Director of the Association of Innovative Regions of Russia Alexander Smekalin: “The goal of AIRR is to be a catalyst for the innovative development of regions”

22 May2024
Director of the Association of Innovative Regions of Russia Alexander Smekalin: “The goal of AIRR is to be a catalyst for the innovative development of regions”
Director of the Association of Innovative Regions of Russia (AIRR) Alexander Smekalin told FederalPress about the goals and objectives of the association in the current economic situation, as well as the problems that need to be solved in the near future.

What goals and objectives does AIRR set for itself in the current economic and political conditions?

— The current situation creates an increased demand for innovative developments, since with their help it is not only necessary to replace imports, but also to form a national base of technological superiority. The country needs its own technologies to ensure stability and economic development, so the focus is on the interaction of science, government and business. How productive it will be will determine whether we will be able to ensure technological sovereignty and whether we will be independent from foreign suppliers for critical components. To achieve these goals, significant budget funds are allocated, programs to support domestic production, scientific and technical developments, and personnel training for the most important sectors of the economy have been created. The goal of our association is to help participating regions use these tools and achieve high results, relying not only on their own potential, but also on the resource provided by interregional interaction and integration. Moreover, today AIRR is no longer 8, as at the beginning of the journey, but 18 regions of Russia, which have identified innovative technologies and technological leadership as the main strategic tool for development. Today, every third ruble of innovative products in Russia is created in the participating regions of the AIRR.

The Association for Regions is a platform for the exchange of best regional practices, a center for the formation of a consolidated position that needs to be conveyed to federal authorities and development institutions, as well as a center for competence and analytical support. The use of the Association’s tools and capabilities allows regions to develop more efficiently.

The point of contact between the AIRR regions is innovative development, but each region has its own capabilities and characteristics.

— The innovative capabilities of regions differ due to the heterogeneity of the economic and innovation space, but each has its own strengths. The strategy for scientific and technological development of the Russian Federation indicates the main directions; for each of them, competencies have been developed in the regions of the AIRR. Altai Territory - unmanned aerial vehicles, everything related to microelectronics - Veliky Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod and Ulyanovsk, automotive industry and robotics - Tatarstan, Nizhny Novgorod, Kaluga and Samara regions, aviation - Ulyanovsk, Perm, Irkutsk, Altai, IT sector - Tatarstan , Yakutia, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug - Yugra and Nizhny Novgorod. Optical fiber - Mordovia, in Kaluga and Ulyanovsk - nuclear technologies. Novosibirsk and Tomsk are the academic “pillars” of the country. The range of “breakthrough” technologies in the AIRR regions is very large.

The regions themselves sometimes do not consider their experience as the best or the only one of its kind, since it is familiar to them. To make these best practices available for adaptation in other regions, AIRR forms a database of them, a kind of library. We recently published practices in the field of informatization for solving individual problems. At the same time, we are not limited to the developments of only our regions; we invite other constituent entities of the Russian Federation to this work.


How does AIRR organize the communication space for Russian regions?

— We are actively expanding communications between AIRR regions, as well as with foreign partners. The formats are varied: online meetings with experts, off-site meetings, trips of delegations to innovation infrastructure facilities. All these are useful contacts and future collaborations.

We are developing international cooperation with a wide range of partner countries: studying their experience in innovative development, opening new markets. The countries of Asia, the CIS, and Africa, which have mutual interest and the proper level of developments, have become extremely promising for us today. In the near future we will have a very interesting joint project with China.

Татарстан, февраль, 2024

One of the main problems of any region is the personnel shortage, including for the innovative development of the economy. Is AIRR addressing this problem?

— Yes, this direction has always been the focus of our attention. To solve a problem, you need to recognize it and break it down into its components. We conducted a study and identified a number of reasons for the shortage of specialists needed for innovation. They are reflected in our first “Regional Index of Personnel Demand for the Innovation Economy,” which we will henceforth release quarterly.

One of the most important reasons is that local specialists cannot provide themselves and their families with a comfortable standard of living. In all regions there is a demand for personnel, there are vacancies, and wages are not competitive compared to megacities. At the same time, housing prices are high. Regions are choosing different ways to retain human resources: some are introducing social or rental housing programs, others are compensating expenses for relocants. But this is not enough. Measures to attract and retain specialists must be comprehensive. Since, according to the forecast of Russian and international experts, the trend towards increasing shortages in the labor market will continue, together with AIRR participants we will look for solutions to this problem and test them.

