help of this blood test, which Rapid Bio has started producing at Skolkovo Technopark, it is possible, even at home, to determine within ten minutes whether there has been an immune response to the virus entering the body. This technology will make tests available to the public, while at the same time saving money for the entire healthcare system.
The Rapid Bio employees have been working 24/7 all this time and the CEO would have liked to express his gratitude to them by giving them the option of shares in the company. However, as Mr. Zhimbiev says, Russian corporate law makes this difficult. In his opinion, simplifying legislation in this area would be very useful for innovative startups.
Fyodor Antonov, the CEO of Anizoprint, works in an area that is not directly related to fighting the coronavirus. The company has developed a technology that allows for the 3D printing of parts made of composite materials with a mechanical performance superior to metal. Anizoprint exports its products to fifty countries and in June began to assemble its innovative 3D printers, Composer A3 and Composer A4, in Russia.
Mr. Antonov said that the crisis has stimulated significant company growth. According to him, innovative startups in Russia are interested above all not so much in help to promote their products, but in the support tools the state has devised for private investors who could invest in mature companies.
Dmitry Medvedev: “I saw people here in the flesh that are successful in their projects, and that is very pleasing.”
Alexander Khanin, the co-founder and chairman of the board of directors of VisionLabs, one of the Foundation’s most successful companies, made a series of proposals describing Skolkovo as a place where “we managed to gather a critical amount of innovators, people with a fire in their eyes.” Within a few years, VisionLabs has become one of the international leaders in the computer vision and machine learning market with offices in Moscow, Amsterdam and Singapore. It’s clients are large banks, retailers, transportation companies and internet holdings around the world; it’s partners include global technology corporations.
The coronavirus pandemic was a period of rapid growth for VisionLabs and the company hired around twenty new employees, allowing it to enter the market with new developments.
VisionLabs has created a contactless access system for schools, which replaces plastic cards and measures students’ temperatures upon entry. Alexander Khanin suggested making this technology a national standard.
Another technology that the VisionLabs co-founder proposed to scale up is designed for the needs of a smart city and has shown great potential during the pandemic period. The company first implemented it in Singapore and then, in December of last year, in Moscow where it installed 100,000 cameras, allowing for the identification of those violating self-isolation restrictions.
A number of other facial recognition technologies could be implemented in the post-covid world both in the banking sector and urban transport access, the metro in particular.
Vladislav Mileyko (Oncodiagnostics Atlas company), Ruslan Rakhmetov (Intellectual Security) and Grigory Shifrin (Oz Innovations) made suggestions that were not necessarily related to the developments of any particular company. Artem Sedov (Big Three) brought up the issue of medical waste and Dmitry Medvedev, who referred to this as “an important topic,” asked for proposals on the matter that could lay the basis for changing relevant legislation.
To summarize what was said at the meeting, Viktor Vekselberg, the chairman of the Skolkovo Board of Directors, noted the urgency of the problems associated with scaling up projects, including those that are at the developed stage.
“The Foundation has accumulated considerable competence over the entire period of its existence and, taking into account certain legislative changes, it may well expand the range of services that it is ready to provide partners with as well as change the format of its relationship with the state within the framework of these services,” said Mr. Vekselberg. “The pandemic has shown that the demand for institutional support of new and innovative products is extremely high.”
So far, the Foundation acts as a center of excellence for the most part, but the size of its grant program is not so large that it can effectively solve the problems that were outlined at the meeting. The new services that the Foundation could provide are related to regulatory issues, “regulatory sandboxes,” participation in company capital, certification, and others.
“It seems to me that a significant change in the Foundation’s positioning as a participant in the process as a whole is about to happen,” said the chairman of the Skolkovo Board of Directors. Specific proposals in this regard will shortly be sent to the deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia.
While evaluating the meeting, Dmitry Medvedev said, “I saw people here in the flesh who are successful in their projects, and that is very pleasing.” He also indicated that it would not be the last meeting of its kind.
“Skolkovo is one of the innovation centers, but let’s speak honestly. It is now the leading innovation center and probably, in terms of competence and capabilities, the most powerful center in the country. I say this because an organization’s reputation is always very important in the world. The Foundation’s positioning could therefore create conditions for, at least, less bureaucracy and a higher degree of trust when conducting regulatory procedures for products that come from Skolkovo. This does not mean that they should bypass the state’s regulatory control; of course not. But the brand is important in this sense. Ten years of Skolkovo’s work and it is already the capital on the basis of which such approaches can develop,” Mr. Medvedev finished.
“We have received and continue to receive a hugely positive response from our residents and the innovation community towards today’s meeting between Dmitry Medvedeev and Skolkovo residents,” said Arkady Dvorkovich, the chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation. “The nine companies taking part in the discussion are clear examples of success, but there are dozens of such companies at Skolkovo and soon there will be hundreds. Skolkovo’s main task is to maximize the number of successful innovative companies with concrete products and services that are in demand by people and business. This has been a very interesting meeting with a broad range of burning issues that were touched upon. Solid proposals and recommendations to the authorities will certainly follow, and we in turn will seek to implement them.”