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A Russian entrepreneurial Ivy League?

0 4 August 2014

Graduates from America’s 8 Ivy League universities generally go on to have successful careers in business, politics, or any sphere they choose. Not every single one of course, but the fact remains: the prestige, motivation and knowledge an Ivy League education brings are a ticket to the top.

And this model isn't reserved for the likes of Yale and Harvard. Throughout the US and Europe there are similar organisations and instituations. These elite funds offer scholarships, coaching and connections to a small hand-picked group of students, who fulfil strict criteria.

After Oskar Hartmann, CEO of KupiVip, having received support himself from similar fund in the US and Germany, decided to put this model to the test in Russia. Thus, in 2012 he founded the Russian Economic Fund (FRE).

The Russian Economic Fund is not involved in investment in the usual sense of the word, but rather considers itself to be a strategic investor in the marketplace. They make long-term investments in what they believe to be its key resource: people. Every year the fund takes on students who are hoping to go into business. These gifted students, referred to as ‘strategic students’, receive not just scholarships, but also mentoring support from the business area appropriate to their interests.

Valentina Suslova, FRE managing director: "If a student of ours wants to work in investment banking, for example, then their mentor will probably be one of the top managers of Goldman Sachs. If they are hoping to build a career in commercial banking, then it will be Alpha Bank. If they plan to develop their own startup we will offer them an investor or entrepreneur as their mentor so that they can evaluate their idea and give valuable advice."

The Fund has more than 80 mentors in total and 63 partner companies, amongst them Skolkovo, Vkontakte, Sberbank, Airbnb, Ozon.ru and others. As well as business mentors, the FRE provides students with a special educational programme, which ends with a case-championship, and a demo day for startups. Students are divided into two categories: entrepreneurs and corporate workers. The first group are given training in areas stretching from ‘soft skills’ all the way to how to present a project to investors, and the second receive offers from major companies.

Suslova: "We don’t focus solely on entrepreneurs, and we think that corporate workers should also be able to think in an entrepreneurial way, being able to change the world for the better regardless of what area they work in."

In fact Suslova herself is the same age as many of the participants. She became director of the FRE at just 19 years old. She is an example for participants, having decided to go straight to work in the real world rather than focussing on studying: she arrived at KupiVip just as Oskar Hartmann came up with the idea for the fund. A choice lay before her: to climb the corporate ladder or to go into something absolutely new and completely unknown. Now she says that she never regrets her decision not to study and never wants to quit.

Aleksandr Pasechnik, who leads the Fund’s work with its partners was himself a participant, and afterwards entered the FRII accelerator with his own online training project Smart Fox. He explains the FRE’s rather complex selection process:

In total students pass through 7 stages:

-          Online application

-          Video presentation

-          Semifinal

-          Motivational letter

-          CV assessment

-          Intelligence testing

-          Final

Pasechnik: "For the online application you fill in a form on the site, describing your achievements, and why we should pick you. If you get through this stage then you are given several days for the video stage. You have to send a video presentation which will be judged by experts from different companies. Each video is rated by 3 separate people. They are looking in particular at how the applicant responds to our criteria, after which the scores are added up and the semifinalists chosen. At this stage the applicants must solve several case studies, after which they have an interview, an intelligence test and write a motivational letter. They also do a psychological test, as the FRE looks for a specific personality profile."

In the final this year candidates were split into two teams: bankers and CEOs, who want to borrow money from the banks for restructuring their business. The observers follow the behaviour and tactics of the participants with a list of criteria on the basis of which they award points.

At the end there is a final interview. With the first intake it was a standard HR interview, but last time we asked the finalists a philosophical question: “How do you want to change the world?”

In September 2012, 41 students from Moscow and St Petersburg universities received scholarships from the Russian Economic Fund’s first programme. The second programme, in April 2013, only awarded 35, even though the Fund received twice as many applications. The third and fourth intakes, in October 2013 and April 2014 respectively, only numbered 25. The trend is clear: the Fund is becoming stricter and more elite, leading to its growing prestige.

The chance to be part of such an prestigious programme is a real draw for young people. It may not offer all the antics and glamour of an Ivy League university, but the FRE is building an elite community of future entrepreneurs in Russia. It is currently receiving applications for new candidates.

Suslova: "A FRE participant is someone with real motivation and values, who can build long term relationships with those around them. We believe that these factors are extremely important because the FRE is an elite programme, where we want to develop tomorrow’s leaders. What outcome are we looking for? We want to have a long term social impact, building a new generation of Russian economic movers and shakers, and we know that our participants will be socially conscious businessmen who are concerned about the fate of their country."

Source: RusBase.vc

Top image via Shutterstock

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