By Vladimir Yakovlev
In Soviet times, the Akademgorodok (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 experienced production. The High-Tech Park 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 specialising in software development.
“For Belarus, this is quite a promising avenue, since it requires no metal, oil or other raw materials — whose deposits 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, like the Belarusian Automobile Works. Every year, our economic activity grows 1.5-2-fold and, in 2010, it reached $200m. Five years ago, Belarus exported 4 times less software. American and Canadian firms are buying about 40 percent of our produce, followed by companies from the European Union. Our partners include the largest corporations and banks from all over the world.”
The state has given its support, with most money spent on infrastructure and focus given to attracting foreign investors. 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 for 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 consultations.
The major advantage of the HTP is its ability to offer privileges to its companies regardless of their ‘nationality’. They can adapt to new economic conditions, allowing them to find clients and specialists. The Park also offers beneficial guardianship 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.”