You said that you formulate specific proposals and initiatives with the regions, which you then try to convey to the federal government. Which ones have you already conveyed?

— The Association became a member of the Commission on Intellectual Property under the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia. In February, at a meeting of the Council on the topic of organizing an intellectual property (IP) management system in the constituent entities of the Russian Federation, which was chaired by Valentina Matvienko, I expressed the position of the AIRR subjects on this issue. It is necessary to ensure the possibility of using IP objects as a resource, as a collateral instrument for attracting financing. However, for banks it is a high-risk asset. And this is where a network of regional guarantee funds can come to the rescue. In addition, we believe that it could become a unified system of intellectual property holders, forming a kind of “IP marketplace.” That is why we raised the issue of lifting restrictions on the capitalization of funds to participate in a pilot project for lending secured by intellectual property.

Our proposals include the formation, on the basis of the Bank of Russia, of a licensing system for organizations and specialists who are able to evaluate IP objects and the possibilities of their commercialization.

А. Смекалин Госсовет

At a meeting of the State Council commission in the direction of “Economics and Finance”, we proposed expanding the list of participants in the national project “Labor Productivity”, as well as extending its validity until 2030. Along with this, we took the initiative to consider the possibility of including enterprises from socially significant areas in the national project: housing and communal services, healthcare, budgetary enterprises. This will improve their efficiency. In our opinion, it is advisable to allow founders of enterprises from friendly states, primarily the Republic of Belarus, to participate if they operate on the territory of the Russian Federation.

At a meeting of the State Council commission, you made a proposal not to separate support for investment and innovation, why?

— In his address to the Federal Assembly, the president outlined a very important initiative to write off part of the region’s debt on budget loans, but on the condition that these funds will be spent on infrastructure and stimulating investment activity. The head of state spoke about our technological self-sufficiency. Without scientific support and innovative technologies, the investment component does not fulfill the full range of these tasks, so it would be wrong to separate the investment and innovation infrastructure. This is an important initiative. Its essence is to support the entire innovation chain and solve the problem of transforming research and development into successful financial results for companies, jobs and budget revenues.

What other difficulties do the regions have?

— First of all, investments in infrastructure. This is not just a whim. High-quality modern infrastructure reduces the time for project implementation and technology development. Unfortunately, not many are able to independently provide themselves with infrastructure facilities. Initiatives to create special economic zones, clusters and other facilities were launched and often stopped simply due to lack of funding. The funding gap is a very painful aspect.

There are many obstacles to the implementation of innovative technologies aimed at improving people's lives. There are a lot of difficulties when registering advanced medical products, building materials, etc. But we are talking about new technologies, and it can be difficult to “package” them into existing standards, which are extremely difficult to change. But the regions do not have enough resources to promote their initiatives in this area.

There is a problem of qualitatively forming a demand for innovation, including in government bodies. Business has already learned to work with this. After all, innovation does not exist for the sake of innovation: it must solve some problem, remove some barrier, improve customer experience, take a product or service to a new quality level. Today, the state should become the largest customer of innovation in order to solve non-standard problems.

In this case, does the state act as a large venture fund?

— Budget funds are not the best source for venture financing, since it is impossible to risk state money. This is, first of all, the people's money. In terms of risk financing, it is necessary to develop private venture funds, rather than create public ones. The state needs to introduce support measures that allow project initiators to overcome the “valleys of death”, from prototype to first sales.

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What goals and objectives does AIRR face for the future?

— As I already said, our main customers are the participating regions, and the beneficiaries are innovative businesses and residents of these regions. In April, at the strategic session of the Association, we set a tactical task for ourselves - to assess the effectiveness of the existing innovation infrastructure. AIRR will continue to formulate regional proposals regarding improving the efficiency of this infrastructure, convey them to federal authorities, search for and replicate successful practices to solve priority problems. To achieve this, we will expand the geography of cooperation and create analytical products for the regions.

The main task of the Association of Innovative Regions of Russia is to be a catalyst for the innovative development of regions. If we help AIRR participants remove barriers to scientific and technological development, this will benefit both the regions and the country as a whole.