Nikolay Abrukov: ‘Everybody understands how many applications come from Tatarstan and feel healthy envy’

Idea tech park’s development director about university start-ups

The Fund for Innovations stopped receiving applications for University Start-Up Russian competition. Tatarstan whose students have sent over 1,600 applications turned out to be the leader in the number of projects. The region’s such active involvement didn’t go unnoticed at federal level. In an op-ed column for Realnoe Vremya, Idea tech park’s Development Director Nikolay Abrukov explained why the republic managed to keep such a high level of interest in innovations and what support young specialists need.

Tatarstan becomes leader in number of applications

There is University Technological Entrepreneurship Platform project in Russia that has different areas, including up to a million rubles of grants awarded to university start-ups. It is projects designed by university students — students, those pursuing master’s degree, post-graduates. They have to do topical innovative tasks in seven themed fields.

The competition was first announced in 2022. The Fund for Innovations Idea tech park represented is its supervisor. We worked on drawing up applications, consulted participants and examined projects. The first two competitions took place last year — it is the first and second waves. At that moment, the number of winners from Tatarstan reached 135 students, of whom 129 signed contracts for further work on this projects. Six of them didn’t want to continue developing their projects for some reason.

The third wave was announced this year, and Tatarstan again actively joined the work by sending over 1,600 applications to the competition. I will note that the number of winners across Russia will total 1,500 this year. These applications are going to be assessed by experts in the short run. Consequently, results are going to be summed up after that — how many winners there will be in Russia and here in the republic. The fund will announce the final results.

“This means we have a lot of higher educational institutions”

Why are there so many applications from Tatarstan? Firstly, the republic is an innovatively developed region. The industry and technologies are seriously developed here. also, we have a lot of higher educational institutions. The management of the republic, managers of ministries and agencies, industrial enterprises, development institutes and universities themselves organise, carefully support and motivate university students to participate in the competition. All this is done to make sure that our students take advantage of unique possibilities of development of their competences by participating in the federal project. The Fund for Entrepreneurship representing interests of the Fund for Innovations is the supervisor of this project in the republic. We are partners and colleagues of the fund. This is why we actively participate in this work to reinforce our republic’s positions and help young and talented students — would-be entrepreneurs.

This is why it is such a good success story. This is noted even at federal level. I have recently been in Skolkovo, and this theme sounded seriously there. Imagine that there are over 4,000 projects submitted across Russia. Everybody understands how many applications come from Tatarstan and feel healthy envy. This means that we have a lot of young, talented and enterprising students of higher educational institutions.

The areas for competition applications are digital technologies, medicine and health care technologies, chemical technologies and new materials, new devices and smart production technologies, biotechnologies, energy saving and creative industries. We have digital technologies, chemistry, new devices and so on as priority. In fact, all the areas are quite widely represented in the republic. I don’t know what will happen after the third wave of applications because this will happen only in mid-May, perhaps in early June. It will get clear what priorities our applicants chose at this stage of the competition. But I will stress once again that Tatarstan is actively represented in all the areas of the programme.

Any individuals studying in higher educational institution can participate. Clearly, there are project evaluation criteria. After the first two waves, I can say that a project’s producibility, its commercialisation prospects and the applicant’s qualification. The applicant must present the work resting on evaluation criteria to win.

“It is necessary to understand that we aren’t talking about money only”

After the first and second wave of the competition, 129 winners signed a contract with the Fund for Innovation — it is 129 million rubles. Over 1,600 people have applied for the third wave, and every project is a million rubles. We hope to have at least 300 winners in Tatarstan this year, or even more. We would like it. Another thing is that the total number of winners across Russia is going to be 1,500, which is 1.5 billion rubles. This is how Russia is going to fund a university start-up support programme. I will note that there can be the fourth wave of the competition.

However, it is necessary to understand that we aren’t talking about money only. The project itself consists of an idea that will turn into a technology, a test sample, software or something similar. Money is just an instrument. Another case is that this initiative develops a human ability:

  • to think, structure one’s knowledge, abilities and skills;
  • to create an operating business entity (enterprise) one will manage in the future;
  • create a new innovative product claimed in the market;
  • to do topical tasks of enterprises of the real sector of the economy, this complying modern-day challenges, including in import substitution;
  • to improve their competencies in technologies, material science, equipment production, commercialisation, etc.

The essence of the University Start-Up is very significant and serious. It helps university students to enhance their competencies in different areas, this preparing them to do hot-button issues in the real sector of the economy. A student will be able to one step ahead of his or her age mates. All these are investments in a human that raise the “price” as a specialist in different areas. It is investments in competencies, communication and other abilities. In general we recommend our students to apply for other types of support after this competition project so that they cooperate with potential clients, including enterprises that will become their partners, during the project’s implementation stage.

We aim that a student will start the work and enterprises that will see its meaning, praise and start to make not only its test sample but also set up its mass production will join it. This is why this is only the first stage to reaching big amounts of financial support and the possibility of monetising one’s creative, intellectual and entrepreneurial abilities.

“Specialists from Russia are in a very high demand in foreign market”

Also, we provided several winners of the first and second wave working places in our tech park. This is done to make sure they can implement their projects, talk with their colleagues from other areas, receive free consultation from us, help with the promotion in the market in different available ways. Here they can talk with potential clients, tech park residents, meet large industrial enterprises. This is a place for communication, work and growth. Young specialists need tech parks, business incubators, co-working spaces. Also, of course, a university start-up studio can be useful for them too. After a presentation and successful defence of their project, they can come to such a place and continue working on it at a completely different level. They can get additional money, pack the product well and take it to the market there. Moreover, not only to the republican or Russian market, perhaps, to the international consisting of friendly countries.

Now, for instance, we have interesting projects in agriculture that imply the use of different mechanisms and equipment. There are such powerful start-ups in such areas as biotechnologies or digital industry too. Energy projects are noteworthy too. They don’t lose to foreign projects, sometimes even outrun them. In general engineers, technologists and other specialists from Russia are in a very high demand in foreign market. Moreover, it a widely recognised fact because I think our training level is the best.

Nikolay Abrukov

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The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.