I just returned from a three-week journey to Russia and Ukraine. It was my third trip to the region in the past year, and, as with most anything, with familiarity comes comfort.
After overcoming the typical language and cultural differences, the main conclusion I can make is, at least within the technology, innovation, and entrepreneurial communities, Russians are really no different than us. They aspire, create, wonder, design, dream, scratch and claw, fail and succeed just like we do. Of course they speak, interact, and eat differently, but you know, I've grown to really love a bowl of borscht, Uzbeki plov (pilaf), and especially these delicious meat dumplings called pelmeni.
If ever there was a symbol of Thomas Friedman's view of the world being flat, Russia is it. It's hard to believe, but the Soviet empire crumbled more than 20 years ago. But with its vast land and resources, rich and prolific history, and well-educated population of engineers and scientists - there are more than 300 million Russian speakers in the world, which is almost as large as the US population - Russia and its extended markets are ripe to play a central role in the next wave of innovation and opportunity.
Over the past five years or so, LaunchSquad has worked with an increasing number of very promising companies founded and built by Russians (some in America, some not). Companies like AnchorFree, ZeptoLab, and others have been some of our most interesting and successful clients during this recent period of innovation.
My trips there, especially the latest one in which I met with 20 or so entrepreneurs and investors, have affirmed that this trend is only going to increase in the coming years.
In short, the Russians are coming, and they are going to have a big impact on the global innovation economy.
Part two of this series will appear on Friday morning.
Jason Mandell is partner and co-founder at LaunchSquad.