Meet the Young Russians on the Forbes Entrepreneurs List

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Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ

19th January, 2016


Forbes magazine has published a list of the brightest young entrepreneurs and business leaders under the age of 30, in which there were several Russians. RBC has decided to reveal more about them.

The global ranking of young business leaders by Forbes was published early in the year, on 19th of January, with the magazine first releasing its European version. The journal has been doing the list for five years. Each list has 20 categories, including “Finance” and “Venture capital”, Technology”, etc. 1500 people were nominated this year. Nominations were made via social networks, with Forbes journalists also working on the selection of nominees. Finalists in each category were determined by a jury, composed of specialists in the areas. In the European ranking, 300 people were submitted in ten different sectors. Among them were eight Russians, including, for example, tennis player Maria Sharapova (in the category “Entertainment”).

A breakthrough in technology

For example, in the category “Technology” was the 23-year-old Dmitry Aksenov, a co-founder of the company DigitalGenius, specializing in the supply to the largest companies of software for automatic voice messages. In May of last year, the company raised investment to the amount of $3 million.

The idea to create a program for businesses based on artificial intelligence was born when Aksenov was in College in the UK. In an interview with last year, the entrepreneur said he was fascinated by technology since childhood and created his first robot at age seven. The main work of DigitalGenius is the technology FinGenius, which, using machine-based learning, allows one to recognize the issues in any natural language, regardless if it comes in oral or written form, and then automatically responds to them. It is a self-learning technology, and the answer of customer questions may work with little or no participation in the future, being able to replace conventional call centers and support services. For example, at least 80% of calls in the financial sector are fairly standard and can easily be divided into five categories, relating to lost or stolen credit cards, a forgotten password, or difficulties with a transaction, the remaining 20-30% of the non-standard calls are sent to the processing person, said Aksenov when explaining his idea.

At the end of last year 29 people worked in DigitalGenius, with the company now having two offices — in London and New York. Among its clients are BMW, Panasonic and Unilever. The start-up did not reveal other clients, but says that among them there are several financial institutions, including eight banks. “The majority of our clients are companies from the Fortune 500, but our relationships are covered by confidentiality agreements,” said Aksenov.

Media talent

In the category of “Media”, the poll included 27-year-old Alexander Debelov, one of the founders of social media marketing Crelligence Media and network distribution of video content Virool. As was noted by Forbes, the start-up has more than 30 thousand customers across the world, and he was able to attract financing to the amount of $6.6 million, including from such notable investors as the Fund DST, Yuri Milner, founder of startup incubator 500 Startups Dave McClure, and others.

“When I was a student, all my friends had already created a company. They were successful, but my social circle consisted of individuals for whom going to work for someone would be the biggest catastrophe in life,” said Debelov in an interview with RBC.

A native of Rostov-on-don, he moved to the U.S. where he was a schoolboy in California, and immediately afterwards went to Babson College specializing in the training of entrepreneurs. One of the first persons with whom Debelov met in California was a co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, wrote “RBC”. Debelov even told him that he intended to create a “new Apple”. The startup company ‘Virool’, specializing in so-called native advertising on the Internet, was founded in 2012 with his partner Vladimir Golovin, whom he met in San Francisco. The entrepreneurs managed to get into prestigious project-incubator ‘Y Combinator’.

Virool is now asserting itself as one of “the world’s largest platforms to promote peoples videos online through which videos are viewed by more than 750 thousand people daily”. Over the past year the company has more than doubled — now the number of employees has reached 100 people (compared to four during the project’s launch). In addition to San Francisco, Virool has opened offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Toronto and St. Petersburg, says Debelov. By being placed on a Forbes list, he believes that the company is doing everything right: “When you work 14-16 hours a day for three a half years, this recognition is nice”.

Fighters for cybersecurity

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Another Russian, included in both Forbes reports — global and European, — 29 year old Ilya Sachkov, CEO of Group-IB, which deals with developments in the field of cyber security, computer forensics, warnings of cybercrime and fraud.

Sachkov founded Group-IB together with other students of Bauman Moscow State Technical University — Dmitry Volkov and Igor Katkov in 2003. Now Sachkov estimates to be approximately worth $100 million (the financial results of the group companies were not revealed).

In the spring of 2015 Group-IB and the Foundation for Internet Initiatives (FRII) signed an agreement to invest $210 million rbl. But FRII are yet to invested in the company. Now Group-IB are in the process of negotiations with the fund and other investors, says Sachkov. Since its inception the company has opened more than 100 cyber crimes in Russia and Europe, said the entrepreneur. In 2015, he signed an agreement on cooperation with Europol: the organization will share information to combat various forms of crimes in the sphere of high technologies.

To get onto the Forbes list, Sachkov said it was “a pleasant surprise”. “Our headquarters is in Russia, and without any policy we get onto this list, where there are not many people from Russia and from the sphere of information security — we are only ones”, he said to RBC.

Stickers for Forbes

In the category “Industry” Forbes has included 28-year-old Dmitry Samoilovsky, who founded the company ‘Tesla Amazing’. The company produces stickers that, thanks to the technology of static charged polypropylene film, can be glued to any surface without glue.

Tesla created ‘Tesla Amazing’ in February 2015 together with his cousin Alexey Bragin, who was not included in the Forbes list, since he turned 30 shortly before the publication of the list. The idea of the name ‘Tesla Amazing’ belonged to Bragin. The brothers worked on the idea of producing stickers for several years together with their fellow engineers and experts from Finland. In 2015, the young entrepreneurs launched a fundraising campaign on the platform of collective financing Kickstarter, where $240,000 was raised in one month.

Samoilovsky began to work on an individual project when he was an employee of the company “Troika-Dialog” (now Sberbank CIB), where he was engaged in the service of major private clients in the management of assets. Samoilovsky is educated as an economist, graduating from the Higher School of Economics.

Now ‘Tesla Amazing’ is developing the means for the sale of stickers on five continents in more than 30 countries — USA, Peru, Chile, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and others through distributors.

Robots to help

In the category “Industry” was 24-year-old Oleg Kivokurtsev. He studied as an undergraduate at Perm National Research Polytechnic University (PNIPU) when he drew attention to the fact that every fifth vacuum cleaner in Europe was robotized. Kivokurtsev robotics soon caught fire along with two partners at PNIPU, and started making robotic snow plough. In 2013, at a conference, he met with business mogul and serial entrepreneur Alexei Yuzhakov. He advised the budding entrepreneurs to pay attention to the market of robotic assistants, who at that moment had already gained popularity around the world: such devices are able to answer the questions of people in public places, to present goods, to collect customer information, etc. In the same year Yuzhakov created Kivokurtsevym and his friends company Promobot with 200,000 rubles and obtained their first customers, with the first ten robot assistants being sold for the price of 300,000 rubles.

Now 94 robot helpers work across the globe from Promobot, with the company being asked for another 52 robots. At the end of last year Promobot signed a contract with a Chinese firm to equip a business center in Shanghai: at the moment five robots will go to China, he said in a conversation with to RBC.

Promobot makes robots in Perm – the company leases an area of ​​200 square meters in a former paint factory. The company now employs 20 people. A place on the Forbes list will allow it to enter foreign markets, expects Kivokurtsev

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