When Russian president Dmitry Medvedev visited Silicon Valley last week, it wasn't a social call. It was a scouting expedition, in preparation for building his country's own "Innovation City" from the ground up. But can tech supremacy be manufactured?
That's the question asked by Esther Dyson in today's Moscow Times. And the answer is, surprisingly: maybe! Sifting through Dyson's extended gardening metaphor, the most important thing for Russia to do is to lay the groundwork for innovation to thrive and otherwise stay out of the way:
1. No killer weeds. Entrepreneurs must be free from blackmail, expropriations and other shakedowns.
2. Healthy seeds. Russia needs to attract and reward technical talent and scientists for good ideas.
3. Nutrients in the soil. There must be a steady source of good managers, businesspeople, and marketing and sales talent.
4. Careful gardeners and consumers. There must be mentors for entrepreneurs, as well as customers who buy the products and services on the basis of quality and price rather than bribes.
5. Cross-fertilization. There must be critical mass so that people can learn from and compete with each other.
6. Sunshine. There must be maximum transparency.
The city in question, Skolkovo, sits just outside of Moscow, and entrepreneurs are already being offered incentives to build there. The underlying theory is that while innovation can happen anywhere, it's more likely to thrive in a concentrated environment.
Will it work? Impossible to say. But if Medvedev wants Skolkovo to become anything more than a giant real estate project, he's going to have to appreciate that money may be the seed of innovation, but it takes a great deal more that that to cultivate. [Moscow Times]