Andorra Can Become Skolkovo's Living Lab

According to its Wikipedia entry, Andorra is “ a sovereign landlocked microstate on the Iberian Peninsula, in the eastern Pyrenees, bordering France to the north and Spain to the south.” One of the theories on the origin of the word “Andorra” suggest that the term derives from the Navarro-Aragonese andurrial, which means “land covered with bushes” or “scrubland.” 

Today, the not so numerous inhabitants of this “scrubland” are among the most prosperous Europeans, while Andorra as a state claims to be the European innovation laboratory. A delegation from Andorra  participated in the Startup Village conference to discuss opportunities for collaboration with Skolkovo.
Mark Pons, executive director of Innovation Hub Andorra, believes Skolkovo startups can benefit from opportunities of quick project prototyping in his country. Innovation Hub Andorra is a public-private organization that coordinates Andorra's innovation strategy.

According to Mark Pons, the sounds of the Russian language are well known in Andorra, since many Russian tourists come to the mountain principality. Andorrans are aware of the Russian football, but much less of Russia itself and, in particular, of its technological capabilities. Meanwhile, there was a curious episode in the history of the two countries in 1934, when Boris Skosyrev, a Russian adventurer, proclaimed himself King of Andorra, Boris the First. Skosyrev's "kingdom" lasted only 12 days, during which the newly made king managed to proclaim all conceivable democratic freedoms.

Today, Andorrans would like to put ties with Russia on more solid and long-term foundations. According to Mark Pons, the process has already begun. In September 2018, a Russian delegation visited Andorra at the ministerial level. This visit made it obvious hat the countries have potential for collaboration in innovation. “We were invited to the Open Innovations Forum in Skolkovo, but there was little time left before the start, so we took advantage of that invitation and came to Startup Village,” says the head of Innovation Hub Andorra.

According to him, the two days spent in Skolkovo were very productive. The delegation had a series of meetings with the Foundation’s managers, investors, and startups. “First impressions are very good and exceed our expectations. Andorra is a small country with a population of only 70 thousand people, we probably could all fit in your technopark,” laughs Pons. Turning to a serious tone, he adds: “There are advantages in a small size. It allows you to be agile, quickly implement technologies, quickly connect people who make decisions at the political and business level with researchers and startups. ”

“This is an ecosystem in which international startups can beta test their technologies,” says Mark Pons. “At the same time, the speed of implementation of any product or service will be very high, and the opportunity to discuss the project with the person in charge at any level is more than real. Within two days, you can arrange a meeting at any level. This allows you to create a prototype that can be tested across the country, and then scale it to any other European location.”

“This is our competitive advantage. We believe that startups and researchers from Skolkovo might be interested in it, and it was with this proposal that we arrived at Startup Village – to create a living laboratory for your startups and researchers in the real conditions of Andorra. Here they can test the viability of any ideas, concepts, or ready-made technologies.”

What technologies are most in demand in Andorra? The country's economy relies heavily tourism and retail, and 90% of local companies are small and medium-sized. As Mark Pons says, any solution that can make travel services more efficient or increase ROI in retail will be received in his country with due attention. 

Andorra has received international recognition as a healthcare, sports, and wellness destination. Today, Andora has more professional cyclists than any other country, due to its good training infrastructure and high standards of living. Sports technologies, biomedicine and everything related to wellness will be welcomed in Andorra with open arms, says Pons.

Another focus area is everything related to sustainable development in mobility and energy efficiency. Innovators are given the opportunity to offer their own ways of changing the existing mobility and energy use models.

Finally, Andora pays special attention to big data technologies. “No matter how small Andorra is, we need big data to improve services and living conditions,” emphasizes the head of Innovation Hub Andorra. “The size of our country enables the efficient use of big data. This is what is commonly called a data-driven approach. Our strength lies in the speed with which applied solutions are adopted.”

However, this does not exhaust the competitive advantages of the principality.

Among them is the country's taxation system. “Andorra is not a tax haven, we comply with all international standards, but we have a low tax burden: 10% is the corporate income tax rate; 15% is the tax rate for individuals,” says Pons. “These are quite attractive conditions when compared with countries like Switzerland or Luxembourg.”

“At the same time, Andorra is a bridge to the Spanish and French markets, we are very integrated with the economies of these countries. Moreover, in 2020 Andorra will host the Ibero-American Summit, and for two years will be leading this international organization, which includes all the countries of Latin America, Spain and Portugal. The theme of the summit, by the way, is “Innovations for Sustainable Development.” So for startups Andorra is also a bridge to Latin America.”

Skolkovo can join the list of Innovation Hub Andorra's international partners, which already include MIT, Business France and Barcelona Tech City. “We do not strive to create our own mega-structure of the same level, but we are confident that we can serve as a laboratory for testing innovations that are applicable in large countries. In this capacity, we can be of interest to Skolkovo,” emphasizes Pons.

The meetings with Skolkovo startups produced a very positive impression on the Andorran delegation. 

“In this regard, participation in Startup Village was very useful for us. We are used to dealing with French and Spanish startups, but here contacts were established even faster, and it pleasantly surprised us. We easily found a common language with many startups. Before the trip, we set ourselves the goal of establishing institutional ties, but in addition to this, we've established direct contacts with a number of Skolkovo startups. I hope they will continue to grow.” 


1 june 2019