At the very end of November this year, students at St. Petersburg-based Baltic State Technical University, also known as Voenmeh, welcomed essential guests. The widow of famous pilot and cosmonaut George Grechko Lyudmila and another famous space conqueror Andrey Borisenko, who spent 337 days onboard the International Space Station, visited the university.
The guests came to the university not just to talk but also to present diplomas to the recipients of Georgy Grechko’s scholarship. In addition, financial support was given to students who distinguished themselves in studies and scientific activity. St. Petersburg investment company Euroinvest and its chairman of the board, Andrey Berezin, provided financing for the scholarship fund.
It would seem that the above news is not surprising. Nowadays, there are many scholarships for a good education in Russia. There are scholarships from the president of the country and its government, and in the capital, Moscow, there is an allowance from the mayor.
Looking a little wider at the system highlights the intentions to support talented young people in general. In recent years, the state has tried to form a whole system of public institutions aimed at identifying the early years of capable young men and women and helping their further development. The last link in the chain was a network of selection platforms created on the systematic basis of the Sirius educational center, and the fact that Sirius was entrusted with this work is particularly symptomatic since this very center, located in the most prominent Russian resort of Sochi, is seen by the authorities as the fundamental driving force in introducing modern technologies and approaches to the educational sphere.
Despite this, it is unlikely that any expert in the field of education, who is well acquainted with international experience of supporting talented youth, would dare to say that these efforts of the Russian authorities can be sufficient. Moreover, and this is well known to professionals, complete formalization is impossible in the subtle and ambiguous issue of assistance to young talents, and departmental management approaches do not work well. Many world governments are notorious for that, but Russia, with its paternalistic and dirigiste management system, is especially notorious for it.
The conclusion is unequivocal: no, we cannot create an effective mechanism for selecting and helping promising young people that way. Theoretically, it is so, but in practice, the system works!
This paradox is deciphered simply: the participation of businesses: large, medium, and small. In the post-Soviet decades, there has been a stable narrative around entrepreneurs in Russia and the former Soviet Union that they work either for themselves or for their shadow masters in the government. However, it is more complicated than that. An unbiased study of the situation shows that many businesspeople with Russian passports are increasingly taking on a social mission, including through the support of talented youth.
A vivid and widely known example is the experience of Vladimir Potanin, a significant entrepreneur and founder of InterRos Holding. He succeeded back in the 90s, becoming one of the oligarchs while the first president Boris Yeltsin was in charge of the country. In those years, some observers accused him of excessively influencing the government, but when the public atmosphere changed, Potanin behaved differently.
He was one of the first to turn his attention to the educational system, becoming the founder of a private charitable foundation, one of the main areas of which is the support of young people, including scholarships. Over the 23 years of its operation, tens of thousands of students have become scholarship recipients, and hundreds of teachers at more than 70 Russian universities have received support for their projects. In other words, Potanin’s Fund turned out to be that extra element, which provided the necessary synergetic effect, working side by side with state initiatives in the sphere of supporting the talented youth.
However, the efforts of Potanin and a couple or three other first-rate entrepreneurs would not have made the effect systemic. And in fact, the current positive changes were possible precisely because smaller businesspeople, owners of average fortunes, who own regionally significant enterprises, joined the work as well. Like Berezin, as referenced at the beginning of this article, who introduced students of Voenmech to the living embodiment of the Russian space industry.
In the case of Potanin, however, the motivations for inclusion in the educational activities are clear; a business captain who has reached a particular scale in Russia is practically guaranteed to be bound to the government with several obligations, among which there are social ones. As for Berezin, the country’s leaders have not obliged him to do anything of the sort; most likely, the Kremlin is unaware of his existence. This means he is most likely engaging in social initiatives of his own free will. Like hundreds of other second-, third or fourth tier businesspeople. So why do they do it?
Both Romantic Hobbies and Sober Calculations
Euroinvest and Berezin became known to the residents of St. Petersburg and the northwestern regions of Russia about two decades ago. But at that time, both names had nothing to do with education, youth, or construction.
It was on development projects that the company and its founder earned their capital. And their reputations: Euroinvest is known as a reliable developer who is conscientious about its commitments, especially regarding deadlines for delivering projects. Despite this, the company turned from a reputable business to a factor of social development later. It started when Berezin decided to diversify his business beyond the confines of a narrow construction field.
The search for new spheres of activity lasted for several years. The company invested in the most diverse projects, right up to exotic ones. At one time, Euroinvest was an owner of a gold mine in Central Africa. But other initiatives were destined to take off. Among them was the agricultural cluster created in Russia’s Pskov, Oblas.
One of the company’s experiments was to buy up the land of bankrupt farms. Journalists at the time wrote that Euroinvest planned to resell them but then tried to build its own business on them. The idea took root, and the cluster that appeared has been working for about ten years and includes the lands under grain and forage crops, a dairy herd of several hundred animals, and even its line of dairy products production. One of the biggest successes of the farm called Krasnoye Znamya was an agreement with a zoo in St. Petersburg, one of the largest such institutions in Russia, that will buy fodder for its animals from Berezin’s structure.
