I spoke at a panel on "Russian Startups in the Global Market" at the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum 2012 last week. My contributions to the discussion during the two-hour dialogue represent a great summary of the week I just spent in Russia (I visited both Moscow and St. Petersburg). Before the economic forum I participated in the 5-year anniversary of EMC's R&D presence in Saint Petersburg (SPb). In the picture below I am sitting in the middle of three individuals representing Russian startups (on the right) and four individuals representing venture capitalists (on the left).
The main question being address by the panel concerned the ability (or inability) of Russian startups to engage globally. My main contribution to this panel was shaped largely by the celebration of EMC's 5-year R&D contributions to EMC. In 2007, several dozen new EMC employees began working in SPb, and within 5 years they had already delivered significant (and globally-delivered) product contributions. During the panel discussion I attempted to draw some analogies between (a) the innovative behavior that I see in my Russian co-workers and (b) the potential behavior of the Russian startup market.
Firstly, any product offering developed in Russia needs to be customizable for global markets. The VNXe and Unisphere offerings developed in SPb were designed by the Russian team in such a fashion. In fact, several Russian employees display (in their office) the "President's Award" given directly to them by Joe Tucci after the VNXe was voted by the industry as most innovative product of the year.
The VNXe is a great offering in Russia. It fills an information storage need in the small-to-medium business market that enterprise products cannot deliver. The Unisphere user interface infrastructure developed in Russia was built in such a way that the product is customizable for other markets (Europe, Asia, U.S., etc).
More important that customization, however, is product quality. As I sat on the stage of the SPb Economic Forum I recalled a statement made by EMC SVP Joel Schwartz (shown here on the right) that goes something like this:
"I'd like to say we had a master plan in mind when we launched EMC R&D in SPb. The truth is we had a hunch that the talent level in Russia could deliver world-class products".
I have always spent a great deal of attention to the quality designed into EMC's products (see previous posts). I spent four years developing the VNXe and Unisphere alongside my Russian co-workers, and during that time I observed that their approach to product quality was certainly world-class.
Observation #1 that I made during the panel: think about quality and international customization from the very beginning.
During the week I also visited with local universities in both Moscow and SPb. I made a visit to SUAI (the State University of Aerospace Instrumentation). I visited SUAI with several of my co-workers (shown here on the left) working on the Viper project. It is well-known in the industry that the Viper team creates re-usable compression componentry that is subsequently embedded across EMC's product lines.
Russians are certainly world-renowned for their mathematical prowess. I was impressed by the mathematical skills of the university researchers and even more impressed to find that some of the new techniques for improving compression rates were already integrated into our product line. Joel's statement about the talent level is true not only for our EMC employees but for the universities that we partner with. Innovation accelerates when our employees reach out to local universities to find out what is new and relevant.
This lead me to observation #2 during the panel: Find out what is relevant and new in global markets by studying the research of universities in those markets. Knowledge expansion and transfer translates into deliverable ideas (a concept that we are attempting to formally quantify as part of EMC's innovation analytics research).
After my visit I had my picture taken with my co-workers, Professor Eugeneii Krouk and his researchers.
My statement stressing the importance of university engagements in global markets was challenged by the moderator: Shouldn't the focus be more about money (as opposed to the knowledge available at universities)? One of the issues identified with Russian startups entering global markets was the lack of access to the capital that was required to do so. This challenge to my perspective caused me to think about the first two days of my trip in Moscow. EMC's innovation strategy in the region is actually two-pronged. In addition to a strong university research presence, we also have growing visibility to the startup, partner, and customer ecosystem (after joining the recently-announced Skolkovo initiative).
For EMC, Skolkovo represents a window into the most pressing needs of customers in Russia. During my two days in Moscow I met with startup companies working on smart-grid metering technologies, large customers that run Russia power utilities, and potential partner companies that already are performing Russia-related research (e.g. in areas such as smart grid).
Observation #3: Every geography has government initiatives that enable networking of peers and potential partners. Find ways to engage with these initiatives.
This was my fourth visit to Russia. I finally got smart and visited in June (my previous visits were in October, November, and January, with snow on every trip). I highly recommend SPb in June! Below is a picture I took at midnight on the longest day of the year: June 21st. The White Nights of this northern city are a sight worth seeing.
Director, EMC Innovation Network