Finance, business | Technology & innovation

Sergey Mardanov, RVC: A mentors value is in guiding a start-up on a winding and perilous path he has trodden in the past

18 Dec '14
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor

InnoFest, a month-long regional festival of youth innovation that came to a close last week in Nizhny Novgorod, in the mid-Volga area, had brought together at Lobachevsky UNN, the regions largest university, an impressive collection of specialists in tech transfer and innovation ecosystem development which are known both in Russia and abroad. One of the key experts that came not only to assess innovation projects but also to drive the whole event forward was Sergey Mardanov, manager of tech transfer development at RVC, Russias fund of funds for innovation. RVC played a crucial role as Innofests General Partner, and on top of joining an expert jury for tech pitches Mr. Mardanov provided invaluable methodological support.

On the closing day, the expert shared with a UNN Technology Commercialization Center team his view of the role of a business mentor in the life of a young innovator, and recommended that university-based entrepreneurs miss no opportunities for growth that RVC offers.

Your opinion about a university start-up team in a Russian region?

I can see two types of start-ups. One represents young and ambitious students with generally interesting ideas, who nonetheless see pretty vaguely what they want. Inspired by exuberant success stories of Russian and global projects, they do understand, however, that they want to be employed by none other but themselves.

In the other type we can see more complex projects driven typically by a young scientist professor duo. The latter brings the core scientific base while the former offers drive and willingness to do something with his hands. They set up a small company to look for customers and funds; and more often than not they do that in a less hectic environment than type 1. They dont have to run to and fro in search of various grant competitions; to find business partners they rather draw upon well-established connections at their university departments, or participate in conferences. These developers are not really driven by high revenue; what they do is but a certain plus to their monthly salaries at their university. Of course, when they see sales pick up steam, they may want to step up their business.

What does a university start-up still lack? Wheres its Achilles heel?

All lack experience, no doubt. Gaining it takes routine goings-on when you take something on and do it, try it, make mistakes, and then correct what youve erred in. Skill like that is what everyone has yet to develop.

During the festival, many talked about mentorship. Is it of some real importance to a start-up, or maybe one could easily do without any?

Who is a mentor? This is one who has already tried something, got bruised, and now knows what works and what doesnt. This is what he can share with a start-up, thus keeping the innovators from pitfalls they would otherwise have crashed into, and getting the whole process going. Thats what a mentor is useful for. Of course, he also gives connections and advises on additional sources of funding; but his real value is in his ability to guide a start-up on a winding and perilous path he has trodden in the past. With assistance like that, one could expect fewer bumps down the road for the start-up itself.

RVC develops an array of programs. Are there any ways for a rank and file innovator at a university like UNN to experience the usefulness of these programs?

First of all, we have GenerationS. This is a large federal competition and accelerator for tech start-ups, and its open for everyone to apply. The initiative gives an innovator expertise and the opportunity to get feedback on his project, join an acceleration program (if picked by experts), fine-tune and pitch his idea to Russian and international investors, and win awards from the host and partners.

Secondly, we at RVC support a broad range of events, such as this one at UNN, but also at other universities. On top of that, we back a number of start-up schools and training programs, working directly with the universities; and ordinary students are not always aware that already they are part of these programs, receiving additional knowledge both through optional courses and as part of their academic majors. We also work with business incubators and support their acceleration programs. An incubator that cooperates with RVC has seamless access to experts, mentors, and investors. Therefore a fledgling start-up can get all this by tapping the infrastructure available in its respective region.

About InnoFest

Lobachevsky UNN hosted InnoFest for four weeks between November 18 and December 12. The event of regional significance was aimed at assisting in the development of a youth innovation environment, encouraging transferable skills and activities, seeking out and supporting advanced ideas by the scientific youth, and fostering social and research integration within academia.

The festival brought together more than 800 young scientists from Nizhny regional universities and research institutes, as well as high-level government officials and business people from both the domestic and international entrepreneurial communities.

RVC, one of this countrys key development drivers and the national fund of funds for innovation, provided support as General Partner.

The Festivals Strategic Partners included Intel, Sir Richard Bransons Virgin Connect and Bosch, three of the worlds major multinationals. Promsvyazbank, a sizable Russian bank, offered support as Corporate Partner. Regional Partners included MTS, a leading Russian telecom operator and retailer, and Rugasco, a Russo-Norwegian gas equipment JV.
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