Russia, Seeking to Emulate Silicon Valley.

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Russia, Seeking to Emulate Silicon Valley.




Russia is building its own version of Silicon Valley near Moscow. The 6,000-acre innovation center’s only global outpost was officially opened this week in Menlo Park.

The opening marked a major step in Russia’s efforts to increase its presence in Silicon Valley, as the nation seeks to diversify its economy and invest in emerging technologies.

Construction of the SkolkovoInnovation Center is poised to begin near Moscow by the end of this year. Within five years, the complex could house more than 15,000 researchers, executives and students. Another 10,000 people are expected to commute to the town-like compound.

The ambitious project, which is backed by Russia’s treasury and billions of dollars of private capital, is designed to replicate Silicon Valley, housing a university and firms operating in the IT, biotechnology, energy efficiency, nuclear and space technologies fields.

The Silicon Valley office is expected to be staffed by just a handful of officials. It grew out of a visitby Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to the region last summer.

“I think the idea of exchanges and coming here and learning more about what we do and how Silicon Valley operates makes a lot of sense,” said Doug Henton, chief executive of Collaborative Economics, a San Mateo-based consulting company that has not been involved with the Russian project.

Other countries, such as Norway, Sweden and Ireland, have opened similar offices in the region, according to Henton. "People are always trying to figure out Silicon Valley," he said.

The project offers potential benefits to both Russian and American businesses, Henton said.

Russia is ahead of the U.S. in some technologies, he said, such as space exploration, which is critical for continued improvements to global positioning systems.

And a number of Silicon Valley companies are clamoring to enter the Russian market as it recovers from a sharp economic downturn.

San Jose-based Cisco, for example, has earmarked $1 billion over the next decade to invest in the innovation center. Boeing, IBM, Intel, Google and Microsoft are also involved as project partners.

Menlo Park's selection as the innovation center’s Silicon Valley satellite suggests that the office will focus heavily on raising funds from venture capital firms clustered nearby, according to Henton.

The center's leaders also hope to tap into Silicon Valley’s institutional knowledge, according to Alexei Sitnikov, Director of International Development at the Skolkovo Foundation, the nonprofit organization that was set up to guide the development of the innovation center.

Russian technology teams might visit the satellite office to “just be part of this ecosystem,” improve their business plans and connect with investors, Sitnikov said.