A look at the first public open day at SKOLKOVO

Last Sunday, on September 19, the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO celebrated its 4th anniversary, inviting the public to its first Open Day at the newly developed campus.

The history of the School started from the foundation stone laid by Vladimir Putin with captains of Russian industry in September, 2006.

The key idea was to create a world-class business school like MIT and Stanford with the best foreign professionals that would drive changes in Russian economy. This year the initial idea was accompanied by a new one: SKOLKOVO should be the capital of to-be-built Russian Silicon Valley, the Palo Alto of Moscow Region. To help in the realisation of this, special missions of top American investors and entrepreneurs like Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Esther Dyson were invited to Russia.

Development of SKOLKOVO was strongly supported by President Medvedev, Chairman of the School’s Internationa l Advisory Board from the very beginning, who officially opened it in September, 2009. Medvedev sees this project as one of the cornerstones in modernisation of Russia by providing effective managers and entrepreneurs.

In addition to government, the school is supported by leading companies like the largest bank Sberbank and TNK-British Petroleum with influential individuals like Roman Abramovich. Among the foreign partners are: MIT Sloan, FDC (Brasil), ISB (India), Fudan University (China).

More official information about the School and Open Day you could find on the website here.

And now to the details: SKOLKOVO is just next to the Moscow Circle Road, but coming there resembles some foreign trip. A business school with the territory of 26 hectares, is designed by young architect from London David Adjaye. The main building, with its large size and features outlines the ambitions of the project, where investments on development alone constituted $250 million.

The core idea of suprematism is reflected in all the architectural details, featuring the style of notorious Russian avant-garde painter Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935).

The school is full of latex sculptures by young Russian designer Alexandra Frolova that already had her works exhibited in London’s Whitechapel, Riflemaker and 291 Galleries.

The official part was headed by First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Igor Shuvalov who emphasised the role of education in modernisation of the country.

The public open day started with an excursion on all the facilities of SKOLKOVO main building – ‘the disk’. It is made of classrooms, cafes, congress hall, a hotel and the like. The hotel has rooms that were created with the idea that students should spend the main part of their time in social parts of the building like the specially created lounge with a bar.

On ending the excursion there was a series of master classes and you could choose the best for you. Among the topics were: Mountaineering and Leadership (by Herbert Henzler), Emerging Market Odyssey: Where From Here? (William Wilson), Sustainable Growth in Emerging Markets. The Social Innovation Agenda (Meng Zhao) and Innovation: Design or Technology? (Noubar Afeyan, Dmitry Repin, Alexey Nikolaev).

I think that the most interesting for techies would be the last one and so we joined it. First was the inspirational presentation by Noubar Afeyan (MIT and Flagship Ventures) who talked of the complication of commercialising the technologies of the future.

Dmitry Repin (SKOLKOVO) and Alexey Nikolaev (Intel) presented the concepts of Human Centered Design and launched an interactive session modelling the process of innovations. The first focus was on the problems, the second concentrated on ideas and the third on the prototype of the new product. Special emphasis was on the extreme users like kids who could give you great hints, doing something unpredictably and unconventionally.

At the beginning the audience pitched their own problems – topic of the day was eating – which were grouped and written down right on the wall. In SKOLKOVO instead of ordinary whiteboards the whole wall is writeable. It’s the first time this reporter has seen something like that.

Then all the present people were divided into the teams that worked together on the ideas and prototype. The apex was the presentation of the prototypes made out of coloured paper and other stationery. The session was real fun with the right principles to remember!

As a bonus there also were: cooking master class with gingerbread men, a modern art performance and the premiere of the film Oceans – the latest masterpiece by Jacques Perrin.

To understand some details I’ve talked to Dmitry Repin (Ph.D.), start-up Projects Director, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship, who heads the Innovation Design Lab (IDL) at SKOLKOVO.

Dmitry Repin, who started his work at SKOLKOVO in October 2009, leads the process of creating and supporting the student start-up projects. Dmitry will also oversee the business incubator and interaction with the venture fund in order to attract financing for the projects.

Dmitry Repin received a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from Boston University in 2000. He worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and studied entrepreneurship at executive education programs in Harvard Business School and UC Berkeley. More about Dmitry Repin.

Why does SKOLKOVO have a partnership with MIT Sloan?

The key benefit of such a cooperation is the access to the cutting-edge environment of MIT, where technologies develop and become available to the public through successful profitable projects.

What are 3 specific features of SKOLKOVO that differ it from the other top business schools in the world?

Project-based education – all students of a Full-time MBA undertake 5 projects during the period of education. The final project is a startup that should be presented to the School’s Board. Moreover, students’ startups could be financed by the School’s Venture Fund.

Experience from different parts of the world,

Focus on entrepreneurship – the main result of the education that we anticipate is creation of new businesses by our graduates

What kind of startups would be developing at SKOLKOVO?

We plan technologial, service providers or social/government projects. The first presentation by School students’ startups would be on December 14 and it would provide us with more statistics and details.

How much money could a student raise from the school’s Venture Fund?

It depends, but the most probable figure is some million US dollars. The whole Fund is about $60 million.

What are the expectations?

We plan mostly technology and services startups, and maybe some social/government projects. This year we hope to have at least 20 prospective startups, but perhaps only about 5 of them will be suitable for venture funding.

What do you plan to do for that?

We would continue to work on infrastructural issues, attracting new partners, investors and experts, along with improving of methodology. Our main goal is to provide the best breeding ground for young innovative businesses.

As a conclusion, I could say that relating to what I’ve seen and heard – one of the ways for innovative business is paved. But whether it will hold, time will tell.

More photos from the event on Flickr: