From the moment our plane touched down in St. Petersburg to takeoff from Kazan, I found myself completely immersed in Russian culture and entrepreneurial spirit. Let by Bram Kaplan of Skolkovo and Lyuba Semirog of MIT, our group met with dozens of Russian students and business people, visited historic Russian landmarks across St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kazan, and shared our personal experiences with entrepreneurship at MIT. Needless to say the week was a whirlwind of activity and excitement.
There are countless points during the trip where I learned about Russian schooling and business practices, and to reflect on all of them would be impossible. Instead I will focus on a particular evening. On our last night in Moscow we met over dinner with students from Skolkovo University, a program run by the Skolkovo Institute to encourage entrepreneurship among undergraduate students at Moscow’s top schools. The setting was informal and I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with students on a personal level, talking about everything from classes to music.
There were a number of facts that didn’t surprise me: Russian universities, I was told, do not offer any classes for engineers on entrepreneurship or business skills. What I found more surprising, however, was the extreme focus of students’ course of study. Instead of majors like mechanical engineering, Russian students majored in fields like laser electro-optics. Underlying this difference is the fact that MIT encourages a broad knowledge base among its students that goes hand and hand with entrepreneurship. The ability to do one particular thing is far less important than the ability to problem solve on a general scale.
Here lies one of the largest differences between my experience as a student at MIT and that of the Moscow students I spoke to: freedom of study. At MIT, I can pursue what interests me, both within my major and beyond. This cultivates students who are passionate and versatile, all characteristics typical of entrepreneurs. As Skolkovo Tech continues to develop, I foresee the success of a similar free and encouraging environment.