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Entrepreneurship Events in a Time of Political Crisis
14 April 2014
Entrepreneurship Events in a Time of Political Crisis

Entrepreneurship Events in a Time of Political Crisis
By Daniel Satinsky

At the same time as the political crisis in Ukraine was unfolding with the Crimean referendum, I was attending two long scheduled entrepreneurship events in Russia. The first was Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2014 held in Moscow from March 17-20. This is a global event was initiated by the Kauffman Foundation (US), the largest private foundation supporting entrepreneurship in the world. The Congress had more than 7,000 participants registered from 150 countries. It was held in the Menage conference hall just outside of Red Square.

In other circumstances, holding such an important international entrepreneurship event in Moscow would be considered a real coup for the Moscow City Government. The Congress was co-hosted by the Department of Science, Industrial Policy and Entrepreneurship of Moscow, led by Alexei Komissarov and by the Kauffman Foundation. It was a real opportunity to highlight the innovation and entrepreneurship environment in Moscow and in Russia. There was a very strong Russian presence in the Congress and a number of workshops and panels with leaders from the Russian innovation institutions and companies. The official concluding news release for the event can be found on their website.

My hope is that in the long run this event will fulfill the potential that its organizers see to showcase Russia and to strengthen entrepreneurship there. At the time, being there at a time of such intense political confrontation could not help but put a chilly undertone to the Congress. No one spoke directly about Ukraine or Crimea, while just outside the doors in Red Square there were large and vociferous rallies in support of annexation. Also in the background, it was already clear that the US State Department was cancelling all official meetings with the Russians in innovation and business projects. Where all this controversy leads is unclear and perhaps viewing this process globally Moscow and Russia will accomplish some of their global integration goals through this Congress. But those of us building US-Russian collaboration in innovation and technology will be swimming upstream for the foreseeable future.

The second event I attended was the Fourth International Young Entrepreneurship Forum in Yaroslavl. This was a Russian-initiated event focused on supporting and encouraging Russian entrepreneurs. More than 250 people, representing seven or eight Russian regions and including a few foreign speakers, attended the Forum. This event was full of life and enthusiasm for the prospects for young business people. It was not a technology-focused event, although that was a part of it. The main purpose was to share experience among young entrepreneurs and to build networks among them. As such, it is a key component in building their own innovation ecosystem. It is the kind of event that would have been impossible to imagine when I first started doing business in Russia and a sign of progress at the grass roots level, supported by the Regional and City governments in Yaroslavl.

My role was to speak about the Boston Innovation Ecosystem (in Russian) and about valuation of early-stage technology companies (in English). As one of only 2 Americans to participate in this event, I was warmly welcomed and had only minimal questions asked about my feelings about the Ukraine conflict. I was very impressed by the quality of organization and content at this event. In distinction to the doubts I had about the results of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, I am very sure that the grass roots momentum of the young entrepreneurs I saw in Yaroslavl will continue to develop independently of global political events.

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