According to Alexei Beltyukov, Russia has changed a great deal in his lifetime—and nearly all of that change has been for the better. For an example, look no further than to the increasingly progressive views that Russia takes toward tech entrepreneurship. The Russia of today has next to nothing in common with the Russia of Beltyukov’s youth, as far as this is concerned.
Then again, Alexei Beltyukov was technically born into the Soviet Union, which did not crumble until he was already a young man. In the Soviet days, small business ownership was non-existent in Russia. In fact, entrepreneurship was considered, in those days, to be criminal.
Things have changed, and according to Beltyukov, they changed virtually over night. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, everything was different. Suddenly, entrepreneurship was not only allowed, but also encouraged.
Alexei Beltyukov believes that his own story mirrors the broader story of Russia itself. Once he learned that it was possible for him to make his own way, he became flush with ideas. He tried everything—from street vending to professional translation services—before ultimately launching a series of successful businesses. All of this hard work was motivated by what he refers to as his own, Russian equivalent of the American Dream.
This new, entrepreneur-friendly Russia may seem, at first glance, like a totally positive development. It is positive, mostly, yet there are still some growing pains that the country is going through. One of the biggest ones is that, in the country’s small business sector, corruption remains a big problem.
There are many potential explanations for this. What it largely boils down to is that there is not much of a history for ethical business practice in Russia. As such, it is all too easy—and far too common—for a few unethical people to make problems for everyone else.
As for Alexei Beltyukov, he currently spends much of his time devoted to helping his fellow entrepreneurs—and part of his mission is to fight back against corruption.
Beltyukov is one of the founding fathers of the Skolkovo Foundation. The Skolkovo Foundation was established by the Russian government, a few years back, with the mission of improving the economy by empowering small business owners. As Beltyukov likes to say, the Skolkovo Foundation provides entrepreneurs in technology areas with the opportunities that he himself never had.
The services offered by the foundation are many, and they include consultation, technological incubation, and more. Most significant, perhaps, is the level of grant money that the organization doles out. Hundreds of Russian businesses have already benefitted from grants and tax breaks, awarded by the Skolkovo Foundation.
The grant money provided by the Skolkovo Foundation is obviously advantageous for the companies that receive it. There is a downside to it, though: In a sector that is already plagued by corruption, distributing grant money could potentially open the doors to further abuse.
Thankfully, this is not the case. The Skolkovo Foundation has built several anti-corruption policies into its application process. In all aspects of its process, it seeks to uphold the standards of fairness and nonpartisanship.
Some of the specific anti-corruption measures include:
- According to Alexei Beltyukov, the application process begins when the business owner or aspiring scientist fills out an online application form. Through this process, everything is conducted totally via the Internet. At no stage is there ever any human contact. Far from being a detriment, this is actually an advantage; it ensures that there is never any real chance for bribery. An added advantage is that in a country like Russia, spanning several time zones, this online process encourages participation of applicants from remote places.
- From there, applications are carefully reviewed by a team of independent science and business experts. None of these reviewers are employees of the Skolkovo Foundation, and none have any connection to the applicants themselves. In fact, many of them do not even live in Russia. There is no chance of favoritism or corruption here.
- Finally, grant monies are awarded by a separate committee. This committee is made up of distinguished professors, ex-statesmen and businessmen. Again, they have no affiliation with Skolkovo or with the applicants; again, affirms Alexei Beltyukov, no room for bribery or corruption.
So far, the Skolkovo Foundation has been successful in helping small technology businesses to form and grow. More than 5,000 have applied. Of those, a thousand or so have been deemed worthy of support. Grants have been awarded to more than 200 and counting. In helping small businesses, Skolkovo is also promoting a new Russia—one in which entrepreneurial spirits are allowed to thrive.
Just as importantly, the organization is building a Russian economy in which corruption is simply not tolerated—something Alexei Beltyukov is particularly proud of.