Materialisation of intellect
[b]Belarus becoming large exporter of IT and other innovations [/b]In Soviet times, the Akadem-gorodok (town for academicians) was established close to Minsk’s ring road. One after another, new buildings were erected to house the most promising research institutions, with their own design bureaus and production lines. The High-Tech Park (HTP) has been operating on the site for five years now, being the first of its kind in Belarus and in all of Eastern and Central Europe to specialise in software development.
In Soviet times, the Akadem-gorodok (town for academicians) was established close to Minsk’s ring road. One after another, new buildings were erected to house the most promising research institutions, with their own design bureaus and production lines. The High-Tech Park (HTP) has been operating on the site for five years now, being the first of its kind in Belarus and in all of Eastern and Central Europe to specialise in software development.
“For Belarus, this is quite a promising avenue, since it requires no metal, oil or other raw materials — deposits of which we lack or which exist only in small volumes,” explains Valery Tsepkalo, who initiated the HTP project and now heads its administration. “Intellect is the major driving force here. At present, over 90 companies work at the Park, employing around 9,500 programmers — a figure comparable to the staff of a large factory, such as the Belarusian Automobile Works. Every year, our economic activity grows by 75-100 percent; in 2010, we exported $200m of goods — up 4-fold on 2005. American and Canadian firms are buying about 40 percent of our output, followed by companies from the European Union. Our partners include the largest corporations and banks from all over the world — like Coca-Cola.”
The state has given its support, with most money spent on infrastructure. The focus is on attracting foreign investors and, to create a favourable micro-climate for them, the HTP has drawn on similar experience from Ireland, Singapore, India, China and elsewhere, with tax preferences for firms operating within the HTP. Each pays reduced VAT and income tax (especially important in the IT sphere). Moreover, the Park offers a range of services for start-up companies, helping with construction of new buildings and giving financial and accounting advice.
The major advantage of the HTP is its ability to offer privileges to its companies regardless of their ‘nationality’. It can adapt to new economic conditions, allowing it to find clients and specialists, while offering guidance to young companies, with privileged rental rates for start-ups. Moreover, trips abroad are organised to help firms meet potential customers; Belarusian embassies help the HTP greatly in this respect.
“We focus on finding and training specialists,” continues Mr. Tsepkalo. “About 30 laboratories operate at Belarus’ leading universities, with students working on applied tasks to give them valuable experience. By the time they graduate, most of these talented young people have several options for employment. There was a time when our IT graduates felt obliged to seek work abroad but that’s not the case now. The HTP offers interesting and well paid jobs, in addition to the opportunity to perfect foreign languages. About ten percent of working hours are spent on foreign trips. Meanwhile, foreign firms make fewer overtures to poach our specialists. The average age of the High-Tech Park’s staff is 30.”
New buildings are now being constructed near the High-Tech Park. These are likely to attract new Belarusian and foreign companies.
The example of the High-Tech Park is typical for Belarus, which is steadily following the path of innovative economic development. According to the Deputy Chairman of the State Committee for Science and Technologies of Belarus, Vladimir Nedilko, from 2011-2015 the priority will be given to space, information-communication, bio- and nano-technologies and nuclear energy. “Every year, Belarusian universities train thousands of highly qualified specialists in over 70 areas of information-communication technologies. This owes much to the fact that the country has many firms and organisations involved in the development of software, in addition to companies that use these products. However, the biggest demand comes from abroad,” he says.
A similar point of view is expressed by foreign specialists as well. Among these is the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, Hamadoun Tourй. Recently, he highly praised the potential of Belarus in the field of high-tech development, as well as our system of technical education. According to Mr Tourй, the information society development programmes initiated in Belarus are in line with global trends; the High-Tech Park’s successful development is a good example.
Experts consider that, by 2015, the Belarusian IT industry will be able to ensure earnings of at least $7bn a year. This goal is envisaged by a draft national programme for establishing a global software development centre in Belarus. Its authors hope to increase the number of specialists employed in the Belarusian IT industry to 300,000. To implement these plans by 2015, global standards of education and certification would have to be integrated into the system of staff training and re-training. Igor Mamonenko, the Director General of Belarusian BelHard (among the largest domestic companies), says that it is more profi-
table to outsource in the initial stages. Currently, one working hour of a Belarusian specialist costs $15. If Belarus launches its own software projects, then this figure would rise to $50, while the volume of our IT industry might exceed $20bn.
To achieve these ambitious goals, Belarusian companies plan to exploit international experience in IT training. For example, the QAI Global Institute (in Orlando, USA) is ready to offer the highest standard of training for IT specialists. Its Head, Thomas Ticknor, recently held a meeting with representatives of Belarus’ Ministries of Communication and Information and Education, during which a memorandum of understanding was signed. In 2011, the American Institute is to train IT specialists, using its own methods. Previously, it had trained 13 Belarusian lecturers who will in turn train others. “We wish to bring not only our technical experience to Belarus, but also knowledge in the field of business process organisation,” explains Mr. Ticknor.
By 2015, at least half of Belarus’ GDP should come from high-tech and science intensive products. This expectation was recently voiced by Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich at a session of the National Academy of Sciences’ general meeting. The Academy is to become a catalyst of new innovative processes, such as sci-tech production. It will launch new large scientific-productive centres — i.e. optics related — to continue the development of fundamental and applied research. By 2015, the National Academy of Sciences’ exports of innovative technologies, equipment and services should reach $300m. State financing of fundamental science will increase simultaneously.
All these targets have a common state-level goal: to raise Belarus’ living standards to average European levels by 2015.
By Vladimir Bibikov