The SME Forum is traditionally held on the eve of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. This year’s event saw over 700 participants, including entrepreneurs, representatives from federal and regional government bodies, members of the business community, and experts from Russia and abroad.
The business programme of the SME Forum opened with the session ‘Entrepreneurship in Russia: Anthology of Success or Academy of Failure?’ It was moderated by Andrey Sharov, Vice-President and Head of GR Directorate of Sberbank, who pointed out that while nobody enjoys talking about their failures, “it is invaluable capital, which needs to be shared with those who want to develop their business.” Those attending the session spoke about their personal misfortunes – the kind which are typically encountered in the business arena. Among the commonplace errors cited by speakers were developing a product without proper consideration of consumer opinion; failure to get people to test all processes before commencing programming; an inability to effectively delegate; a rigid adherence to solutions which worked on one occasion; and a reluctance to invest in employee training.
Oleg Fomichev, State Secretary – Deputy Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, commented that errors “are allowed to be made in government administration too”, and made an appeal to examine every decision primarily on the basis of its effect on small business.
The programme continued with the plenary session ‘Young Entrepreneurship – Supporting the National Economy’. Expressing the view that small businesses possess much untapped potential, the speakers noted how they are a source of economic growth, and could act as a driver for development in Russia’s regions. Participants also highlighted the fact that an ambitious objective faces the entrepreneurial community: to double the share that SMEs account for in the country’s GDP.
Yulia Alferova, Advisor to the Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, spoke of recent steps which had been taken to support SMEs. The first such measure was the launch of upgrade-lab.ru – a test lab offering expert support and promoting entrepreneurship. Second was the development of specifications for a priority project – a step which was ordered by Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev.
A notable event on the programme was the strategic session ‘Business Banya. Key Mistakes Made by Businessmen in Small and Medium Companies in Expanding their Businesses’. Held in an entirely new format, the participants described the event as a “practical tool for business”. There was a strong interactive element, with entrepreneurs exchanging their own personal experience and examples of errors they made. Numerous new business contacts were made, and participants learned about new trends in promoting their products and services.
A panel session with master-class elements was also held, entitled ‘Always About the Money! Finance for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses’. Participants noted that low access to finance remains one of the most pressing issues for small businesses. According to Alexander Kalinin, President of OPORA RUSSIA, when businesses invest in development today, they primarily use their own funds only. The main reasons for this is the prohibitively high cost of loans, and the fact that they are not sufficiently accessible. In order for the small and medium business segment to double by 2030, its credit portfolio needs to be at least RUB 12 trillion – a figure thrown into sharp relief by the fact that in 2017 it only reached RUB 6.1 trillion.
Japan is a guest country at this year’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, and the panel session ‘Developing Russian–Japanese Cooperation in Small and Medium-sized Enterprise’ focused on building partnership between the two countries. Participants also their experience in implementing joint Russian‑Japanese projects.
The Forum also hosted an awards ceremony for the winners of the first OPORA RUSSIA IT Accelerator. Two winners were announced: IREF and Orion, who shared a total prize fund of RUB 7 million, including grants from the accelerator’s partner, the Innovation Promotion Fund.
In total, 14 business events took place during the one-day SME Forum.
The theme of the closing plenary session, ‘Engaging in Entrepreneurship’, was the popularization of the image of the businessperson. Discussing the measures that needed to be taken to achieve this were Oleg Fomichev, State Secretary — Deputy Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation; Alexander Kalinin, President of OPORA RUSSIA; Alexander Braverman, General Director and of the Russian Small and Medium Business Corporation; Svetlana Chupsheva, General Director of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives to Promote New Projects; and Markus Jerger, Chief Executive Officer of the German Association for Small and Medium-sized Businesses (BVMW).