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Andrey Sokolov: "Technopark is a Changing Ecosystem"

Much has changed in our lives since 1990, when the first Tomsk Science and Technology Park was created in Russia. Technology parks are no longer exotic: now there are 66 such parks in the country! Many of them are still at the stage of establishment, but there are also a lot of parks approaching the 10th anniversary. One of them is St. Petersburg Technopark JSC, which was formed in 2008 with a purpose to help the development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), cluster projects and high-tech companies. For the years of its existence more than two thousand companies have already used its services. St. Petersburg Technopark JSC belongs to the city and is one of the main means of enriching its economy with new commercially effective technological projects. The main customers of its services are SMEs, cluster projects, and high-tech industry companies. By fostering their development through its services St. Petersburg Technopark moves towards its main objective - to increase the contribution of technologically innovative companies into the economy of the Northern Capital. We discussed the past, present and future of St. Petersburg Technopark JSC with its Director General, Andrey Sokolov.

-Mr. Sokolov, how was St. Petersburg Technopark JSC created, what plans were set at the first stage? What features would you like to emphasize?

-It was established as a high-tech park under the program of the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation. Its peculiarity is a big problem, which we try to turn into an advantage. The fact is that a number of serious and long-lasting problems appeared concerning the land initially allocated for St. Petersburg Technopark. Preparation of design documentation, let alone construction, took a very long time, and in order to avoid the stagnation of the project, we decided to launch St. Petersburg Technopark not on its own but on the leased areas. That is our peculiarity, our weakness and strength! We took a non-standard way, not a general model. If we look at the majority of Russian companies which call themselves “technoparks”, we will observe that they are mostly engaged in provision of space for rent; this earns their income.

We do not have such an opportunity, as we are located at rented areas and provide them to residents in inversed manner, without making profit. That's why the first direction we started to develop is services to residents, support for enterprises and startups, often - in IT direction.
To illustrate this, we can cite Ingria Business Incubator as an example: it was launched as a pilot project, and now it is already a well-known brand both in Russia and abroad. The next project we have implemented was the Cluster Development Center. Its tasks are to promote the emergence of clusters, develop them and provide assistance to enterprises included into them.
Then the Prototype Development Centre opened to support the residents of the Business Incubator. We have conducted monitoring among residents, identified the areas where support was necessary, wrote a concept, submitted an application, and with the assistance of the Ministry of Economic Development, launched the Prototype Development Centre. Its main objectives are development of production technologies, additive prototyping, industrial design, VR projects and automation prototyping.
In July 2016, the Regional Engineering Centre For Microreactor Synthesis of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (REC API) was established at the site of Saint Petersburg Technopark JSC. It was initiated by the medical and pharmaceutical industry cluster. The main objective of the Center is enhancement of the technological availability of production enterprises and presentation of solutions for design, engineering, technological, administrative and implementation-related tasks in the pharmaceutical, chemical, perfume and cosmetics and food industries. The Center develops active pharmaceutical ingredients and chemicals, provides informational search for new products and technologies, performs pharmaceutical consulting in the field of application of microreactor technologies, as well as the organization of training and business events.

In 2017, the project of the Regional Engineering Centre for Information Security and Cyber-Physical Systems (REC SafeNet) started to be implemented. Its objectives are preparation of the technological processes, breakthrough technologies implementation and development of a national platform for IT and cyber-security solutions.

Two years ago, there was initiated the project on creation of the Regional Engineering Centre For Radio-electronic Production (REC REP). Its purpose is to enrich the Russian industry with new technologies for development and production of radio electronic products for professional markets. The uniqueness of the Center lies in the state-of-art production base, team of high-qualified R&D engineers, as well as in partnership with leading Russian and foreign manufacturers. The activity of the Center is aimed at mechanical and environmental tests of radio-electronic appliances and devices, production of prototypes of industrial products, prototyping of printed circuit boards, precise control and measurement of product parameters.

-Your website shows that St. Petersburg Technopark JSC provides over 130 services. What are they?

