Russia has experienced many political, economic and social upheavals in its history. Transitioning from the USSR to the Russian State may have been one of the most difficult. Nevertheless, the ingenuity, determination and optimism of the Russian people has remained a constant force, nurturing an entrepreneurial spirit that has birthed many well-known, international businessmen. We take a brief look at six of the most successful and emerging entrepreneurs in Russia today.
Dmitry Aksenov, 23 years old is co-founder of Digital Genius, a company that develops artificial intelligence platforms. Aksenov’s love of artificial intelligence and robotics began when he was a young boy. He left Russia to study at the University of London, a place he felt would more adequately nurture his love for robotics. DigitalGenius was designed to make customer service a better experience by replacing customer to human interaction with customer to AI interaction. Aksenov launched DigitalGenius in his dorm room, a typical high-tech guru story. He began with coffee shops, where customers could place orders, or ask questions about opening hours. He then moved on to providing the same experience via SMS. Today, DigitalGenius works across industries, everything from retailers, to car dealerships to financial institutions.
Ilya Sachkov is CEO and Founder of Group IB: Global Cyber Security Company. Sachkov, aged 29, launched his entrepreneurial career when he was only 17 years old. Group IB, founded in 2003, is the premier digital spy agency in Russia. Sachkov’s early jobs were in the field of information security, but this did not keep his attention. As he looked around for his next step, he stumbled upon an American book about computer crime. It lit the flame within him to become a cyber detective, leading to his eventual launching of Group IB. Sachkov, a graduate of Moscow State Technical University, is considered one of the foremost cyber detectives in the world. His company has expanded to other countries and is earning a very nice profit.
Dr. Serguei Beloussov has a 23 year history of internationally recognized success in funding, managing and launching global high-tech businesses in Europe, Asia and North America. He is Co-Founder and Senior Partner at Runa Capital, a venture capital firm that specializes in providing early and growth-stage seed money to the next generation of high-technology companies. Dr. Beloussov attended Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, where he received his BS in Physics in 1992, MS in Physical and Electrical Engineering in 1995 and a PhD in Computer Science in 2007. Currently Dr. Beloussov serves as CEO at the data protection and disaster recovery software company, Acronis. Dr. Beloussov’s foray into entrepreneurship began when he took a summer job as salesman at a computer company that sold used PC parts. His summer job ultimately morphed into owning a stake in the company that would become one of the largest electronics and PC retailers in Russia. Dr. Beloussov is a man of many hats, founding, funding or managing venture capital firms, high-technology companies, and cyber-security firms.
Anatoliy Pshegornitskiy entered the Russian corporate world at perhaps one of the bleakest times. Leaving the army after 10 years of service, Pshegornitskiy was faced with making his own way in a crumbling economy that came on the heels of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Fortunately, he had secured two degrees in electrical engineering from military school, and a degree in Economics from the University of Moscow while on active duty. Pshegornitskiy was also a successful and popular boxer during his time in the military.
Therefore, when he left the army, even though he had no money, he was able to put his degrees and fighting spirit to immediate use. Having a degree in engineering, and especially in electrical engineering elevated Pshegornitskiy to a more desirable pool of talent, and he quickly found employment as a construction engineer for energy companies.
A short time later, Pshegornitskiy was ready to launch out on his own, initiating several very successful electricity projects. His reputation spread and he was recruited to lead an electric grid construction conglomerate that consisted of roughly 100 subsidiaries. Under Anatoliy Pshegornitskiy leadership, the company improved its image and market reach, holding $1 billion in assets.
Dmitry Grishin is probably one of the most prolific entrepreneurs in Russia. Founder of Mail.ru, the most popular internet service in Russia, operating an email platform, a Facebook equivalent—Vkontakte, a messaging service and other digital platforms. But it doesn’t stop there. Grishin also moved into robotics with his startups: RobotsLab and Double Robotics. Grishin was born on what was then a Soviet missile base. His father designed secret systems for the MiG-29 fighter jet. As a young boy, he wanted to be an astronaut, but when he was 12 years old, robotics caught his imagination. When the Soviet Union came crashing down, Grishin headed to Moscow State Technical University with a few rubles in his pocket. It did not take him long to get on his feet. With a special talent for computer programming, Grishin easily secured employment, including managing programmers for a company in Florida, from his college dorm room in Russia. By 2012 he was able to launch Grishin Robotics with $25 million of his own funds.
Nikolai Zenoviev is another example of ingenuity in the face of challenging times. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant the loss of government-sponsored employment. Zenoviev took a job as a banker. The bank was filled with Russians such as himself—people with no banking degree or experience. Everyone was looking for a safe job with steady income. Not content simply to survive, Zenoviev set about learning everything he could about banking and in short time, he was managing the bank’s foreign currency department. Keenly aware that there was really no room for growth at the bank, Zenoviev left and became employed with an USAID investment fund. Around this time, the Russian economy was crashing again. The ruble tumbled, business capital was becoming extremely scarce, the price on imports was out of reach and in the midst of all of this, Zenoviev had the vision to see an opportunity for a successful business. In 1999, with $200,000 from the investment fund he was managing, he opened Delta Leasing, one of the first leasing companies in Russia. Within a year, he opened an office in Moscow and other cities followed. In 2003, a private equity firm purchased Delta Leasing, giving Zenoviev an opportunity to regroup and bring focus to the company. At this time, the decision was made to lease automobiles and the name was changed to Europlan. Europlan bought out the competition and cornered the auto leasing market. In 2015, Zenoviev left Europlan and launched a new venture—an online auction site for second-hand cars.
For Russian entrepreneurs, national challenges are merely global opportunities, as can be seen by these profiles and the many more than can be found by scanning business journals, such as Forbes, which features many successful Russian entrepreneurs and corporate leaders.
Image credit: CC bv haylee –