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Friday, April 27, 2012

Why European business angels come to Russia’s regions

I recall discussing last month some innovation rankings and a number of top-ranked regions of Russia highlighted by RBC daily and its Russian official partners. Siberia was worth praising; it had shown such a terrific innovation spurt.

Such national rankings are useful and interesting. But there are also other indicators for an innovation economy, and different methodologies for ranking the regions. Of course, one of the key factors in any successful innovation economy is the activity of local business angels.

As you know, the European Business Angels Network (EBAN) had its major event in Moscow on the 23rd and 24th. The fact that the relatively small Russian business angel community was able to attract EBAN is a significant accomplishment that says a lot about the development of our regional business angels.

But MOST IMPORTANTLY, after the general meeting in Moscow the angels split and went to different regions. Some traveled to St. Petersburg where the SBAO business angel club had put together a major forum on venture investing. Simultaneously, some of the European business angels visited Kazan where the Russian Venture Capital Association hosted its Venture Fair, to see what’s happening in Tatarstan. Nizhny Novgorod was not lost in this, either. The Start Invest business angel club and the local administration also organized a two-day program for the business angels, and the president of the European association, Brigitte Baumann, came to Nizhny Novgorod. I think this says a lot about the power and influence of the business angel community in Nizhny Novgorod to draw attention to their activity there.

I think these three regions are showing themselves to be active and wanting to highlight their projects. To me, this is also a very good indicator of how competitive any particular region is in developing an innovation economy. You may have statistics today which show how many innovation projects are finding investment; and those are important, especially if you understand how those stats are calculated, and what contributes to innovation investment. But in my opinion, one of the most important factors, not necessarily of the investments taking place today but of the future potential of any given region, is how active angel investors are today.

As is absolutely understandable, angel investment projects take many years to develop. They are not just overnight commodity projects; these are projects in high technology, and it’s hard to really see the results of this work until a certain critical mass of activity has already been done in developing business education culture, the local legislation, and the regional infrastructure including techno-parks, business incubators, business accelerators and so forth.

So, I would say that the top rankings clearly need to include places like St. Petersburg and Kazan, and definitely Nizhny Novgorod which, in my opinion, has huge potential as an innovation cluster. And this is very much because of the importance of the local business angels that have a desire and an interest, and they put their money into real projects.

I think, in three-to-five years it will be obvious which regions in Russia will be the leaders in creating their own ecosystems and innovation culture. And this will be very much dependent upon the business angels in those regions, and how actively they lobby for adjusting laws, regulations, and tax policies. What’s also expected from them—and also out of their own self-interest—is a number of specific policies which will coordinate the development of an innovation economy. Political leaders need to have proper guidance from real venture and business angel investors on what policies work and what policies won’t work.

A LAB of opportunities

We conducted the MARCHMONT Business LAB program here in Nizhny Novgorod last week together with Russia’s Hi-tech Techno-park Association led by its president Andrei Shpilenko. As part of a multifaceted program we did two days of master classes, and we invited in some terrific, fantastic speakers from Moscow and internationally that came to Nizhny Novgorod and spoke to entrepreneurs here.

As a co-host of this very successful event I noticed clear progress in the development of an innovation ecosystem in the Volga and Central Russia area. While advising face to face local Nizhny entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs participating in Russia’s BIT competition of business plans and projects, we simultaneously ran webinar programs together with Penza and Kazan. The Hi-tech Techno-park Association organized in each of those regions the opportunity for local entrepreneurs to present their innovation projects to Marchmont experts and judges. I was deeply impressed with some of the projects coming from Penza. I think this region also has great potential, and we made plans to bring our MARCHMONT Business LAB to Penza this year as well. Of course, projects from Kazan were also quite impressive.

Enabling our Nizhny-based experts to participate in project presentations coming from around the Volga region was a terrific achievement. We were very pleased with a webinar, and my overall assessment is that step by step, in spite of Russia being so huge geographically, we’re beginning to use technology to break down the geographic barriers and bring face to face innovation experts and investment professionals together with innovators and entrepreneurs from anywhere in Russia.

For example, next month we’ll take our LAB to Kaliningrad but while we’re in Kaliningrad, having technology and investment experts meet with a local techno-park, we’ll also be connecting with other techno-parks and other incubators, simultaneously arranging through a webinar program the ability to have live presentations from around the country.

This is a strong push on the part of the newly created Hi-tech Techno-park Association with its 19 member techno-parks across Russia. With a decisive mandate from the Russian government it is really bringing this expertise to all regions of Russia, and I think this is a new player in Russia’s innovation ecosystem.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gregg Robins, a banker and a musician

Gregg Robins is not only a long-standing member of Marchmont’s Advisory Board; he’s also an interesting musician playing plain-spoken, emotive rock. He released his debut album last fall, titled “Everything that Matters.” More about his music and related events in the blog posting below. Here’s Gregg:

Life has been simply exhilarating since the album release in late October, with reviews, interviews, concerts, and increasing numbers of fans and shows of support from all over the world. It has also been a time of further inspiration, as I am writing and recording many new songs. Wonderful to have you here on this journey, and I am looking forward to the times ahead…

The Latest

Concerts in Geneva and Moscow! In Geneva, the stage was the fnac Forum, and in Moscow it was live on TV Rain, Russia’s most progressive Smart TV station! In Geneva, I even played a few new tracks from my upcoming album as well.

