July 18th, 2011

TIME magazine: “To support innovation…you need the rule of law.”

NKVD.proTime magazine’s Simon Shuster today posted an article about young Russian entrepreneurs fleeing the country. The piece features a 22-year-old tech guru named Alexei Terentev, whose web hosting company, NKVD.pro, is now valued in the millions of dollars. But thanks to a business climate marked by fraud and fear, the economic activity Terentev’s company is to produce will not be benefitting his homeland: Alexei left Moscow for the Czech Republic to develop his business and hasn’t looked back:

The reasons for his move, as well as his haste, are the typical worries of the young entrepreneurs […]: corruption and bureaucracy, the forces that are driving the biggest exodus since the fall of the Soviet Union. […] Now the country is stable and the cities are thriving. But small-business owners seem to feel less safe than ever.

Shuster cites data that shows Russians paid nearly $600 million in bribes to authorities for “security provisions,” in 2010 – 13 times more than in 2005 – and then describes the calamity that befalls business owners if bribes aren’t paid: visits from inspectors, auditors or the police until the company is overwhelmed. If that doesn’t work, expect a corporate or government raid to follow, as was the case in 2000 for NTV television or in 2003 for Yukos Oil.

Earlier this year, Agava, one of Russia’s leading web hosting companies was raided by police, its server farm raided just weeks later. And this is happening , Shuster writes, while the Russian government is trying to enlist businesses to move to Skolkovo, Russia’s notional version of Silicon Valley. But the businesses that have signed on for Skolkovo are, not surprisingly, having trouble recruiting talent.

To drive the point home, Shuster quotes a California venture capitalist, Alexandra Johnson, who advises Russian businesses. “You need an entire ecosystem to support innovation,” she says. “You need incubators, entrepreneurship, managers to run the businesses. You need the rule of law. Many elements of this ecosystem are still missing in Russia.”

Read Shuster’s full article here.

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