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World hails growing success of 'Silicon Forest' in Novosibirsk

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08 July 2012


Back in Soviet times,  Akademgorodok was known as one of the best places to live, a home to some of the USSR's greatest scientists. 

Created in 1957, it offered superior housing, impressive laboratories, and fine nature for academics, many of whom rebased from more westerly universities and institutes.  

The collapse of the USSR saw it fall on hard times, with a halt to state funding and an exodus of talented lured by foreign posts - yet now 55 years after it was founded on the orders of Kremlin leader Nikita Khrushchev, things not only appear to be looking up, but the world outside is noticing the change. 

A symbol of the revival is a new, futuristic orange-toned building, as highlighted in a glowing feature by respected international news agency Agence France-Press last week. 

Ob sea, Novosibirsk, Akademgorodok

Ob sea, the man-made reservoir filled in 1959. Picture: The Siberian Times

It is home of Akademgorodok's technopark, a state-backed venture  focusing on state-of-the-art developments, especially in the fields of information,  bio and nano technology.

'Sitting amid pine woods on the edge of the man-made Ob reservoir, it now hosts a number of high-tech start-ups and earned the nickname 'Silicon Forest',' said the AFP report.

'Akademgorodok is the trailblazer of science in Siberia', explained Vassily Fomin, deputy head of the Siberian department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who argued the 'little academic town' has battled through the hard times.

'We survived back then, thanks to help from foreign academics. They gave us grants, they signed contracts with us and joined us up with various programmes', he was quoted saying.

Crucially, he stressed: 'We learned how to work effectively, to have responsibilities, to edit and properly present the results of our research and to fight to get grants'.

The new optimism infusing Akademgorodok coincides with efforts by the Russian government to place a priority on scientific and technological innovation to be competitive with Western and Asian rivals. 

The brightest students are no longer leaving for Moscow - or abroad. Many more are staying, as salaries and conditions improve, say academics. 

One home grown success story is Alawar Entertainment, creator of best selling games like 'Farm Frenzy', 'The Treasures of Montezuma', and 'Robber Rabbits'.

The company's games have scored in excess of 50 million downloads from Apple Store and Android Market.

'I was a student in Novosibirsk and with my friends we loved playing video games,' said Alexander Lyskovsky, 35, Alawar's chief executive whose initial job was tsunami modelling.

An important breakthrough was in securing investment from Almaz Capital, a venture company based in Russia and the USA and specialising in ex-Soviet countries.

He has also advocated the advantages of Siberia for businesses requiring brainpower and value for money production costs. 

'The farther away you go from Moscow, wages become more normal and one can create for reasonable money quality products', he told AFP in a previous feature on Akademgorodok. 

Last month it was announced that Novosibirsk AcademPark secured the status of a  venture partner of the Seed Fund of the Russian Venture Company (RVC).

'The establishment of partnership between RVC and AcademPark is a strategically important step that opens up new possibilities in the professional support of start-ups,' said Alexei Logvinsky, Executive Director of the Technopark of the Academgorodok Foundation.

On a visit in February this year, then prime minister Vladimir Putin, now president, instructed the Finance Ministry and the Economic Development Ministry to consider tax benefits for the residents of technoparks.

'In the last years we have felt a certain return to science', said Pavel Kostrikov, a former researcher who now works in the exhibition centre in Akademgorodok.

'Before, students did their studies and, once they got their degrees, they left for the West. Now many are staying here as the salaries in the universities are getting better and they are given accommodation'.

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