MN International: Great Decisions 2015 December Event

MN International Center

The 2015 December event of the Great Decisions forum was held in Chanhassen Minnesota.   The focus for this session was on Russia covering both foreign policy and international business aspects of the current global environment.   The event covered a broad range of questions that helped to define the current situation ( see gallery for detailed lists of the areas explored ).
After the fall of USSR over 25M people found themselves no longer a citizen of Russia but part of another country.   Over 33M where also in satellite countries just reforming at the breakup.   The overall region has suffered from an identity crisis of being a super power to a collapsed and divided region.  The size of Russia spans from Europe to Asia crossing 9 time zones and many cultural groups.
The breakup broke all existing processes and impacted trade internally and externally.   The countries economy is primarily tied to oil & gas and the lack of diversification make the economy unstable as prices of gas & oil vary due to global competition.  Today,  with inflation over 15.6%,  loans over 11.6%, and the value of the ruble dropping by over 50% this year, the economy under massive strain.   The international friction and trade sanctions imposed by the west serves as a primary reason that public sentiment for the west has become quite negative and is also the convenient source of the government and media to place blame on the hardships.   Currently there is 314 single industry cities, whose economy rests solely on the success of that corporation.   Those companies provide much of the education, jobs, and overall investment in the region.  With many companies out of money,  the entire region fails around them.   Already there are over 94 red zones; areas that are bankrupt.   There are many that see the return to global influence is to return to a military based economy exerting influence.  This may see an increased international strategy of being involved in conflict as key to support that side of the economy.
Rise of Putin and his history in the KGB where discussed at length.   His career had suffered many ups and downs, but now in power.  It is impossible to leave that power and the security it affords at an individual level.   After the breakup the country moved to an auction based system of key services and contracts.   The root problem was the rich and influential controlled the auction and they won all the contracts.   Corruption has spread to all levels of the government and to all processes.   Personal networks, trust and bribes are standard business practice and this creates a great deal of problems for international companies to operate successful and sustainably in Russia.  There is no rule of law to make business sustainable.   The law has been developed by those in power to protect those in power.   Frequently they exert this power to levy charges against anyone who may disrupt or speak out against the corruption.    The corruption is seeing many citizens trying to migrate out of the country and more importantly, get their capital out of the country and into other financial markets.   Talent of all ages are attempting to leave and is creating a brain drain of a country that has a deep academic and trained society.   Attempts to create a version of silicon valley and spur innovation have been government led and controlled and lack most of the organic and genuine nature of entrepreneurship found in  economies across the globe.   While the internal media control all the messaging,  the overall society is extremely well informed and rational in world views.   They can appreciate how broken the situation is,  but also how inaccurate media is all over the world as it is used to drive perception vs. truth.
Todd L Speaking
Discussion ranged from the middle east to the overall relationship between China and Russia.   While both countries prioritize a relationship with the west, both are struggling in those relationships.   This has created an increased opportunity for them to explore mutual partnership to benefit both economically and politically.   This has been slowed due to the economic slowdown in China as of late,  but that alliance could change political dynamics globally.   There are many political, social, and overall values difference that will complicate this partnership, but they may find momentum in areas of mutual benefit.  China is also working to become an infrastructure and manufacturing leader around the world.  They are following a new silk road strategy positioning to be at the center of trade and making massive investments in developing markets like southeast Asia, Africa, and high interest in investments in north and south Americas.
I’m also placed the agenda of upcoming talks in 2015 & 2016.   Refer to the gallery to learn more!

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  (   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

Discussing Innovation Centers with University of Minnesota Duluth University – Part I


I was part of MN team that hosted a international representatives from the Innovation Centers in Russia.   They have embarked on creating proof of concept center in major universities and in partnership with government and industry centers.   This was a follow on from the 2013 Russian Innovation tour hosted by the state of Minnesota.    The goal was to meet with prominent universities, corporations, and innovation thought leaders to exchange best practices in center design and to build partnerships around international corridors for commercialization.  Today there are already corridors established with two major US universities outside of Minnesota.  Already cohorts of advanced technology are coming to america and being incubated developing their commercialization roadmap in the USA.
Our trip to Duluth yielded very interesting conversations around educational offerings the University is developing focused on International Cultural Entrepreneurship.   This is a full B.S. in business administration targeted at developing a  global awareness and business skill set.  The program is a integration of three major pillars of study:
  1.  Business and Entrepreneurship:  16 credits of business administration and 12 credits of Entrepreneurship.   The goal is that the graduate has the skills to be both a corporate intrepreneur or private entrepreneur.
  2. Foreign Languages:  Two foreign languages are required as a basic to expand the understanding of different cultures and communication.  It expands creativity and understanding of how cultures conduct business differently both in methods and styles.
  3. Cultural Literacy and Conceptual Competencies:  A minimum of six competencies areas including:
    • Creativity & Design
    • Empathy & Meaning
    • Ethics & Respect
    • Picture & Story
    • Play & Discipline
    • Symphony & Synthesis

