Discussing Innovation Centers with University of Minnesota Duluth – Part II

UMD Campus

Our delegation visiting UMD had an opportunity to speak to a faculty, student, and community audience about the innovation initiatives happening in Russia and sharing over two decades of experience doing business between Minnesota and Russia.
Speaker 1: Kendrick White
Kendrick has spent over 20 years in Russia.   He is an america with a economics background that began work in the financial districts of Chicago.  He took and opportunity to develop the financial markets in Russia via the Piece Core and did extensive work in the venture capital markets in Russia.   His most recent work was partnering with the Ministry of Science and Education to work to build proof of concept centers in a major research university of Nizhny Novgorod  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nizhny_Novgorod).   He toured centers in the USA and globally to create the first fully operational POC.   Forming partnerships with MIT, he leveraged the iCore methodology and also join the global iPOCA network of centers.   The success of the program has resulted in over 10 RU universities adopting the model.   Today they are bringing cohorts to the USA via “internal corridors” to major universities in the USA.
Speaker 2:  Todd Lefko
Todd has spent over twenty years as a exporter of USA products to Russia.   He spoke on the many cultural and business aspects of working successfully in Russia.   He had extensive stories and learns, so I’ll summarize some of the take aways:
  • Currently international conditions are tenuous,  but that can make it the best time to strike deals.  Economic sanctions can cut off traditional suppliers and create opportunities for other partnerships to be forged
  • Many US companies have manufacturing facilities in Russia.   So those products are not affected by trade sanctions.   Many common us products are on the shelves, just produced locally.   This could be a large competitive differentiator if a US based company only relied on shipping goods that are now blocked by sancations.
  • Currently ( 2015 ) public opinion is in Russia is about 70% negative against the US,  amplified by their media.
  • Copy cat producers from China can reproduce US products in 3 weeks and then you’ll be undersold.  Going to have to find other differentiators.
  • Determine if your better off with a service or a product.
  • Some emerging markets will be lost before the US gets there.   China is investing heavily in places like Africa.
  • It is not a culture of fair practice or contracts, but one of trust.   You have to know and trust who you are dealing with.  You have to understand their actual level of influence in the system.
  • Corruption is a part of the process.   Learn the process.
  • Some competitors will bride more and have cheaper costs in shipping.
  • There are nine timezones in Russia,   plan accordingly.
  • Flexibility and sense of humor is key.   Explore what is possible.  Mostly likely it is not what you are first looking for.
  • Never give credit in Russia,  never be paid back.
  • International currency is unstable.  The ruble has dropped 50% in value (2015).
  • Understand the risk, time to ROI ratio upfront.
  • Russia and China relationship is unclear.   Partnership, fear,  and dislike all present.  Given the tension with the US,  Russia is exploring relationships elsewhere.
See event images at gallery