Farminers Startup Academy: Unleashing Russian Entrepreneurship


10 January 2013

Moscow – Farminers Startup Academy has all the trappings of an entrepreneurial incubator: wide open space with communal work stations, readily available snacks and Perrier bottles, Bose noise cancelling headsets on goateed-twentysomethings, and colorful Simpsons posters with comical quips. It’s in talking to the men and women about the startup product or service that they’re diligently developing that you realize you’re far from Silicon Valley. Here, in an industrial part of Moscow amid mass-produced colorless communist constructions, the focus is on technologies that can do rather than change. These entrepreneurs have little room for idealism.

Since the proverbial iron curtain went up in 1991, Russians have lagged in the startup race. Relying on oil and gas wealth, the country has yielded only a handful of entrepreneurial successes: search engine Yandex, e-mail, cyber security giant Kaspersky Labs, and cloud computing companyParallels. Incubators such as Farminers, are eager to add to the list.

Igor Matsanyuk started Farminers in 2011 after cashing in shares from, which had acquired his Astrum Online Entertainment. “Last year we realized that we’ve gathered a lot of experiences and to build some great companies,” he said. Clad in dark colors and thick-framed glasses, he greeted me with a fragile handshake and sotto voce on a late afternoon in early November. He seemed more philosopher than entrepreneur. During my stay in Moscow, I realized one that’s what one has to be. Here, entrepreneurship isn’t just diving in, setting up and launching. In the face of on-going bureaucracy, high incidence of corruption and a narrow market, Russian startups must navigate bureaucracy, avoid graft, and think global.

“Big products like Google, Amazon and Facebookwere developed in the US,” Matsanyuk told me as he paced in front of a large whiteboard in a large conference room. “The IT market looks first to the US.” Hence, that is where Russians need to be. His incubator is focused on nurturing startups to do just that. “And our vision is that if you want to make it big you have to do it in the proper way, from the beginning.”

After sifting through 2500 applications, Matsanyuk chose 12 companies for Farminers inaugural class. They work out of a four-story building that used to be a Soviet “culture” club. Working in this space for three months is mandatory (a maximum of six optional) as is surrendering 40 percent equity. In return, Matsanyuk and his team of experts promise at minimum $150,000 in financing, engaged mentoring and introductions to Russian and foreign investors. “Our projects meet all the main criteria: they are online, trendy mass services available from any mobile device,” says the website.

Farminers does not coddle. Applicants complaining about the terms are told that since this is “private capital,” the incubator and its leaders set the terms and conditions. And any queries whether salaries will be covered receive this is a response: “If you want to work for a salary, go to another place. We give you a chance to implement your dream, and we are ready to help, but we are not ready to pay you a salary so that you sit at our table with our notebook and think about what to do.”

Among the startups sitting at Farminers table include:

  • – Launched last month is a mobile app that helps diners navigate the menu. “People chose a restaurant based on reviews,” says Zhanna Sharipova, one of three co-founders. lets the content come to it. Framed in a “power by numbers” mindset, it synthesizes existing reviews from Yelp, Foursquare and Instagram with those courtesy of you and your friends, allowing for maximum information.
  • Beat the Bushes – Initially started as a missed connections platform in Minsk, Belrus, Beat the Bushes is a location-based lost and found app utilizing maps. Post a pic of your missing pet or item or something you’ve found, possibly for a reward. It’s working to collaborate with mainstream franchises where it’s all too common to leave behind a hat or glove. That’s how Beat is planning to make money, though it still hasn’t figured out how to dodge bad guys and avoid what happened to Skout.
  • Planner 5D – This B2B web and mobile platform allows a user to create 3D, interactive floor plan, choosing color schemes, material, and finishing. Potential customers include realtors, interior designers and furniture showrooms. Founders Alexey Sheremetyev and Sergey Nosyrev say that “Planner 5D is your real chance to turn boring thing of making interior layouts into an interesting and easy process.” Over 60,000 people worldwide agree. Users from the US,CanadaPhilippines and Thailand visit the site daily. Don’t be surprised if it’s 600,000 by the year’s end. This is one startup to watch.