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MIOGE Preview interview: Marat Zaydullin, Head of the Skolkovo Oil & Gas Centre

Skolkovo is Russia’s knowledge powerhouse. The hi-tech city outside Moscow continues Russia’s proud tradition of taking scientific research seriously, and coming up with the technologies to enhance oil and gas production is top of the priority list. This explains the Skolkovo foundation’s participation at MIOGE – the cluster is bringing its resident companies to network, meet new suppliers and develop new technologies. Marat Zaydullin, Head of the Skolkovo Oil & Gas Centre, spoke to the MIOGE team about what the foundation is up to.

Mr Zaydullin, what do the cluster of energy-efficiency technologies do, which sectors are these technologies being developed for, and how much are they in demand today?

Skolkovo is an innovation centre, a vast site that will finally be completed by 2021-2022, while the Oil & Gas Centre is only one of the areas. The goal of the centre is to support Russia's innovation-based development in five areas: IT technologies, space, telecommunications, nuclear energy-efficient and biomedical technologies, and also agriculture.

The energy-efficiency segment includes several areas: “the generation, transmission and storage of energy”, including such trends over recent years as Smart Grid, Smart City, etc. The second area relates to the energy efficiency of consumers – major industrial companies, the utilities sector and other related sectors. And the third major topic where the Oil & Gas Centre operates as part of the Cluster of Energy-Efficient Technologies concerns everything related to hydrocarbon production, processing and transportation. Accordingly, our objective is to support innovative projects, implemented both by small companies, start-ups, and also large companies. There are two formats for residents: the first consists of start-ups, including more than 1,500 already operating at Skolkovo, and approximately 120 companies in the Oil & Gas Centre. The second concerns the research centres of our partners. Major companies can become our partners and also locate their own R&D divisions here and receive the same benefits and preferences as start-ups. The latter also receive, inter alia, other preferences (grants, assistance with the search for investments, partners and test units).

What is the demand for new developments?

Demand is growing with every passing year. It is not easy to become a Skolkovo resident. To do so, you need the conclusions of experts, who assess the competitiveness of the developments, their innovativeness, commercial appeal, etc. Consequently resident companies have already undergone rigorous screening. In most cases, these are high-quality developments that are already scalable. There are numerous projects and they are at different stages: someone can turn with up with a project at the level of an idea and drawings. However, if the team has a certain concept and development plan, they can become a resident, create a company and receive support. Some companies already have their own business, but have decided to develop further and create new versions of products – they can also become Skolkovo residents. The maturity range of projects is high, and we have numerous success stories. In 2016 more than 15 participants of the Oil & Gas Centre sold their products and services abroad, and their number continues to rise.

Do you receive a lot of applications?

Approximately a third of all submitted applications are accepted. However, only one in every ten applications ends up receiving financing. Far more serious expert analysis is performed at this stage. Therefore, one of the key objectives of the centre is to enable Russia to become an exporter of technologies.

Describe in more detail the projects developing technologies - from the exploration and production of hydrocarbons to an increase in energy efficiency in the oil and gas industry.

Today approximately 150 companies are proposing technologies for the oil & gas sector. Our wards – start-ups – have recently started to be perceived more and more positively. I have already observed for several years how large oil & gas companies are revising their attitudes to small innovative companies for the better. The brand of Skolkovo Foundation may also have played a role here. The key companies of the sector know that the projects proposed by the Foundation operate at a high technological level and are backed by a competent team. We have established partnership relations with virtually all the consumers – vertically integrated oil companies, oil field service and engineering companies, and also equipment producers.

Let me cite Gazprom Neft as the brightest example of mutual partnership relations. We signed a partnership agreement with the company and determined a figure on the number of technologies ready for implementation that we should present. Every six months we hold meetings with Gazprom Neft where projects are considered, with 40-50% of developments being implemented.

Do you provide recommendations on the specific projects that should be implemented?

In most instances we know about the requirements of our partners and select candidates. There are numerous successful examples. In oil refining I can cite the company РРТ from Saint Petersburg, which offers oil-refining technologies that are second to none globally. We have facilitated the launch of technologies on international markets – China, India, and other countries, in other words technologies that we helped them develop through grants are already being implemented all over the world.  Approximately 60% of our oil & gas residents operate in the production sector, about 10% are developing hydrocarbon system transportation technologies, while 30% are developing oil-refining technologies. Let me cite one example of a successful production company, although this is not exactly a start-up - the oil field service company TGT Oilfield Services, which operated initially in Tatarstan, but has now expanded internationally. They are serial innovators – they also own an R&D centre in Kazan, and seven resident subsidiaries in Skolkovo. We are ready to support such teams, inter alia through grants that two projects of the company have already received.  This is a shining example illustrating that comparatively large companies themselves, which were not so long ago former start-ups and have ideas, may come to Skolkovo and receive support.

Are they only Russian companies? For the time being foreign companies are not buying such projects?

Of our oil & gas residents in 2016, 12 companies worked abroad. We try to expand the geography of their footprint, advise them on how to access the international market and support them in this area. 

Can foreign start-ups come to Skolkovo and obtain support?

We are interested in this, we are seeking small and medium-sized innovative companies that would like to access the Russian market, but such instances are few and far between.

This is not the first year that Skolkovo Foundation is participating in MIOGE. How would you rate the effectiveness of participation? How is the exhibition helping the Cluster? The developments shown at Skolkovo’s stand always elicit significant interest. Why is it important to showcase products at the exhibition?

All our resident companies, which participate in MIOGE and exhibitions abroad, are content, but we find it hard to measure the effectiveness of participation in monetary terms. It transpires that there are numerous useful contacts, and interest is also very high. At our stand each time we showcase a new set of 10-12 truly innovative technologies. Our exposition is always interesting for visitors. Skolkovo’s residents receive numerous contacts. The sales cycle in the oil & gas sector is fairly long, and a contact obtained in 2015 may only be transformed into a commercial order several years later. For me, the measure of successful participation at the exhibition is represented by the desire to participate in the next year. It is often the case that they participate one year, but don’t want to in the next. At MIOGE we have always three companies competing for each space.  

This interview is a translation of a Russian article that originally appeared in Neftegaz.ru.

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