By Gary Fowler, CEO and Co-founder of GSD Venture Studios
Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of working with some of the greatest minds and companies in the artificial intelligence (AI) industry. I have learned that although AI talent is distributed evenly throughout the world, many bright and promising founders never get their ideas off the ground due to a lack of investment opportunities. AI startups in Russia are particularly disadvantaged because of the current geopolitical and cultural climate. Resources, networks, and funding sources that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs take for granted are unavailable to Russian artificial intelligence startups. This sets Russian AI startups back considerably and keeps them from achieving their true potential.
The Problem = Skepticism and Fear
Artificial intelligence startups in Russia face tremendous roadblocks to scaling and becoming the global companies they can and deserve to be. US-based investors are wary of investing in Russian AI, both due to the stigma of working with Russian companies in the current political climate and a lack of understanding of the Russian AI ecosystem. Most international investors are not aware that there has already been investment in Russian AI from the Russian government itself. This funding has encouraged the growth of the Russian AI community, but it is not enough. The United States and China both outspend Russia at a considerable rate when it comes to AI investment, and the European Union isn’t far behind.
International Investment in Russian Artificial Intelligence
Funding for Russian AI needs to come from outside Russia if the industry is going to truly be successful. There are countless Russian AI startups with great ideas that are failing simply for lack of access to resources and networks. There is tremendous opportunity for international investors to make a significant impact on the ecosystem, handpicking the best of the best in the Russian AI community and enabling them to reach global success. Whether this funding for Russian artificial intelligence comes from the United States, China, the EU, or another avenue, international involvement is key to helping this budding industry accelerate its growth.
During my time at Global Venture Alliance (GVA), I had the privilege of working and developing close relationships with Bob Dorf and Steve Blank, two preeminent startup advisors. I've applied the lessons I've learned from them to the AI community, including during this talk at Startup Village in 2019.
It Takes More Than Money
When the venture capital community discusses investing in Russian artificial intelligence, it is assumed that they generally are referring to financial backing. While funding is certainly a key need of any young company looking to scale globally, there is so much more that is required to truly catapult a Russian AI startup to the highest levels of success. Many inexperienced founders, regardless of country of origin, are not skilled in money management and end up squandering a significant portion of the funding they receive. They would benefit significantly from a more holistic approach to investment, combining financial resources, mentorship, and good old-fashioned hard work on the part of their investors. Successful investment is about far more than just writing a check. A venture capitalist who truly wants to see their portfolio companies succeed must take a more hands-on approach.
The Solution = A Cross-Cultural Venture Studio
When Derek and I launched GSD, we knew we wanted to provide funding for the Russian artificial intelligence community – but also that we wanted to do so much more. The venture studio model is a perfect fit for us because it aligns with our belief that money isn’t enough to enable a promising young company to achieve global success. We take key founding roles in our portfolio companies, acting as advisors, executives, and benefactors as needed to give each Russian AI startup exactly what it needs at any given moment to get to the next level. Russian AI investors simply can’t provide this all-encompassing caliber of support and attention to detail. The venture studio model produces a higher level of success more consistently for our portfolio companies.
Case Studies: Zemplee and USTARIO
GSD is proud to highlight two of our Russian AI portfolio companies, Zemplee and USTARIO. Zemplee is transforming the way our treasured senior family members receive care, enabling them to stay in their homes longer while offering their families AI-assisted peace of mind. USTARIO is using AI to change the way video content is created and consumed through voiceovers, soundtracks and translations designed to let creators spend more time creating and less time editing. Both companies are changing the fabric of industries that are ripe for disruption, and we have no doubt that they will make a significant impact on the Russian AI startup community.
Work with Us
For too long self-motivated entrepreneurs have navigated the minefield of challenges to launching a global company with very little support. The last thing you should bet on in this situation is an unproven team that you don’t trust. GSD Venture Studios travels the world inviting resilient teams to establish partnerships that ensure organizations grow the right way, without games or gimmicks. Through investment in Russian artificial intelligence, we are changing the way Russian startups scale and succeed. If you are a Russian AI startup founder who is bold enough to #GoGlobal, we would like to meet you. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to us on our website. We’re ready to help you Get Shit Done.