Kazan as the center of IT-innovations

During the past decades, as the result of local industry activity and interest emanting from the top management of the country, IT in Russia becomes an important focus of economic development. The interest in IT appears from the two main sources. The first is associated with entrepreneurship development in Russia, which sought to attract customers by websites, online shopping, etc. This development has flourished two sectors of IT, which provide b2c and b2b solutions. The other push for Russian IT development comes from the Russian state, interested specifically in domestic and locally developed “Russian software”. Approximately since the early 2000s there has appeared an official interest in facilitating electronic document flow for local and regional management and municipal services, in developing online services for commercial and state transactions and revenue collection. This interest was a reflection of the larger state agenda to create new relationships between Russian citizens and the state apparatus, which would enhance the transparency of state affairs and facilitate easy access to official information.

Later, during the presidency of Dmitri Medvedev (2008-2012) innovations and technological entrepreneurship were declared the two main pillars of the new “modernization” program, meant to diversify sources of economic growth and to create a knowledge-based economy in Russia. To that end, the Russian state has developed several policy tools. These federal projects include innovative clusters, tech parks, and economic zones establishment in the most promising regions. Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, is one of these regions. Designated a national educational and research center, Kazan is now trying to promote itself as the capital of Russian IT.

Since the early 2000s, Kazan has been investing in infrastructure meant to support and host various IT initiatives: tech parks for startups, industrial zones for more advanced companies, and several new universities to train qualified staff. More recently, Tatarstan has launched a new ambitious project - Innopolis, a university-centered city for IT-specialists.

However the results of technological advancement are not yet entirely evident. The exceptions are projects designed specifically to implement Russian state policies, such as fulfilling its “import replacement” agenda. In these cases, the state is the main customer of innovative products. What distinguishes this region from the other regional stories in Russia is that Kazan promotes itself as “successful IT hub”, claiming to be a high-tech center of the future. Kazan is promoting itself as a center of “testing” and “experimenting” with innovations, rather than one which actually invents new technologies.

This self-branding campaign has been in some respects successful.   Kazan has  attracted federal funding to support local initiatives and investments in urban development, and this influx of state resources further promotes the reputation of Kazan as a place where innovations thrive.

Fieldwork/ data

The data are based on 40  recorded interviews with IT-specialists. These interviews took place predominantly in Kazan in 2013 and 2014. The questionnaire was compiled to reflect different professional trajectories of local IT-specialists. The basic technique is "snowball" sampling, which exploits the professional and personal networks of the IT community. The quota sample was gathered according to several criteria, and each of them corresponds to different a professional trajectory, and different practices and interactions within specific institutions. The sample includes respondents from a diverse range of companies (small, mid-size, and large companies, as well as subdivisions of major Russian and international companies - Yandex, JetBrains, Cisco Systems, Microsoft), education and scientific research institutions (Universities, Research institutions), specific state funded institutions (IT-oriented entrepreneurial tech park) and new initiatives (tech park for robotics, startup schools, etc.).