The holding managed to get even more severe results from investments in the industrial sphere. At about the same time, when the company was buying up agricultural land in the Pskov region, it made its first purchase in the market of industrial electronics: it was a plant that had been producing various parts as well as a wide range of lamps and radiation sources for many years.
It was not by chance that Berezin was drawn to this direction, with him later saying that one of the main reasons was the interest formed in his youth:
“I received my higher education at Leningrad Ustinov Mechanical Institute. And even then, in the late 1980s, I was interested in finding applications for scientific ideas and developments and ways to scale them up. For instance, my classmates and I created checkpoint systems for enterprises at the Center for Youth Creativity in Science and Technology. At the same time, I founded the first scientific-production unit (NPO), which was engaged in creating computer programs.”
However, it is unlikely that youthful hobbies were the determining factor in acquiring the plant. The Euroinvest CEO was instead attracted by the development potential he saw in the new asset. Large-scale investments were made to upgrade the plant’s facilities. It cost the holder several hundred million rubles, but the return was appropriate; not only did the modernized company significantly improve its economic indicators and begin to bring in a noticeable profit, but it also quickly began generating promising high-tech developments.
One example is of a robotic medical complex for the treatment of oncological diseases, of which is now almost ready for mass production. Its platform combines several state-of-the-art technologies, thanks to which the complex can directly influence tumor tissues with X-rays during surgery. This provides a dramatic increase in the effectiveness of treatment. Given this, it is unsurprising that Russian and foreign clinics are already waiting for the device. It is expected that up to a thousand of these machines will be sold annually, an excellent indicator in this medical equipment segment.
Other developments include a device for express diagnostics of tumors and a camera for assessing the quality of seminal material. Interesting results were obtained in creating a new generation of biochips, finding that their application lies primarily in diagnosing viral infections and studying the human genome.
Seeing the Future through Today’s Problem
This leads to the most exciting part of the narrative: it was a series of successful developments that catalyzed a sharp increase in the interest of Berezin and Euroinvest as a whole in the topic of education and support of talented youth.
It is safe to say that the head of the company has revised some of his business priorities when faced with a shortage of educated personnel. In any case, in a number of his interviews over the past five years, this topic has always come up. Even more eloquently than words, this assumption was supported by deeds.
First, searching for new young specialists was launched in leading St. Petersburg universities, including Voenmekh. Some major educational institutions have concluded strategic cooperation agreements, such as the St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, named after Peter the Great. In parallel, we have been developing cooperation with several major institutes. At the same time, collaboration with major philanthropic organizations that specialize in working with students and young scientists has been developing. Among the partners of Euroinvest in this direction were the World Club of Petersburg and the Leonhard Euler International Charitable Foundation for the Support of Mathematics.
Later, there appeared its scholarship, which Euroinvest has been paying out ever since, helping talented and ambitious young people, both theorists and practitioners of science, with rubles.
The way from pure business to reorientation to socially essential activities of the head of the holding took a little more than a decade. Its main driving force was the company’s entry into the high-tech market, which needed quality-trained specialists. The owner was able to personally assess the importance and complexity of the issue of intellectual capital.
That is why today, Berezin is ready to spend his capital not only on scholarships for individual young people. This summer, he announced his intention to invest in constructing a fundamental educational institution in St. Petersburg, all at his own expense. According to his plans, he targets to make an academy for gifted children. Furthermore, Euroinvest will build a complex of buildings at its own expense, with its plot already having been determined. In addition, the company also undertakes to pay for the work of the teaching staff, the staff for which have also begun to select the leading educational institutions of the city.
There is a fourth industrial revolution in the world right now. All the old stories when markets were necessary, then raw materials, are receding into the background. Now, it’s the brains and positioning that matter, and where the brains are concentrated will be the breakthrough. This is valuable today, and it is brains that will become the critical competence of any successful project in the foreseeable future. Berezin is ready to do a lot to achieve them.
Andrey Berezin was born in 1967 in Leningrad. In 1990, he graduated with honors from the Leningrad Ustinov Mechanical Institute. He graduated with honors from the Leningrad Ustinov Mechanical Institute in 1990 with a degree in automatic control systems engineering.
In 1993 he took part in the creation of the North-West Fisheries Company.
In 1995, he co-founded Euroinvest Investment Company with Yury Vasiliev and has been its Chairman of the Board ever since.
Today Euroinvest is a diversified holding company, which includes companies and projects from different economic sectors.
One of the directions of Euroinvest work is legal and engineering support for developing land plots and territories in St. Petersburg, the Leningrad region, and other areas.
At the end of 2017, Euroinvest Group created its construction division, Euroinvest Development, which is engaged in the construction of housing and other objects, thus forming a full-cycle development business.
A relatively new direction for Euroinvest is the agro-industrial sector. For example, Agrocluster Krasnoye Znamya in the Pskov region specializes in producing grain and fodder for livestock.
In May 2017, the management of the Euroinvest investment company established the Euro Venture fund with an initial amount of € 10 million. Priority areas for investment are innovative developments in the scientific and technical sphere, as well as projects in the creative industry.