DREAMING OF ELECTRIC SHEEP

Kazakhstan 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: CENTRAL ASIAN SILICON VALLEY

Within its diversification plan and investment drive, the government has placed great emphasis on developing a vibrant ICT sector and attracting investors from the high-tech sphere to make Astana the new Silicon Valley.

With a view to diversify the country's economic and industrial activities, the Kazakhstan government is attempting a vast, incisive development program in the ICT sector. The ambitious project envisages the creation of a true technology hub in the heart of Central Asia. The Science Park Astana Business Campus, which is expected to be launched in 2018, will tangibly reflect Kazakhstan's ambition to become a knowledge-based economy, one based on the intellectual capital rather than that of physical inputs or natural resources.

The interest shown by Kazakhstan's leaders in a new model of economic and industrial development is not new. In fact, in 2007 a government body was set up with the task of supporting the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Economy and Budget Planning. The body's sphere of action, within the field of the diversification of productive activities, involves the search for more favorable conditions for the development and promotion of export goods other than raw materials while, at the same time, attracting local and foreign investments toward priority sectors of the national economy.

The body's declared aims are exports and investments, international cooperation, and economic policies for the country's special economic zones (SEZ).

The government found a loyal ally in the World Bank to give shape to its programs for technological renewal and in 2010 it launched the Technology Commercialization Project in synergy with the important world financial institution. The government's main aim was, firstly, to multiply its efforts to re-launch the economy through science and technology, and, at the same time, trigger a virtuous exchange between private investment and scientific research. By the end of 2015, no less than 40 out of the 65 projects originally financed ended with the creation and commercialization of finished goods to the value of KZT900 million. On the basis of these positive results, the government has signed up for a further USD110 million loan from The World Bank, a large part of which (40%) will be destined for scientific research for commercial ends. Another significant passage in the new course of the country's economic policy happened in 2013, when 10 startups, together with a large delegation of government agencies and important private businesses, visited Silicon Valley in California, the symbol of technological start-ups. On that occasion, the delegation held 40 meetings and numerous exchanges of ideas and information with US companies operating in the fields of traditional and alternative energy sources, electronics, and ICT.

The Science Park Astana Business Campus, to be built within Nazarbayev University in the capital, will further enrich the government's plans for an innovative turning point in the country's industrial and technological development. Other long-term programs, either terminated or ongoing, include the Innovation-Industrial Development Strategy (launched in 2003 and terminated in 2015), the Program for de-monopolization and Liberalization of the Telecommunications Market, the University of Information Technologies in Almaty, and the International Science and Technology Center in Astana. Furthermore, another pillar of President Nazarbayev's view to develop a knowledge-based economy is Almaty Tech Garden, an innovation cluster and business incubator created by the government aimed at increasing the share of local content in technology by creating a favorable environment for innovation and high-tech companies, therefore creating new directions for the country's economy.

The Science Park Astana Business Campus, the strategic partner of which will be the high-tech campus in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, will be integrated with a techno-park, an office for the commercialization of products, and a business incubator. Besides the infrastructure above, residents in the new technology citadel will also benefit from the specialized clusters of the location, such as ICT, biomedical engineering, geology, and social and business clusters, including laboratories and equipment as well as a social and commercial complex that includes a hotel, a sports ground, residences, congress halls, and shops.

Over 90 companies are expected to be based at the Science Park Astana Business Campus, with international technology giants such as Huawei, Samsung, Microsoft, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, and Philips having already expressed their interest back in 2015. The center is aimed at creating a true intellectual innovation cluster bringing together international companies, businesses, investors, students, scientists, and venture capital funds.