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IU business incubator partners with Siberian school: Reciprocal visits could lead to high-tech opportunities

October 15, 2007

After unwrapping his luggage from its seal of shrink-wrap, Mark Long reviewed his notes for the upcoming seminar. He hardly needed them. Long, CEO of Indiana University's Research and Technology Corp., has spoken many times about how academics transfer their research discoveries to the market.

But this was the first time he ever delivered the speech in Siberia. The audience-a group of business and academic leaders-ultimately could help Hoosiers access a treasure-trove of Russian technologies.

"They have a lot of the same ingredients we have [in Indiana] and a lot of the same problems we did trying to build a business incubator," he said. "They're about where we were in 2000."

Late last month, Long spent a week in Tyumen, Siberia, a city of 850,000 that's 18-1/2 hours from Indiana by plane. It was a reciprocal trip. In May, a delegation from Tyumen State University visited Indiana University.

Tyumen State has a long-standing connection to IU's Russian Studies department, but didn't know about IURTC until stumbling upon it through a Google search on "business incubation."

The Russians liked what they saw. So much, in fact, that Long's program is now the blueprint for Tyumen State's planned "technopark."

"I was impressed by a short tour of the facilities and the brilliant organization and management of the system to support the startup companies and commercialize the technologies," said Andrey Tolstikov, Tyumen State's vice dean and coordinator of its international programs and research division.

There's much for Indiana to gain, too. IURTC already has informal ties to the University of Barcelona and Australia's Macquarie University. But Long describes its emerging Tyumen partnership as the most promising, thanks to Siberia's other assets.

Tyumen is perhaps best known for its lucrative natural gas and oil production. A whopping 90 percent of Russia's natural gas is produced in the region. So is more than half its oil.

The area offers other things, too: New technology. A wide open market. And, thanks to the high price of fossil fuels, lots of money. The Russians are eager for U.S. investment, as well as the chance to license their discoveries for commercialization here.

Tyumen State is a research university with a scientific focus on the oil and gas industries and their environmental impact. It regularly develops technologies for soil, water and air-quality testing and remediation of petrochemical spills.

But Russia is still recovering from nearly a century of Soviet central planning. Entrepreneurship is still a hazy concept there-especially in remote regions like Siberia.

In his visit, Long encountered barely passable roads, the crumbling concrete remains of Communist-era block apartments and caged bears at most every gas station. His luggage was shrink-wrapped by airport security so nothing would be stolen in transit.

Despite enormous strides, Russia's culture remains totally different from ours, said Dinah Adkins, president of the Athens, Ohio-based National Business Incubation Association. It starts with the most basic concepts.

"Nobody owned their house, let alone a business. So there's no history of ownership. And you can't have a business without ownership," she said. "You have to have someone who isn't just a worker bee, but who wants to create a company and make it grow."

Another Tyumen State delegation will visit Indianapolis next month, once again to gain insights from Long and his colleagues on how to build a "technopark."

Indiana Secretary of Commerce Nathan Feltman is excited to meet them. Fluent in Russian, Feltman cut his teeth in that country as a young lawyer. He spent the early 1990s there working on emerging disputes over business rights as it began moving to a market economy.

"Russia has a tremendously strong educational system, in terms of engineering expertise, high-tech expertise. Some of the strongest talent in the world," Feltman said. "If you can tap into the right laboratories

and universities and get the right contacts,

there are some phenomenal opportunities."
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