CUE pyramid

The program also explores the rapidly growing Global Creative Economy.  This represents large growth in GDPs in the emerging markets in the areas of:
  • Heritage: Religion, and Culture
  • Arts: Visual & Performance
  • Media: Print & Digital
  • Functional Services:  Example – Design:  Fashion, Architecture, etc.

To lean more visit visit the program site.

See images in the gallery



ARCCoM Fall 2015 International Event – Part I

ARCCoMI was a speaker and panelist at the ARCCoM Fall 2015 International Innovation event.   This event hosted representatives from Russia, Europe, and North America to participate in a dialogue about B2B collaboration and building Innovation Corridors for start-ups to collaborate with markets internationally.  The event began on Oct 8th, hosted at the Carlson School of Management and included daytime sessions and evening social/culture events over several days.  Speakers at the event included Corporate, Academic,  State Government, Federal Government, Innovation Practitioners, Innovation Center Executives, and Start-up speakers.  Below is the event agenda, content and speakers.  I will expand on the learnings in a second blog post.

October 8, Thursday, CSOM, room 2-206 8:30 am – 9:00 am – Registration and light breakfast

9:00 am -10:20 am – Greetings and introductory remarks

  • Anatoli Korkin, Chairman of ARCCoM, St Paul, MN, Welcome and introduction
  • Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Secretary of State (2007-2015) and President/CEO, Minnesota World’s Fair Bid Committee, St Paul, MN, Introductory remarks
  • Alexander Stadnik, Russian Trade Mission, Washington D.C., introductory remarks
  • Thomas Bruns, United States Commercial Service, Washington D.C., Introductory remarks
  • Steve Riedel, Minnesota Trade Office, St Paul, MN, Minnesota trade with Russia: Current status and opportunities
  • Jamshed Merchant, Consul General of Canada, Minneapolis, MN, Introductory remarks Vladimir von Tsurikov, Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis, MN, Museum of Russian Art mission in international cultural exchange

10:20 am -10:40 am – Coffee break
10:40 am -12:00 pm – Business opportunities and technology innovations

  • John Pournoor, 3M Corporation, St Paul, MN, Solving National Needs and Creating Public Value
  • Robert Gaiiuliin, Tatarstan Trade Mission, Washington D.C., Business opportunities in Tatarstan
  • Vasily Kutsakov, Skolkovo Foundation, Moscow, Russia, Skolkovo Foundation: How experts and enterprises abroad can get involved
  • Todd Lefko, International Business Development Company, Minneapolis, MN, Possibilities in the Russian water sector

2:00 pm – 3:20 pm – Technology innovations and academic partnerships

  • David Williams, Cheval Partners, Minneapolis, MU,Building innovation ecosystems- durable business services to support and grow innovation
  • Kendrick White, Marchmont Capital, Nizniy Novgorod, Russia, Connecting Russian universities to global business – the new International Proof of Concept Association (IPOCA) as a mechanism to develop cross country collaboration
  • William Petuskey , Arizona State University, AZ, Opportunities for internationaleducation, research and technology innovations at Arizona State University
  • Liliya Kiryanova and Sergey Zamyatin, Tomsk Polytechnic University, Tomsk, Russia, Partnership opportunities with Tomsk Polytechnic University
  • Yuri Kistenev and Aleksandr Zamyatin, Tomsk State University, Tomsk, Russia, Partnership opportunities with Tomsk State University

3:20 pm – 3:40 pm – Coffee break

3:40 pm – 5:00 pm – US – Russia partnership proposals and opportunities

  • Leonid Grichiner, Russian Publishing House “Zerkalo”, Minneapolis, MN, Introduction to Russian-speaking business community in Minnesota
  • Alexandra Johnston, DFJ Aurora, San Francisco, CA, Russia-USA business
  • Partnership: A view from Silicon Valley
    Vlad Pavlov, RollApps, Palo Alto, CA, rollApp’s experience of offering application virtualization platform in the USA and Russia: similarities and differences between the two markets
  • Alexander Shalumov, Presidential Academy of national Economy and Public
  • Administration, Automated system ASONIKA for electronic device design and reliability:Expending international research and business opportunities
  • Tatiana Tatarchevskly, University without Borders, New York, On-line education and social entrepreneurship: Internet platforms for international collaboration
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm – Reception and concert @ St Petersburg restaurant, address: 3610 France Ave N, Robbinsdale, MN 55422

