News & Views

High tech rehabilitation aid is the pick of Russia's startups

by Emily Hare

The culmination of Russia’s startup competition, Startup Village took place in Skolkovo on the outskirts of Moscow last week with cybernetic construction kits, smart cleaning robots, mobile health solutions, medical operating simulators and superconductors all doing battle

The result of a tour of 27 Russian cities, Startup Village allows the companies from sectors including health, energy, manufacturing and digital to pitch to investors, and brings together leading business such as Rovio, 3M, IBM, Intel and PWC, encouraging networking and collaboration. 

The competition’s judges saw 1298 presentations in total. The festival’s first day saw almost 100 pitches taking place, with the top 20 making it through to the main stage to present a variety of ideas from electric bikes to an online university for parents and children. 

The presence of Russia’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, lent an official air (not to mention a massive security presence) to the proceedings. Medvedev hinted at the wider impact that he hopes initiatives such as Startup Village and Skolkovo will have. Skolkovo is an innovation centre currently being constructed on the outskirts of Moscow that aims to support science and technology innovation in the country, due to be completed in 2018. The first building, known as the Hypercube, houses startups backed by the Skolkovo foundation, some of whom took part in the competition, and plans include a university and space to house businesses committed to R&D, such as IBM. Medvedev told the assembled crowds: ‘You can see construction sites – our efforts will continue, we’ll make Skoltech [a science and technology university based on the site] a formidable university.’ 

The top prize of 900,000 Roubles ($26,000) went to robotics company ExoAtlet – developers of an exoskeleton designed to help people with disabilities or those who are injured to recover their movement through rehabilitation. The exoskeleton simulates patterns of human movement, and the design incorporates patented technology developed with Moscow State University’s Institute of Mechanics, with the units costing half that of its rivals.

Second place went to Radio Gigabit, a company that has developed a series of smart antennas and currently holds two patents with an additional seven pending developed for use in telecom equipment. The company is working with its existing customers to co-develop products using Radio Gigabit’s technologies, which prize money of 600,000 Roubles ($17,500) will no doubt contribute to. 

A special award went to cloud video surveillance specialists iVideon, whose technology enables any surveillance camera to be connected to the cloud, and its footage viewed anywhere in the world. IVideon has already gained 500,000 users with 30,000 cameras online. In addition to its proprietary software, it has integrated the technology into products co-developed with companies such as Softbank, Samsung and Philips, to take advantage of a market that it estimates will be worth $6bn.

The drone assault course: simply navigate the hoops without getting caught in the netting, then land on the helipad

Pekka Viljakainen, advisor to the president of Skolkovo (Russian billionaire, Viktor Vekselberg) has been working on the startup tour as it moved around Russia and discussed his tips for gaining investment on stage: ‘I won’t invest in entrepreneurs who say they know 100% what they’re doing. They will fail. I don’t invest in people who are not willing to learn. It’s easy to work with the same kind of people who speak the same language with the same jobs, but the same type of people make the same kinds of mistakes.’ Instead, Viljakainen said: ‘The purpose for the audience at Startup Village is to see good and bad companies and learn at every single step.’

The variety of companies selected, official endorsements and signs of development both in the Skolkovo site and surrounding region point to not just to an active encouragement of innovation from the Russian government, but a pursuit of companies that have the potential to break out of the Russian marketplace.