The Challenge Cup Moscow’s Startup Founders Discuss Starting Up in Their City

November 20, 2013

3:00 pm

At Moscow’s Digital October, a group of 24 startups gathered to showcase their versions of how to make the world a better place through technology. The companies have diverse interests – competing in the education, energy, health, and smart cities categories – but they share the common goal of innovation for the greater good.

While all 24 companies are doing amazing things in Moscow, only four startups can go on to Washington, D.C. next May. These companies, We Study In (Education), EcoCat (Energy), Medesk (Health), and Angry Citizen (Smart Cities), have a chance to win their category, or perhaps the entire Challenge Cup.

Recently, I spoke with a few of The Challenge Cup Moscow participants about what makes their city unique for entrepreneurs, as well as what they see on the horizon for Moscow. Here are some of the highlights:

The Moscow Startup Scene – Now

According to Nina Zavrieva, co-founder of, the Russian startup scene can be divided into three main groups: “Copy-cat projects that are usually going large scale from the very beginning to capture the market before the established global players get in (e-commerce, travel, dating etc.); startups solving a Russia-specific pain point or serving a particular local niche, focusing on the market here; and startups attempting to create a global product with innovative technology/idea.”

“The first group is getting the most attention from investors as many of them are still new to startups and want to invest in something that they’ve seen work elsewhere,” says Zavrieva. “These startups are the most visible ones.”

The Good and the Bad of Starting Up in Moscow

Medesk CEO and co-founder Vladimir Kovalskiy can see both the advantages and disadvantages of starting a company in his city. “There is plenty of capital available,” he says. “Still, smart money investors are in the minority. [The] B2C market is pretty open for innovations. Entering [the] B2B sector might require higher connections and more time to achieve than in other countries. Although, much more is open nowadays in this sector too.”

A City in a State of Flux

Exciting things are on the horizon in Moscow, and the landscape has changed a lot in recent years. “Everybody became more experienced,” says Ainar Abdrahmanov, CEO of the Online University for Parents. “There were a lot of mistakes done and a lot of projects failed, so now startup founders won’t make the same obvious flaws … we can learn from each other, and it’s great.”

The Moscow Startup Scene – What’s Next

Still, some entrepreneurs think Moscow has plenty of room for improvement, when it comes to becoming a thriving entrepreneurial community. “I’d like to replace [the] time people spend [saying] “innovation” with actions – it would really help,” says Labicom founder Igor Titov. “I’d like to remove all the red tape out of the way.”

You can follow 1776 on Twitter, and check out The Challenge Cup website, to see what’s happening in other startup scenes around the globe.

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Meg Rayford is a communications consultant based in Northern Virginia. She previously spent two years as the Director of Public Relations for a nonprofit startup, where she learned a lot about providing clean water for impoverished countries, even within the confines of a bootstrapped startup. She is the editor of Tech Cocktail, and she develops media strategies for companies in Washington, DC and Virginia. You can read her most recent work in the marketing chapter of the upcoming book, "Social Innovation and Impact in Nonprofit Leadership," which will be published in Spring 2014 by Springer Publishing. Follow her @megkrayford.

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