The Russian Technology Transfer Network: Helping Russian R&D go beyond the lab
If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? In many ways, the question posed in this common expression can also be applied to science and innovation: If an R&D center develops a new technology or discovers a scientific finding in a lab, is it really progress if no one knows about it and is able to bring it to market?
Ensuring that all “trees” of innovation are heard beyond the R&D “forest” is the underlying principle behind technology transfer and knowledge sharing. And now more than ever are these fundamentals critical for supporting growth in emerging innovation economies like Russia’s, where a combination of historical, cultural, linguistic, bureaucratic and geographical factors makes the R&D landscape sometimes difficult to tap for domestic and foreign investors alike.
One particular challenge to Russia’s ability to translate intellectual capital into economic opportunity – a challenge that is not only surmountable but also has the potential to alleviate other innovation barriers –is the lack of networking skills among Russian technology and R&D organizations. A culture of innovation based on open networking and information sharing, attributes that characterize innovation hubs like Silicon Valley, has yet to fully develop in Russia. Such a culture is crucial for successfully seeking and collaborating on international projects and bringing innovation to the market.
New traditions for Russian technology transfer
The current dynamics of Russia’s innovation culture are by and large the legacy of the Soviet system, which kept information centralized and closely guarded. Many post-Communist researchers, professionals and policymakers – regardless of their talents and the sincerity of their efforts to build an innovation economy in Russia – grew up under this system and do not have the necessary networking skills to leverage relationships both within Russia and, most importantly, beyond its borders. Support is needed to nurture new ways of networking, sharing information, and creating an innovation infrastructure across Russia.
Understanding these challenges and taking steps to proactively address them were the driving forces behind the creation of the Russian Technology Transfer Network (RTTN). As discussed previously on ModernRussia.com, RTTN is an association of over 70 Russian innovation centers from more than 30 regions of Russia and the CIS that aggregates information on R&D offerings in Russia and serves as an entry point for potential industry partners and investors. To specifically address the lack of networking savvy, RTTN developed and published a networking guide entitled, "How to Effectively Network/Communicate in International R&D projects.” The guide, available in both English and Russian, was created under the framework of FP7 ISTOK-SOYUZ project, which is an EU project designed to promote R&D cooperation and knowledge transfer between the EU and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Inno Group, a Europe-based consulting company that designs and implements innovation strategies, was also instrumental in helping RTTN establish itself and launch such initiatives as the guide.
Leveraging international cooperation opportunities
As a result of RTTN’s initiatives, RTTN centers have become the backbone of the innovation infrastructure in many of Russia’s regions, especially driving forward international cooperation initiatives. The Novosibirsk-based company Dia-Vesta, which has produced sugar-free, vitamin-fortified muesli bars and other health foods since 1999, serves as an excellent example of the importance of building an international networking capacity.
A few years ago, Dia-Vesta turned to RTTN’s Novosibirsk affiliate, Innovation Center Koltsovo (ICK), to find a partner to jointly manufacture muesli bars with prebiotics and probiotics and market them in Europe. Under the guidance of RTTN and ICK, Dia-Vesta participated in the 4th Taste-Nutrition-Health International Congress, which was organized by the Enterprise Europe Network in Dijon, France in March 2009. RTTN and ICK provided a package of marketing and business services to equip Dia-Vesta for the event, including developing the company’s technology profile, creating presentations, commercial proposals, hand-outs and advertising materials, assisting with obtaining visas, and finding Russian-French interpreters. As a result, Dia-Vesta successfully established contact at the event with the Slovenian company Fructal, which sells fruit juices and fruit-based snacks throughout Europe. Following additional negotiations in Slovenia, Dia-Vesta and Fructal agreed to partner.
Such success stories are proof that innovation and intellectual capital are quickly becoming key factors for regional competitiveness in Russia, replacing more traditional factors like natural resources endowment, location and physical labor capacity. Through the work of RTTN and similar initiatives, Russia is creating an innovation infrastructure and re-defining its R&D culture from the ground up.
Oleg Luksha is a senior consultant and Chairman of the Board of the Russian Technology Transfer Network (RTTN), which he initiated in 2001. After studying applied mathematics at the Moscow Physical-Engineering Institute, Oleg founded a private IT start-up company – one among the first in Russia. In 1994, he became director of the Science and International Department of the city of Obninsk, helping the city obtain the status of “science city” in 2000. Oleg has worked as project manager and consultant for a number of European projects (TACIS, EuropeAid, FP6,7) that aim to strengthen European and Russian collaboration.