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The northern way: Arkhangelsk governor urges startups to buck the trend

Conditions in the Far North are not easy, and the people who live there are the first to acknowledge that. The Russian government agrees, and in compensation for the long, harsh winters, polar days of little light, and short, cool summers, labour legislation entitles people who live and work in the Arkhangelsk region two extra weeks of holiday a year, and a shortened working day.

A monument to Peter the Great looks out over the frozen River Dvina. Arkhangelsk's harsh northern climate has inspired a spirit of invention and innovation in its residents, the regional governor says. Photo:

It is these difficult conditions, however, that gave rise to a spirit of originality and inventiveness among the local population, according to Igor Orlov, governor of the Arkhangelsk region. 

“As governor, i want you to do things that aren’t traditional,” he urged budding entrepreneurs and scientists gathered at the second day of the Skolkovo Foundation’s Startup Tour on Tuesday.

“Here in the north, our agriculture and logistics have always been different to the rest of Russia. We have always done our own thing: up here, we’re forced to find original solutions. We have always thought differently, and we have to find and implement original solutions,” he said.

Orlov urged local entrepreneurs to make use of the region’s resources. 

Arkhangelsk region governor Igor Orlov (right) talking to Skolkovo's Alexander Chernov (centre) and Pekka Viljakainen. Photo: CDAR.

“We have clear competitive advantages,” not least the cold climate, he said, citing the example of a Finnish data centre that uses the natural cold to cool the storage system.

The second day of the Startup Tour began with a master class by Pekka Viljakainen, a presidential advisor to Skolkovo Foundation president Victor Vekselberg. Viljakainen, a successful Finnish entrepreneur who founded his IT company at the age of 13 and sold it at the age of 39 as a multinational corporation employing 20,000 people, shared his experience and advice with the audience of mostly young entrepreneurs before taking questions from the room. 

“Pekka said that you can feel the entrepreneurial spirit in the Arkhangelsk air,” said Alexander Chernov, senior vice-president of the Skolkovo Foundation for external communications. 

“There is willingness and readiness to think about business. And ultimately, business - good, clean, honest, small or medium-sized - is the only driver of economic growth,” said Chernov.

The Arkhangelsk stage of the Startup Tour was also open to scientists and entrepreneurs from the nearby Vologda, Murmansk, Novgorod and Pskov regions, as well as the Nenets autonomous region and republic of Komi.

Among those attending the Startup Tour was Ilya Kuzmin, a construction engineer who was proudly wearing an award made out of walrus tusk - a popular local material for crafts and jewellery - depicting the great Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov.

Kuzmin works for Arktika, a company based in the town of Severodvinsk, a military shipbuilding centre about 35 kilometres to the west of Arkhangelsk. Arktika comprises part of a subsidiary of the United Shipbuilding Corporation. 

Kuzmin said he was attending the Startup Tour with the aim of presenting his company’s project for a new type of semiconductor converter to a bigger circle of people, and to find new business partners.

Yevgeny Vasiliev from the city of Arkhangelsk was attending the event to present his IT project together with his team. He said he had come to obtain expert advice and experience.

“I didn’t realise that there were such strong support mechanisms available for good projects, to help them find investors,” said Vasiliev. 

The winners of the Startup Tour in Arkhangelsk pictured with Pekka Viljakainen (left). Photo:

“I knew about Skolkovo before, but didn’t understand what it was for. Now I know, and I’d like to come in the summer [for the Startup Village],” he said.

The Startup Tour in Arkhangelsk ended with an awards ceremony for the winners of a pitching competition in three categories: IT, biomedicine and industry. The winners in each category were presented with tickets to the Skolkovo Foundation’s annual Startup Village, a giant outdoor conference for startups and investors that will be held this year on June 6-7.

Vera Rybko, a project manager at Skolkovo’s biomed cluster who was on the jury of the biomed category, said she was pleasantly surprised by the high standard of the projects.

First place in the biomed category went to Yana Garazha for her Endometrics project: a non-invasive system for diagnosing endometriosis, a condition affecting women in which tissue that usually grows inside the uterus grows outside it, causing the sufferer severe pain. The condition currently often goes undiagnosed. Endometrics is already a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation, and is partnered with clinics in regions including the Arkhangelsk region. 

“The Endometrics team has developed a way of examining genes to diagnose endometriosis, a condition that affects 10 percent of women,” said Rybko. “We hope that their product will be launched on the market in the near future.” 

The second biomed place went to Alexander Shilov for his project NeuroFIT: an exoskeleton for lower limbs that uses a brain-computer interface. Third place went to Vyacheslav Popov for his project to produce and use dental forms of a type of chlorophyll. 

The winners in the IT category were:

First place: Ilya Garazh for his Passwork project

Second place: Svetlana Averyanova and Maxim Vorontsov for their Clio project 

Third place: Nikolai Kryazhev and Vladlena  Romanova for their Juniorbalance financial app for children

The industry category winners were:

First place: Pavel Rybin for his Engineer project 

Second place: Yevgeny Koptyaev for his civil aviation project

Third place: Danila Fevralev for his Vetrox Arctic project.