Russia’s Nanotech Revolution: How MIT Sloan Executive Education is helping RUSNANO inject entrepreneurialism and innovation into the country’s economy

The state corporation aspires to make a nanotech breakthrough in building the national economy of innovation

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 13, 2010 — RUSNANO, the Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies, is working with the MIT Sloan School of Management Department of Executive Education to share best practices for managing the high-tech innovation ecosystem in Russia.

RUSNANO, part economic development entity, part venture capital firm, recently turned to MIT Sloan to devise a custom Executive Education program to help it cultivate an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Russia. The effort is part of the government’s plan to diversify their natural-resource-based economy. “We’re creating an innovation economy,” said Anatoly Chubais, CEO of RUSNANO, and a leading architect of Russia’s post-Soviet privatization. “We are to be entrepreneurial not just at a company level, but at a country level.” With a budget of up to $10 billion (USD) in government funds, RUSNANO co-invests in nanotechnology projects in areas such as solar energy, composite materials, nano-biotechnology, and mechanical engineering that have high potential for commercial or social benefit. RUSNANO stipulates that all companies that win funding must operate in Russia. Its goal is to ensure the production of the value of Russia’s nanotechnology industry reaches $30 billion by 2015. MIT Sloan’s custom program featured sessions on leadership, organizational change, innovation, strategy, and entrepreneurship. But what most interested the nine RUSNANO executives who attended the course was how MIT has so successfully commercialized its innovation.

“MIT research and its entrepreneurial spinoffs have had a huge impact on the local economy, the U.S. economy, and global economies,” says Steven Eppinger, Professor of Management Science and Engineering Systems at Sloan, who lead the program. “We’re a living example of what they’re trying to do.”

According to a recent report*, there are approximately 25,800 companies in business today founded by MIT faculty and alumni, including corporate household names such as Qualcomm, Gillette, Campbell’s Soup, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Bose and international companies such as Patni Computers in Mumbai. These companies employ about 3.3 million people and generate annual sales of $2 trillion (USD).

Replicating MIT’s start-up culture is a key challenge for RUSNANO because Russia does not have a tradition of commercializing ideas that come out of the academic structure, says Noubar Afeyan, a Senior Lecturer at MIT in both the Sloan School of Management and the Biological Engineering Department, and one of the instructors in the program.

“First, the company needs to create an awareness that translational research is a good thing,” he says. “And second: it needs to understand the process by which innovations and breakthroughs get matched with market opportunities and financing to drive the ideas forward.”

What RUSNANO is trying to do will not be easy. “The country has no prior examples of this kind of innovation. They’re learning on the fly and there are significant government and legal constraints,” says Afeyan. “It’s easy to be skeptical but it’s not productive. The most they can do is learn, adapt, and experiment.”

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