Can an authoritarian autocracy spawn Silicon Valley-style free-thinking individualism? Can hi-tec entrepreneurism flourish in a totalitarian bureaucracy?
Those questions are implicit in Russian VC fund Rusnano’s attempt to drum up foreign capital.
Rusnano, which owns stakes in Plastic Logic and MRAM start-up Crocus, is looking for foreign investors to take a 10% stake in its $10 billion capital fund.
Rusnano has got $7.5 billion invested in technology companies. It has been going for five years and hopes to see the first IPOs or trade sales of its portfolio companies this year.
Rusnano’s capital came half from the Russian government and half from debt. The move signals that the Russian government does not want to put any more money into the fund.
Rusnano has backed 140 companies directly, of which 12 are American, and has backed more companies to the tune of $1 billion, through a variety of subsidiary funds.
Rusnano is looking for any kind of investor – development fund, private investor, industrial company, sovereign wealth fund, other VC funds, private equity funds etc.
Russian attempts to spawn a Silicon Valley-style high-tech industry go back 50 years to when two renegades from the Valley, Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant, persuaded Soviet President Nikita Kruschev that he needed a Silicon Valley in Russia.
So Kruschev set up Zelenograd about 40 kilometres outside Moscow and populated it with some 10,000 PhDs.
But, unlike Silicon Valley, no earth-shattering companies were spawned there.