Technology: Vanity or visionary?


Internet billionaires are backing futuristic ventures that may either herald a new era of scientific innovation or prove an exercise in hubris
Financial Times - Entrepreneurship

The Russian government is spending billions of dollars to manufacture startup culture.

Skolkovo is a science park outside of Moscow that aims to be the “Russian Silicon Valley.” It is the country’s largest state-sponsored innovation hub, and it will receive around $ 4 billion in state funding between now and 2020.

Skolkovo Foundation president Viktor Vekselberg said he expects to raise more than $ 11 billion in private investment by 2020 and that Skolkovo will not need government financing after 2025. He also predicted that this “innovation city” will contribute $ 6.5 billion to Russia’s economy over that time period, and he ultimately hopes it will add $ 45 billion to national GDP.

Skolkovo was announced in 2009 by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. It has been called his “pet project” and a “pipe dream.” He has taken measures, such as special tax and regulatory breaks and easing immigration policies, to provide an “oasis” from Russia’s notoriously inefficient bureaucracy and get Skolkovo running. The Foundation involves a business school, office space for hundreds of startups, and as many as 15,000 scientists. There are also plans for corporate research-and-development centers, with interest from companies including Cisco, Nokia, and Microsoft.

The goal was to help transition Russia into the digital age and cement it as a global technological and economic leader. It is also intended to foster innovation in a country long plagued by a “one-dimensional economy.” Russia has a wealth of scientific and technical talent, but its cultural legacy (and corruption) does not promote entrepreneurialism, and many talented people leave for other, more vibrant environments.

However, it faces some roadblocks. Last year an investigation found examples of “questionable financial practices,” and some of the Foundation’s leaders were fired. Russian tech news site East West Digital News reported that there were widespread rumors of Skolkovo’s “imminent demise.” People around the world have expressed skepticism about whether it is possible to artificially create a tech hub. Furthermore, is it possible to promote a free-thinking, innovative, experimental atmosphere with heavy involvement from the Russian government?

Russia has around 100 billionaires and the world’s eighth largest economy. It has the largest Internet and mobile market in Europe, and its consumer market is growing fast. Venture capital is now available in Russia with a number of domestic and international firms making investments.

However, money (and talent) only get you so far. VentureBeat contributor Elmira Bayrasli wrote that the single greatest obstacle to economic growth in Russia is “the government’s crushing of the innovative spirit that is the essential prerequisite to entrepreneurship.” Skolkovo may be designed as a bubble that protects and nurtures entrepreneurs, but people are still wary of consequences for pushing the boundaries.

In the meantime, billions of dollars helps.

Filed under: Business, Deals, Entrepreneur
VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Rebecca Grant

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Hey Billionaires, Now You Can Park Your Car in the Living Room [VIDEO]

Living in a city is all glitz and glam, but having to park your car in a garage is one of the downsides. But don't fret for long. If you head to Singapore, you can park your car in -- where else? -- your living room.

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The science of Spiderman: theoretically, he’s possible [VIDEO]

He’s less brooding than Batman, and slightly more ruffled than Superman. Spiderman is one of the classic Stan Lee superhero creations.

However, are superheroes possible? I’m not talking about the real life superheroes that are roaming various cities across America, and around the world.

Batman and Ironman, definitely possible. We just need some billionaires with a penchant for justice. One all broody, one a genius, playboy – and we’ve got them sorted.

However, are the superheroes that are more than just charm and gadgets possible?

In this video from AsapSCIENCE, Mitchell Moffit take a look at the science behind Spiderman. In theory, if a nasty spider bite gave him a retrovirus, then yes, he could be real. Sure, he’d have hairy palms which may be a bit of a turn off for Mary Jane.

It just goes to show you that with the right thinking, the right information and logic applied, almost anything may be possible. Dream on Anthillians!

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Anthill Magazine
Jen Storey

Buffett, Zuckerberg & the Meeting of Billionaires

Allen & Co.'s annual conference in Sun Valley, Idaho has a billionaire guest list. Check out which of Silicon Valley's most famous are expected to be there.

Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, and Warren Buffett walk into a room in Idaho…

It's not the start of a bad joke, just a glimpse of the guest list for Allen & Co.'s annual media conference next week in Sun Valley, Idaho, reported Bloomberg.

The Lakeland, Florida-based investment bank hosts the annual high-profile conference, which also counts Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Apple CEO Tim Cook among expected guests.

The event, now in its 19th year, is closed to the public, and the schedule is top secret. But for the last two decades, the event has served as a casual gathering for top media executives and billionaires from all industries to discuss deals. And more and more, those billionaires are Silicon Valley’s most powerful players.

For example, last year, Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker met Zuckerberg, CEO of Face book, at the meeting. Soon after Zuckerberg donated $ 100 million to Newark schools.

This year, tech investors Marc Andreessen and Peter Thiel are also reportedly expected to show up, in addition to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and Yahoo CEO Ross Levinsohn.

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Inc.com
Caitlin Berens

Wickr email app: military-grade, secure, biodegradable, and completely useless?

I don’t know about you, but I have always wanted “secure, military grade communications.” Not that I want to do anything mind-bogglingly stupid Anthony Wiener-style, or that I’m planning the imminent violent overthrow of western civilization.

Mainly just because it sounds cool.

That’s the promise of new iPhone app Wickr, which says that “the internet is forever, but your data doesn’t have to be.” The company’s slogan is Leave No Trace.

Well, never fear, because I’ve deleted the app from my phone. How’s that for no trace?

I was fairly excited at first: totally secure, completely private, I can erase my own emails on your device. I imagined setting an auto-destruct for 10 seconds, sending a friend a 10-page treatise on the mating habits of Visayan warty pigs, then laughing uncontrollably.

Juvenile, I know.

But that’s what the words “military grade” and “tactical” do to men: make them stupid.

Wickr, of course, is made by seriously smart people. Security guru Dan Kaminsky served as an advisor to the team, Forbes tells us breathlessly. Co-founder Robert Statica is the director of the center for information protection at New Jersey Institute of Technology. He even has good reviews on RateMyProfessor, although his profile pic might be a little Silence of the Lambs for some.

But there’s one small fly in this ointment of bursting intelligence.

The app only works if you’re sending email to people who already have a Wickr account. Which means that the first day you get this app, it is completely and utterly useless. To bring back an old network effects example, it’s like having precisely one fax machine. Uno. Eins. Un.

I guess you could email yourself.

Wickr says that the app is in use by many people in many different walks of life:

Wickr is used by reporters, sources, senators, cops, freedom fighters, doctors, patients, lawyers, bankers, military, intel, boards, billionaires, celebs and college students.”

And I have no doubt that if I was a billionaire, I’d probably be able to force all my business associates, friends, and family to use whatever bloody email software I want, dammit.

But how on earth as a journalist can I ask my sources to not email me, not phone me, not Skype me, but instead have an iPhone, find an app, download it, create an account, connect with me, and then (and only then) communicate with me.

Not likely.

Of course, I may be completely wrong (and I know I can count on all of you tell me just how wrong I am, in the comments.)

Nico Sell, one of Wickr’s co-founders, responded to my emailed request for more information about how, precisely, the company was going to get scale, go big, and make the app useful for the first-time user.

“You must invite your friends to make it useful.  This is why it is viral.  Remember though, it is a free app that just takes a minute to set up with an easy invite feature.”

And maybe I’m all wet. Wckr seems to be doing something right. Sell continued, saying:

“We are already seeing hockey stick growth curve.  Wickr is currently the 16th most popular social app right after Google+ and before FourSquare and Bump!!!  People are going crazy for Wickr.”

That is astonishing. My curmudgeonly take? It’s temporary — due to a major publicity push — and will not last. My bet is that people use email for too many things and too many people to switch just for a few private messages to one particular app — especially with no Android version (yet) and no desktop app.

Am I wrong?

Sell’s email, by the way, is still in my inbox. I think I’ll keep it there for a while … just as long as I want to.

For those who are interested, here’s a visual tour through Wickr, right from the start:

Image credit: Vault/ShutterStock

Filed under: Entrepreneur, mobile, offBeat, social, VentureBeat
VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
John Koetsier