‘Russia Is No Place for Dreamers:’ Meet the Rocket Entrepreneurs Battling Bureaucracy to Conquer Space

Better than Nothing

The Skolkovo project, spearheaded by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, was founded in 2010to jump-start Russian tech. It’s received mixed reviews. “All current Russian space startups began there,” says space industry expert Pavel Luzin. “But where are the results?”

The problem lies in how Skolkovo, whose investment packages can reach up to 150 million rubles ($2.7 million), works as a startup accelerator.

“Skolkovo’s framework is good for supporting startups, but it needs to be scaled up significantly to support rocket startups,” says Ivan Kosenkov, an analyst at the Skolkovo Space Cluster incubator. “150 million rubles will maybe cover the initial design studies.”

Skolkovo also requires startups to find a co-investor to match their investment, ruble-for-ruble. When Lin Industrial first approached Skolkovo in 2014, they were told they needed to find such an investor and reapply for a grant.

Kaltushkin and Ilin found that investor in an unlikely place: Minsk, the capital of neighboring Belarus. His name is Sergei Burkatovsky, head of Wargaming, the studio behind the online gaming phenomenon World of Tanks. Burkatovsky, trained as a nuclear engineer, has always been fascinated by space.

Burkatovsky did not reply to a request to comment on his support for Lin Industrial.

Burkatovsky was committed, but would only contribute 5 million rubles ($90,000). With the sum matched by Skolkovo, the ambitious startup set off with just 10 million rubles. It was better than nothing.

Skolkovo has given more to other space startups in the past. Dauria Aerospace, a startup working on small-satellites, received a full 150 million ruble grant because they had the investors to match it. “I don’t think we would have any problems in granting more funding to Lin Industrial if they attract more private funding,” Kosenkov says.

10 million rubles ($180,000) was enough to begin work on developing and testing key components of their Taimyr rocket. But Kaltushkin and his team knew they would need more money. The only other obvious place to look was Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.