For the Geneva show I performed with some of the talented musicians who played on the album, and in Moscow with a super group of jazz musicians who I have started working with - in addition to a virtuoso viola player who wanted to join in on the fun!

I also featured my music on Jango Airplay and have been thrilled to pick up new fans from all over the world and hear their comments each day.

I was in Washington DC in early 2012 where I signed a bunch of CDs for fans who had called in to Blog Talk Radio with host Aaron Myers. I was on the show promoting my “Helping our Heroes at Home” initiative to raise funds for returning soldiers.

The Press

Music critics have weighed in very favorably on the album:

“Often the melodies remind me of some of the best of early Paul Simon”

“His song-writing style draws similarities to Cat Stevens”

“His vocals are filled with the dramatic strength of his emotions. The musical arrangements move elegantly between the simple and understated and the lushly orchestrated, effectively complementing his songs' dramatic arcs”

“An album with a musical underpinning that keeps providing these small bursts of sunlight and surprise. Taken together, they make this one of the most uncommon of delights — an exploration amongst very familiar landmarks that somehow feels brand new”

I have also given a number of interviews – the one with stands out for me as it explores a range of areas, personal and musical, and poses interesting questions, such as about the songs I wish I had written…

The Fans

It is always great to discover new fans and to hear from everyone. Fans and followers continue to grow on the site, on Facebook and Twitter, and on Jango. Here is a selection of things fans have said recently that I have really enjoyed:

“Your songs make my day positive every morning!” – Simon in Moscow, Russia

“I have received so many gift CD's over the years. I am open-minded, but don't often hear something that I want to hear over and over again…. I find myself just singing along, which for me is really great, and it is wonderful to find a new artist whose music I love and want to listen to more than once” – David in California, USA

“Shades of Cat Stevens!” – Robert from Melbourne, Australia

“Love it. Springsteen is in your heart - I can feel it. Now I have your song in my collection of favorite songs - and this song is ‘Morning In America.’ Thanks!” – Arthur in Moscow, Russia

“We are really pleased to have been an “early adopter” of the Grobins sound” – Ken and his son, Cole, in Connecticut, USA

“From the CD cover to the final sound, a very well thought-out professional package. The arrangements are very cleanly entwined with a creative mix of strings, oboe, crescendo cymbals, and on, and on. Well done, and clearly a piece from your heart” – Steve in Geneva, Switzerland

“There's a saxophonist who's comfortable with his feminine side!!! Pink saxophone. Gotta love it” – Tim in New York City, USA.

For more information please visit Gregg's personal website. Through the site the artist is reaching out to those moved or touched in some way by his music.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

'Scaling Up Entrepreneurship': an IVI Master Class in Mentoring

Thomas Nastas, one of Marchmont's long-standing partners and a member of our company's Advisory Board, is presenting his training program for innovative entrepreneurs:

The seed for this Master Class came about from a request of the US Embassy Moscow  to me in May 2010.  The Embassy was asked by the the Governor of Novosibirsk, Russia to organize a conference on solutions the region could implement to stimulate more innovation, venture capital and entrepreneurship.  My 60 minute presentation generated numerous questions that demonstrated the audience’s lack of understanding of what entrepreneurship is, how it and venture capital works, and actions government can implement to spur more innovation, technology creation and investment.

John Hoxmeier, Associate Dean, Graduate Studies at Colorado State University (CSU) learned about the Novosibirsk event and asked me to create a 3 day Master Class around the subjects of innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital for CSU’s Executive MBA program in Kazan, Russia.  Students in the program hold senior positions in state owned enterprises, Ministries of ICT, Industry, Trade & Development, the Tatarstan Presidential Administration and Tatarstan’s sovereign wealth fund with responsibilities to help create more technology and knowledge based companies in the region.

Thereafter I added new content to the Master Class, and I’ve delivered it to staff of investment funds, entrepreneurs, incubators, technoparks, universities, economic development agencies and senior government officials in Croatia, Kazakhstan and the World Bank.

Click on the icon below to view the program in English, its content, learning and ‘Scaling Up Innovation’ objectives. Write me at to learn more about this program & its delivery in your region or country to stimulate more innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital.

Friday, April 6, 2012

‘Path to Commercialization:’ An IVI Master Class in Mentoring

Here's another message from Thomas Nastas, member of Marchmont's Advisory Board:

I created this program as Part II in my Master Class series of ‘Scaling Up’ at the request of John Hoxmeier, Associate Dean, Graduate Studies at Colorado State University (CSU).  John is managing CSU’s executive MBA program in Kazan, Russia with students holding senior positions in state owned enterprises, Ministries of ICT, Industry, Trade & Development, the Tatarstan Presidential Administration and Tatarstan’s sovereign wealth fund.

This Master Class was conducted 3-5 November 2011 in Kazan, Russia.

CSU earned the personal attention and congratulations from the President of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov on the 1st of December 2011, and I’m honored to have played a small role in this success for John, CSU and the USA.

To view the program in English, its content, learning and ‘Scaling Up Innovation’ objectives, just click on the icon below. Write me at to learn more about this program & its delivery in your region or country to stimulate more innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital.