In the second in our “Meet the Innovator” Q&A series, Russian innovator Vladimir Khryashchev, co-founder and CEO of 27Faces, offers advice on how other Russian entrepreneurs can bring innovative new technologies to the global market.
Russia’s start-up technology companies are being forced to adjust to the new reality of economic sanctions and a deteriorating U.S.-Russian relationship. In some cases, tech conferences are being cancelled or potential partnership opportunities are disappearing. But while the two nations’ top diplomats and leaders may not agree on how to move forward, it’s still possible to find unique examples of collaboration within the science and technology fields.
In this Q&A, serial entrepreneur Vladimir Khryashchev, co-founder and CEO of 27Faces, explains how a unique U.S.-Russian collaboration within the technology sector has opened the door for his company’s future expansion. According to Khryashchev, it all started with the spinning off of cutting-edge lab R&D work from Yaroslavl State University in the field of image processing and computer vision into a new entrepreneurial venture based on facial recognition. This venture, 27Faces, eventually attracted Russian state funding as well as support from the U.S.-Russia Innovation Corridor (USRIC).
As such, 27Faces offers a potential template for other Russian tech companies that have the potential to emerge from the world-class R&D taking place in Russia’s scientific and technical universities. As RD outlined in its Report, "The Future of Russia's Innovation Economy,” the commercialization of academic R&D work is just one of the strategies for making Russia’s innovation potential a reality.
Below, Vladimir Khryashchev shares a few takeaway lessons for other Russian innovators.
Russia Direct: What was the role of the USRIC in helping to bring your Russian technology to the U.S. market?
Vladimir Khryashchev: As 27Faces, we had a chance to participate face-to-face in the USRIC program, in which we learned first-hand about the U.S. digital signage and digital-out-of-home market as well as patent information in our field of interest. What really stands out is that we participated in specific meetings, seminars and conferences in Washington, New York and Boston. As a result, USRIC specialists helped out to finalize the 27Faces pitch presentation and market overview.
Russia Direct: Can you briefly explain how the facial recognition technology works?
V.K.: The facial recognition technology scans the space in front of a digital display, showcase, or other point of interest, finds faces, identifies visual contact, and then determines the gender, age and mood of the viewers. 27Faces then converts the data into easy-to-read graphics for optimal customer analysis. This technology can be used almost anywhere - shops, restaurants, cafes, airports, buses, business centers – or installed in vending machines and interactive kiosks.
Russia Direct: From your vantage point, what impact - if any - have economic sanctions had on your ability to find partners in the U.S.?
V.K.: Clearly, we are concerned with current sanctions. In particular, the TechCrunch Moscow conference and start-up exhibition will not be taking place in December in Moscow. However, we are hopeful that relations in the field of science, technology and innovation would serve as a bridge between peoples and we would be able to move on.
Russia Direct: What are some of the organizations or institutions in Russia that have helped you to bring your technology to the U.S. or that have advised on the future direction of your business?
V.K.: We are getting support from the Fund for Assistance to Small Innovative Enterprises (FASIE) in Science and Technology [FASIE is also known as the Bortnik Fund - Editor’s Note]. We are also planning to become a resident Skolkovo company, which will allow us to open new doors of opportunities.
Russia Direct: What does Russia's tech sector need to do next to become another Silicon Valley?
V.K.: We understand that Silicon Valley cannot be built right away. It takes a long time, maybe 20-25 years. One of the many problems in the Russian market is the low social mobility of young people and a poor basic level of English.
Russia Direct: Who are some of your entrepreneurial role models, either in the U.S. or in Russia?
V.K.: I am a tech guy, and as such, I love the Yandex guys – especially Grigory Bakunov [Grigory Bakunov is Yandex’s Director of Technologies – Editor’s Note] – and the Twitter and Medium co-founders - Evan Williams and Biz Stone. If we talk about business in general, I like the stories of people from smaller countries – such as Sweden and Finland - who made their companies into a truly global giant. Thus, for example, companies like Nokia, IKEA or even H&M.
Russia Direct: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs in Russia attempting to expand globally (or at least, to the United States)?
V.K.: In order for your business to become global, you need to start thinking globally and open up your vision. You need to start travelling, attend international conferences and exhibitions, exchange ideas and learn from others. By spending your own time and money, you should not wait for the moment, a grant or a subsidy from the government. You should act NOW and go from your heart!
We're interested in hearing from other Russian and American innovators! If you have an interesting story of U.S.-Russian cooperation that you'd like to see in the "Meet the Innovator" series, please send an email to: email@example.com