October 9, Friday 10:30 am – noon; CSOM, room 1-127

  • Thomas Bruns, United States Commercial Service, Washington D.C., Overview on Russia market and economy
  • David Edmiston, United State Commercial Service, Minneapolis MN, Overview on Commercial Services Organization and examples of facilitating international business
  • Round table discussions on Russia’s water and wastewater treatment Sector.
  • Moderators: Steve Riedel, Minnesota Trade Office, and Todd Lefko, International Business Development Council.

1 pm – 2:30 pm; CSOM, room 1-135

  • Panel on E-Learning as a Vehicle for U.S.- Russian Collaborative Projects in Social Entrepreneurship, Education, and Science
  • Moderators: UMN, UMD, University without Boarders

2:30pm – 4:30 pm; CSOM, room 1-135

  • Panel on International Corridors and Innovation Centers
  • Moderators: David Williams, Cheval Partners;  Kendrick White, Marchmont Capital

See images from the event at:

Global Innovation Centers / Cisco Teleconference


I was a featured speaker at an international conference on innovation and international exchange that was hosted by Cisco Corporation at their teleconferencing office in Bloomington Minnesota.   The conference was joined by innovation representatives spanning US cities and other locations including Russia, China, Singapore, etc.    Different groups talked about the innovation initiatives they were leading in their countries and were looking for ways to integrate and collaborate around developing an international exchange of practices, innovations, and more collaborative integrations.
I was one of the speakers invited to share insights into the research and initiatives I was current leading in Minnesota.
My presentation covered the following areas of activities:
  1. Learning & practices my research was finding in the development of innovation economies around the world.
  2. How a variety of funding models needed to be integrated at different stages of the innovation lifecycle of centers to create a sustainable and more scaleable model
  3. Work I was exploring with economists around new areas of global exchange.   This is a large topic that is looking at new forms of international exchange beyond basic trade and transactions that is built to create sustainable innovation collaboration and all the talent, investment, and resources required.   It also embodies a new language around exchange to describe new business and revenue models around an innovation economy.
  4. Designing global platforms to facilitate collaboration and integration of innovation centers.  This was another broad topic spanning a range of platforms ( like digital ) to a host of others required to support the broad spectrum of exchange resources.
  5. A brief overview of international funding activities to support the build out of these shared services.
My Q&A session was very active as there was a great deal of interest and synergy points across the various attendees from other regions.  I found the event to be a fantastic opportunity for a global network that launched conversations that turned into rich an active ongoing relationships today.
See more images in the events gallery

Russian Trade Minister Visit to UMN

Alexander StadnikI hosted Alexander Stadnik, Trade Representative of the Russian Federation in the United States of America, during his visit to Minnesota at the UMN on 2/25/15.   The visit included meetings with several of the science, agriculture, and engineering faculty to discuss areas of collaboration with Russian academic institutions.  My conversations with Mr. Stadnik spanned some of my experiences in innovation working at Microsoft,  innovation trends in the USA & globally,  and my current work at the UMN studying innovation centers around the globe in efforts to build those innovation assets in Minnesota.   Minnesota also has a fair sized Russian demographic and entrepreneurial community.    There is interest in creating opportunities for Russian companies, researchers and students to work collaboratively with institutions and corporations in the United States and Minnesota directly.   Since this meeting I have had the chance to meet directly with Russian representatives from their university and industry innovation centers.

Mr. Stadnik is currently based out of Washington D.C. representing trade relationships between Russian and the United States of America.    You can learn more about the USA/RU trade relationship and events at the Russian Trade Representation site.

Discussing Innovation Centers with Russia Vice Rektors

Alexander Bedny & Kendrick White, two Vice Rectors from The University of Nizhny Novgorod on the Russia tour to Minnesota.   Our conversation explored potential partnership opportunities to bring cohorts of top Russia researchers to the UMN to help commercialize their technology to benefit all countries.   NNU has taken the lead in Russia to create its first Proof of Concept center within a university that can help mature business models and valuation around advanced research technology.    These best practices where built upon partnerships with MIT and other POCs in the USA and are now being replicated in over ten Universities in Russia.    Building “international corridors to the other countries is a key component of the strategy to move Russia to a leadership position in global innovation.