After several years of regional “inward looking” Kendrick White, the American venture capitalist who more than a decade ago set up in Nizhny Novgorod one of Russia’s first private companies to focus wholly on tech innovation entrepreneurship and who two years ago, with a renewed U.S.-Russia enmity at high tide, found himself entangled in a media-provoked scandal, is once again resurfacing on Russia’s national innovation arena. He spent a few years helping out innovators at Nizhny’s Lobachevsky University, but everyone reaches a point in life when turning over a new leaf becomes vital. So the ex-advisor to the Lobachevsky rector and his Marchmont are setting sights on broader horizons—despite the mire of problems crippling Russia’s economy and impairing its global role. Maybe, it’s not the right time for another daring endeavor? In an interview, he sounded positive: for him, the move is well-timed.
You’ve left Lobachevsky and refocused on Marchmont in an effort to re-pursue your original cause. What are you near- and mid-term plans with the company and its long-standing friends?
Marchmont has continued to be active promoting innovation economy in the last five years, and I intend to make it more active now in connecting with regionally based innovation entrepreneurs and ecosystem players around the country. I want to increase my activity interacting with those regional innovation ecosystems in order to re-establish my relationships with people across the country. I have spent the last five years focused on Nizhny Novgorod—now I want to reach out to key regional innovation movers and shakers.
I also intend to spend much more time in Moscow, connecting with my friends, colleagues, the investment community and the financial business community there. I’m going to redouble my efforts to continue to create a national network of innovation ecosystems. That will be Marchmont’s primary focus and drive.
What do you think are the worst wrenches the current economic and political situation has thrown into the works of Russia’s tech innovators and innovation support institutions?
I think the biggest wrench is the lack of certainty regarding government finances. What will happen with restructuring programs, for example, the 5/100 program for universities, or the Agency for Strategic Initiatives’ NTI University 3.0 program—and with the leadership of these programs? Many people are holding their breath, waiting to see what’s going to happen next and if the government is going to finance these extremely important initiatives. Without government backing of long-term structural reforms focusing on universities and their key role in promoting and developing innovation economy in Russia these programs cannot succeed. And this is not about short-term financing; this is about long-term financing to support the development of advanced technologies.
If Russia wants to restructure its economy and modernize, it has to create an innovation ecosystem foundation and platform, from which regional innovation entrepreneurs can create and develop their businesses here rather than being forced to leave the country in a brain drain.
So I’m waiting also to see what the government will do. To me it’s completely unclear what direction it will go in, so I’m anxious just like all other people. In any case, I’m here in Russia many years now, I intend to stay in Russia, and I intend for me and my company Marchmont Capital Partners to continue to push for the proper development of innovation economy and the necessary structural laws that need to be established to encourage universities to play the key role they have to play in this economy.
How do you envision your possible contribution to the resolving of these problems at the present stage? Is there any possibility to help undo the damage the current economic and political crisis has inflicted?
Well, of course, I’m extremely disappointed by the political tensions between the U.S. and Russia. My effort over almost 25 years in Russia has been to bring the U.S. and Russia closer. The current political crisis is extremely dangerous, from my standpoint. The only way the world can heal itself from the present infirmity is if the U.S. and Russia begin to work together to jointly solve these problems.
I will do everything I can to try and form common understandings on problems where the two nations don’t have conflicts of interests. If I can help the Americans understand Russia better, I will definitely put my energy to that; if I can help the Russians understand the American position better, I’m absolutely happy to do that and play a role as a bridge between the two cultures. That’s what I always try to do, and that’s what I will continue to do.