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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Where is Russia's Steve Jobs?

Russian Innovation CenterSteve Jobs, the architect of Apple's phenomenal success and one of the biggest influences on the business of modern computing, died of pancreatic cancer Wednesday. He was 56.

As the world ponders Jobs' legacy, it is perhaps worth asking if an innovator and businessman like him could succeed in Russia. On balance, it would seem unlikely ­ given Russia's stifling bureaucracy, slow trajectory toward innovation and poor record on hightech investment.

Jobs, adopted into an Armenian family in California, had no insider connections and no education at a top university. Quite the opposite: his background was one of the hippy counterculture, and he described his time in an ashram in India, including LSD experiences, as "one of the two or three most important things" he did in his life.

His big business break came from an angel investor, but not one who was in the mainstream. Billionaire Ross Perot, who invested heavily in Jobs' NeXT Computer business in the 1980s, has been a persistent thorn in the side of the Republican and Democrat parties ­ standing as an independent candidate in presidential elections and denouncing the incestuous two-party status quo.

So to make the analogy with Russia, it would have been as if he had been bankrolled by Mikhail Khodorkovsky or Yevgeny Chichvarkin. And we all know what happened there.

There remains a chance for Russia to produce innovators of Jobs' stature, it is true. The Skolkovo innovation project could yet provide the spark needed to kick-start new high-tech projects, but the danger is that under bureaucratic state control anyone in the Steve Jobs mold would quickly be stifled, corrupted or simply emigrate to another country with a climate more conducive to invention and new thinking.

As the examples of Google's Sergey Brin and other e migre s have shown, the new generation of Russians will almost certainly be at the forefront of global innovation in the years ahead. The question is, however: Will they pursue their dreams here in Russia, or abroad?

For Russia to retain its best and brightest talents does not just mean far more investment in high-tech education. It also requires a sea change in the way the authorities encourage innovation and diversity ­ without crippling bureaucracy.

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