Education and medicine are new foundations’ focus industries.
Four years ago, President Vladimir Putin designated the National Technology Initiative as a national policy priority. Alexander Povalko, CEO of Russian Venture Company (RVC) told about the results achieved since then.
— Alexander Borisovich, which projects did your company bring to the forum?
— Various. For instance, we have just signed an agreement with AFK Sistema and Sistema charitable foundation on joint implementation of technology tenders. The tenders are not only intended to address the narrow market objectives but to make technologies serve people, use scientific advances to respond to specific social challenges.
We have also signed two agreements to create venture funds with the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Economic Development. This is the unique history because it is for the first time venture foundations are created with the budget money. To implement this idea, the federal executive bodies will behave very untypically of themselves. The fact is that the technological breakthrough objectives the State is facing cannot be addressed by conventional methods. We have to look for bold and original tools.
Education and medicine is the industry focus for new foundations. That is to say, there are the areas where dynamic development and quick implementation of technologies will play the decisive role. Business efficiency in operations of the foundations and return on investments is an important criterion we set to ourselves.
— In the message to the Federal Assembly in 2014, the President designated the National Technology Initiative as a public policy priority. Four years passed: what are the results?
— Naturally, we have already summarized intermediate results. We sometimes think that everything skids, and then we start enumerating what we have done and reveal we have achieved much. We have established a full-fledged infrastructure of support to the National Technology Initiative. Last year, we created six NTI infrastructure centers, the industry associations for players from new markets. These centers consolidate hundreds of companies now. In general, we believe that these are good lobbying tools, in particular, as concerns adaptation of law and dealing with administrative barriers. We established 14 competence centers, research structures based on universities and scientific organizations for development of NTI end-to-end technologies. Grant financing of these centers during 5 years is envisaged but 50% their budget is formed from raised money. Each center creates the consortium comprising successful business companies: Sberbank, MTS, Garpom neft, Rosatum. The total of approx. 300 companies are members of consortiums. The technologies developed in the centers are quickly marketed thanks to such extensive partnership network.
We have also established a portfolio of NTI projects: at present, it consists of 40 projects in different fields, from unmanned transport to medical technologies and youth initiatives of the Hobby Movements. The first projects that began three years ago are nearing completion. We can illustrate this with an interesting development, the Sea Portal. We created it together with Scanex. The developers wanted to make something like a marine Uber. But we did not manage to create a marine Uber so far. Instead, we created the platform that monitors the situation in the sea and automatically generates the most appropriate routes for sea ships. In addition, the service may track the ice situation or, for instance, reveal oil pollution. As a result, Russia’s major fleet holders got interested in that product and became active Sea Portal users. They have already paid much more than we invested there. The project has over 70 customers, both in Russia and abroad, now.
— Does NTI have products that ordinary people, rather than business customers may use?
— Botkin.AI Project is a very promising story. It is artificial intelligence for processing of medical images. The technologies allows for high-precision diagnosis of lung diseases at an early stage, cancers or pneumonia. The diagnosis precision is 99%. This development is actively applied in medical institutions now. Pilot projects have been finished in four Russian regions. Of course, the trust in the decisions made by AI becomes very topical in medicine. There is a difference between patient’s mindset and that of physicians. We conducted a socio-cultural study that suggested that our people of any age whatsoever are ready to apply the advanced medical technologies — both AI based diagnosis and participation of robot surgeons in surgeries. No matter how strange it may seem, physicians are not ready to them to a greater extent. They are reluctant to be responsible for the decisions a robot will make. And we can understand them. Just imagine: AI established a diagnosis but it is found to be erroneous after treatment. The physician, not machine, will be held responsible. We have to elaborate transparent and unbiased “rules of the game” in this field. Exoathlete is another interesting project under the auspices of NTI. It is an exoskeleton for recovery of patients with musculoskeletal disabilities. Its development was financed by RVC’s Biofund in 2015. At part of NTI, the team is elaborating a brand new product, Exoathlete Bambini, that enables to improve the recovery of children with musculoskeletal disabilities, in particular, as a result of children’s cerebral palsy. In addition to application in this country, the team found investors in Korea, and the project is becoming global.
— How can a businessman take part in NTI?
— We see two ways here: firstly, teams may obtain grants up to RUB 20 million for R&D. To this end, one should take part in an NTI tender operated by the Innovation Assistance Foundation. Secondly, companies may claim bigger financing and other types of support via RVC’s single Digital Platform we launched in May. Any manufacturer of the products that meet NTI priorities and target global markets may apply. If the applicant passes the expert examination the range of support documents is rather broad, depending on the company’s specific features and needs. It can be assistance with raising venture investments and subsidizing interest rates on loans and advice on expansion to markets of some particular countries. Looking for NTI projects, we stake on people with higher inner energy, on scientific knowledge that should be transformed into competitive products, on new business models that will enable our companies to become “national champions” and occupy adequate positions on global markets.