-When a startup or a company engaged in innovative development comes to us, after certain expertise, and sometimes even before the conclusion of the agreement on residence, we identify its needs. As a rule, they either need investments or assistance to enter the market with a new product. These two areas are in the focus of our services. We have a good rating, popularity, and there is a community of investors around St. Petersburg Technopark JSC. These are public and private venture funds, representatives of foreign investment funds, and individuals ready to contribute to innovative developments. At the events of St. Petersburg Technopark, we introduce residents to potential investors. We ourselves do not provide funds or grants, but we create conditions for successful investments. The events are held in the presentation format: our residents talk about their projects, business models and needs for financial injections, and investors assess the relevance of projects and provide expert advice. After such meetings managers of St. Petersburg Technopark, who accompany the projects, elaborate the recommendations, develop a step-by-step strategy, adjust the business model. Thanks to this, sooner or later, but usually rather quickly, our residents receive investments.

For those companies that are interested first and foremost in entering the markets, we have various solutions as well.

- Speaking about the events held by St. Petersburg Technopark, we should mention such events as, for example, MY.TECH Technological Festival. Tell us about your festival activities.

-MY.TECH is the main event of St. Petersburg Technopark, our event brand. Every year we hold MY.TECH festival and the industry technology conferences. During our events, participants can get acquainted with innovative solutions of various industry sectors and spend their leisure time with benefit. What is important, all our events are free and open to everyone.

The realities of this year are such that this time we have to postpone the festival to 2021, while the main conference this year is online. It is devoted to the issues of digitalization of educational processes: remote education, key trends in EdTech development and professional improvement. It is scheduled for the mid-December 2020. Our team has selected the most applicable content for all participants of the educational process, so we are waiting for everyone who is interested in the opportunities of educational technologies, training, career guidance or professional development.

- How many residents does St. Petersburg Technopark have?

-About 80, but their number varies: some come, others leave after fulfilling their plans or according to regulations. By the rules, we can't work with one and the same resident for more than three years: during this time, we have to graduate it, having prepared it to survive in difficult conditions of the Russian economy. But this usually happens much earlier. There are companies which enjoy working with St. Petersburg Technopark so much that they stay with us for many years through spin-offs. For example, the company comes to us with a startup, promotes its project, gets a certain result and then elaborates a new direction, so that it can renegotiate the contract for a fresh project as a new resident. We have a lot of such cases.

- It looks like your employees provide so many different services to residents that they work in multitasking mode constantly.

- The very activity related to innovation is subject to constant and dynamic changes. And we focus on providing services to residents who are engaged in innovation. Legislation is changing rapidly in this area, and a specialist must be able to quickly adjust and understand the structure of federal regulations elaborated to support innovative enterprises. Our employees accompany the submission of applications by our residents for compensation for expenses incurred in R&D and exhibition activities, etc. The support measures are sufficient now, and they are very diverse. The ability to apply for state support correctly is a guarantee that the company will receive it. Such professionals are trained for years, so we have a lot of "old-identities".

- Tell us about your partners.

-We have a large partner network: for example, we have the Ingria Business Incubator Alumni Association, which in appreciation for the provided support share experience with current residents free of charge.

We also have cooperation agreements with many universities of St. Petersburg: students get an internship with us, many of them find jobs at our enterprises, and sometimes even become our residents. We have a close relationship with universities in Finland and Israel. Today St. Petersburg Technopark has three international projects within the framework of this cooperation: we exchange residents, students.

- What are the plans of St. Petersburg Technopark for the next five years?

-It's hard to make such far-reaching plans in present situation of unpredictability. We are focused on the needs of the market and our residents, and are accustomed to the fact that all the expectations may not coincide with future realities. Technopark is a changing ecosystem, constantly transforming.

One thing is clear: St. Petersburg Technopark will continue to work for the benefit of its residents! We are definitely focused on improving the quality of services, maintenance of new technological chains with enterprises. Our experience expands, and sometimes, when a company comes for some technological service or a small prototype, as part of a consultation we are able to indicate the whole direction related to a new product.

- What would you like to wish to those who have not yet become your resident, but evaluate their chances?

-Don't be afraid of doing something new, breakthrough, and innovative! There are a lot of organizations which can provide you with various support now. Try, and you’ll succeed!

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