Skolkovo’s October online info session marked the launch of the Initiation Global Technology Business (IGTech) project that helps scientists and entrepreneurs to build teams for promising deeptech startups. Dmitry Yumashev, Director for Business Development at Skoltech, explained why Skoltech supports IGTech, how it translates research achievements into business ideas, and what kind of business partners it seeks out for its scientists.
– Deeptech is about science-intensive technology that often calls for more extensive expertise, larger investment to cover both research and commercialization, and longer lead times. Besides, it is the scientist’s research competence, vision and culture and not the ultimate product that lie at the heart of deeptech. Finally, a deeptech product often gives rise to a totally new product niche.
What do these differences imply in terms of commercialization and teambuilding approaches?
– Intellectual property (IP) management and industrial contracts are among the typical approaches we use for deeptech commercialization. A deeptech startup usually has a scientifically validated technology and is faced with the challenging task of creating a product on its basis.
As for roles in the team, scientists are sometimes wary of combining project research lead and entrepreneur functions on the grounds of their professional interests, personal qualities or expertise. Those who aren’t can be trained to play a dual role. Skoltech students, for instance, take courses in technological entrepreneurship at our Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI), which makes Skoltech truly unique. In any scientist-entrepreneur arrangement, what scientists need as their vis-à-vis is not simply an accomplished entrepreneur but a visionary able to foresee the scientist’s research achievements evolving into a product.
How does Skoltech deal with technology transfer and research commercialization matters?
– There’s more than one way to do it. First, we use tools like IP protection, startups and industrial spinoffs, both with corporations and industrial partners. We also benefit from the Skolkovo ecosystem competitions, grants, and residency. We get support from international partners, such as MIT and other universities. Our students and employees participate in Russian and international accelerators, contests, and hackathons. And, of course, we use networking.
We operate within a “matrix”, relying on close links with Skoltech’s research centers and administration. We make the utmost use of our labs and shared facilities. Like I said, Skoltech makes part of the Skolkovo ecosystem, which facilitates our collaborations with all the divisions of the Skolkovo Foundation. I would mention in particular the valuable involvement of Anton Pushkov at Skolkovo’s Legal Office, since effective IP protection is essential for deeptech.
What is in IGTech for Skoltech?
– The ideas of the Latvian Commercialization Reactor and IGTech are highly relevant for Skoltech. Looking at Skoltech’s successful startups, all of them have an entrepreneur on their team. As for the best practices across the industry, the most successful accelerators, Y Combinator YC and 500 Startups, only accept startups with a well-balanced entrepreneur and scientist/engineer team.
How does Skoltech set project goals and evaluate project success?
– Skoltech is a research university with strong emphasis on innovations, committed to create an innovative environment conducive to creating successful world-class businesses. Thus far, we have only been using quantitative KPIs, such as the number of resident Skolkovo startups created by Skoltech scientists per year; this year this KPI is 55. Our Business Development team also operates with internal qualitative KPIs, such as investment in startups. For us, IGTech is yet another teambuilding source.
How would you describe IGTech’s niche in the innovation ecosystem?
– In a nutshell, this is about scouting out. Although this is the first experiment for us, we are quite optimistic about its outcome. We are trying to gauge the appeal of our research for entrepreneurs and see how deeptech teambuilding works in the Russian setting. But then, it takes a visionary to pinpoint a business opportunity in a piece of research.
Are there any specific research priorities that Skoltech wishes to take to IGTech?
– Yes, certainly. We intend to build Skoltech’s research and technology around Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, which are the main drivers for Skoltech’s startups across multiple areas, such as industry, medicine, agriculture, finance, and the Internet industry. Another goal is to create new laboratories in Skoltech’s target domains, both on our own and jointly with industrial partners, that would ultimately become our subsidiaries operating in high-tech sectors.
Do researchers undergo pre-training to join IGTech?
– First, each Skoltech professor is expected to engage both in teaching and research to develop creativity and skills in both, as set forth in Skoltech’s mission. Skoltech trains technology entrepreneurs, so our faculty and researchers are ready to rise to a business challenge.
Second, long before the event, IGTech organizers and experts introduce scientists to the program goals and terms and present the research competences to entrepreneurs during the ignition event.
Will you use the lessons learnt from previous IGTech rounds to change or expand the contents of the next round in spring?
– I hope that next spring we will be able to meet offline, since nothing can beat in-person communication in building a good team. We expect the incoming entrepreneurs to be as good as our distinguished and internationally renowned scientists. We will intensify our promotional efforts to bring the most worthy to the accelerator. Scientists, too, need to be motivated to join IGTech, so I look forward to hearing success stories from our fall recruitment.
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