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Sergey Dutov: “Sustainable development is becoming a valuable asset and part of the business.”

Sergey Dutov: “Sustainable development is becoming a valuable asset and part of the business.”
Skolkovo Foundation launches an international program to include startups in the global agenda. The program of innovative projects “Global Challenge – Artificial Intelligence for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” aims to show the world the solutions of Russian startups in AI. Applications to participate in the program are accepted until August 18, inclusive.
Международная программа «Глобальный Вызов - Искусственный интеллект для ЦУР»
г. Москва, тер. Сколково инновационного центра, ул. Луговая, д. 4
+ 7 495 956 00 33
28.07.2020

Skolkovo Foundation launches an international program to include startups in the global agenda. The program of innovative projects “Global Challenge – Artificial Intelligence for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” aims to show the world the solutions of Russian startups in AI. Applications to participate in the program are accepted until August 18, inclusive. The Chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation Arkady Dvorkovich will chair the program’s jury panel. Why do startups need to deal with the sustainable development agenda, which countries are waiting for surprising Russian solutions, and how AI will solve the ocean problems?

The SDGs are 17 items set by the United Nations until 2030. The list of issues to be addressed includes poverty, hunger, education, water resources management, economic growth, responsible consumption and production, climate action, and others.

The Russian research company Marine Innovation LLC, which focuses on the development of new technologies in the field of fiber-optic, sensor, hydro- and seismoacoustic and information technologies with the application in non-military marine technology, became the partner of the nomination “Goal No. 14 — Life Below Water” in the first stage of the program.

The next stages will be held from September to November 2020. At that time, there will be individual consultations for startups with mentors, shareholders and founders of the largest IT companies, international business missions (online), the acceleration product development program, and the VUCA MBA educational program with the participation of Russian technology companies from among the partners of the Skolkovo Foundation IT Cluster. Projects-participants will have the opportunity to learn more about the markets of Switzerland, China, Singapore, South Africa, and the United States.

Following the results of the program, there will be five grants awarded to participate in the Tech Explorer acceleration program by the Skolkovo Foundation IT Cluster. Sergey Dutov, Director of Business Development and Industrial Partners of Skolkovo Foundation IT Cluster told Forbes more about the program.

— How many nominations are in the program?

— Now we are announcing the first — “Life Below Water” — and we plan to gradually introduce new nominations. We do not want to blur the focus of technology companies and offer many directions at once. In addition, the main project idea is cross-industrial. We want to show that the same technologies can be used in completely different industries and open up new markets for startups. At the start, we specifically focus on marine innovations, one of the most difficult and closed industries for startups. For many companies, it is not obvious that their technologies can be used in the marine industry. They do not know what the challenges are and our partners will help to clarify them.

— And what are the current challenges for marine technology startups?

— There is a UNESCO Seabed 2030 Project on digitization of the World Ocean floor. Today, humanity has a detailed map of the lunar surface, but no detailed map of the ocean floor. The digital twin of World Ocean will allow us to make informed decisions on the use of water resources, marine culture, and navigation. Many of the business objectives revolve around infrastructure, the digital model. In many industries, digital models have become the standard, and there is still a blank sheet in the marine industry planned to be filled with data just by 2030.

Our companies have a good technological groundwork to address this issue. Computer vision companies can use their technology to analyze signals from marine vessel sensors, fish behaviour, fishing, floor structure, to search for sunk vessels or anything else. New markets may emerge one after another immediately after the digital model of the ocean floor is created.

— How and when will the new nominations be included in the project?

— We are negotiating with four other potential partners on individual goals-nominations. These are current Skolkovo Foundation Partners, precisely the country’s key banks and major IT companies.

All of them are interested in developing specific areas: education, smart cities, and the use of land resources. They will be able to set particular specialized tasks for startups in the framework of the UN goals.

We plan to make this program annual and regularly update the map of Russian AI cases in the field of SDGs, which will be created in 2020. As a result, we will have a clear manual: where companies should start in various industries, what are the proven technologies that have been selected by an authoritative jury.

— Which of the 17 SDGs are of prime interest to startups?

— There are three most popular directions: Quality Education (Goal No. 4), Good Health and Well-Being (Goal No. 3), and Sustainable Cities and Communities (Goal No. 11). The choice is clear: these are the basic people needs, so it would be a lot easier to commercialize them, find a customer represented by the end user, business or the state. All three models work in these directions.

Directions such as combating climate change, marine ecosystems, or clean water involve solely B2G markets, less often B2B markets. They are invisible to technology companies, but the potential of these markets is great. Therefore, we want to draw attention to different directions.

— The second stage of the project involves online international business missions for projects ready to enter the markets of Switzerland, China, Singapore, South Africa, and the United States. How can you help companies in these markets?

— Missions will include three directions. The first is local government support. We are cooperating with each of the countries with the support of local associations for the development of international businesses and startups. The second direction is the largest companies in the region, namely exploring local businesses. In the third direction, we attract local business schools. They will represent their countries for our projects, tell us about obvious mistakes when entering a certain region and best practices in a particular country. It will be a three-day event and each day will be dedicated to one of the directions.

— You do communicate a lot with startups. How many of them are aware of sustainable development and the 17 goals? How do you pitch startups on this topic?

— The main objective of Skolkovo is to increase the startup revenues, including international. Therefore, my main pitch is: sustainable development is an additional opportunity to develop business with large corporations. However, almost no one knows the abbreviation of SDGs among startups.

The UN goals are defined until 2030. Thanks to them, even in the face of the current operational difficulties, companies may maintain their strategic goals and development vector, and improve their international positioning. The same company can produce computer vision technology for enterprise access control systems and by reversing the positioning use the same technology for non-contact access control to reduce viral infections. The company gets new customers. The technology is the same, but it can be sold as an access control system or a way to reduce the morbidity of company employees.

— And if we try another tack: how much importance would you say corporations give to sustainable development? For some, these are probably just marketing hooks...

— Today this is a key issue raised by business shareholders. Each company responds to it individually and differently. But you will not find international companies that have been developing for decades and do not consider sustainable development important. Each company views sustainable development in its own way: focus might be on cooperation with the local community or environment protection. This is an internal decision of each corporation, so there is no universal answer to this question.

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The ecosystem for global development
and interaction of Russian AI projects