The theme of investment in innovation and technology has reached Russia, with various projects underway to promote this focus.
Belyakov commented: “I think the Skolkovo project is very interesting. It’s a niche that is really needed in Russia. The level of projects it incorporates is very high; two of the three Russian projects we are working with now came from Skolkovo.
“Currently, our main characteristic is that we invest money from Russian and Eastern European investors in technological projects abroad. But we always try to find a connection with the Russian market.”
I2BF seeks to build a bridge between Russia and the West by helping Russian companies “commercialise their existing technologies abroad.” Belyakov said these technologies are no worse than they are in the West, but Russian companies lack the right managers that would help them enter the foreign markets.
One of the examples is a project with a Russian company focused on oil extraction, which the firm is working on at the moment. “We would like to take the innovative technology to the US, where there is more competition and more readiness for innovation,” Belyakov said.
Despite the debt crisis dampening appetite for investment in general and alternative asset types in particular, Belyakov said the venture firm’s funds have been enjoying demand from investors. Various types of allocators have shown increased interest in alternative energy in a bid to diversify their holdings.
“We have both high net worth individuals, who see alternative energy as a positive development and want to diversify their holdings, and large government corporations or banks, which have a more global interest, including the development of innovation in Russia,” Belyakov elaborated.
Over the years, the focus of wealthy Russians ha also seen a slight shift from investments outside the country to innovation within Russia itself as they increasingly see opportunity within the country and want to contribute to building Russia’s competitive advantage in the global nanotech market.
I2BF’s most recent project has taken it to Israel to invest in an early-stage developer of new methods of wafer-metallization for solar photovoltaic cells – a company called Utilight. Other examples of investment projects include lighter construction materials for wind-turbine blades, better catalysts for the chemical, oil and gas industry, nanofiltration processes that require lower-pressure pumps, or the potential for nano-enhanced solar panels.
Golubovich says nanotechnology is expected to be a $2.6tr industry by 2014. “The sector as a whole – both within and outside cleantech – is growing fast, being expected to hit 18% compound growth rates between 2010 and 2013,” he said. In his view this makes the sector an attractive investment proposition and highlights the need for continued inflows of money from investors.