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Skolkovo, Russia's Would-Be Silicon Valley

Several billion dollars says there will soon be a rival to Silicon Valley. Only one problem: It's in Russia.

The Skolkovo Moscow School of Management, with its hypermodern cylindrical and rectangular complex sheathed in red, gray, and blue-green glass, looks like the Battlestar Galactica. And that is the point: to convey a sense of imminent takeoff. Skolkovo, five years old and located just beyond the MKAD, the beltway that wraps around Moscow, is training the first generation of Russian capitalists—not oligarchs, who took things that once belonged to the Soviet state and made a fortune selling them, but boot-strapping and scholarship-endowed DIY wealth creators. It also says it’s the first MBA program that teaches would-be entrepreneurs—from Russia as well as the U.S., Germany, Finland, and elsewhere—how to launch businesses in emerging markets. Business school officials like to point out that, from the air, Skolkovo resembles a painting by the Soviet abstract artist Kazimir Malevich, who was famous for doing things that had never been done.

The business school is across the street from a huge, mostly empty lot that is the future site of the Skolkovo “Inograd,” or innovation city, also known as the Silicon Valley of Russia. Together, the school (providing young, savvy business people) and the Silicon Valley of Russia (promising money and lots of engineers, programmers, mathematicians, and physicists) are expected to create Russia’s very own high-tech sector, which will generate tens of billions of dollars and help diversify an economy that is overly dependent on oil and gas. Steven Geiger, the chief operating officer of the Skolkovo Foundation, which oversees the innovation city, puts it modestly: “Skolkovo is the most exciting technological initiative in the world—full stop.”