Anastasia Titova wires transistors and circuits in the bowels of a San Francisco-style startup incubator called Akadempark in the middle of the Siberian taiga. Russian government officials and local entrepreneurs started building the complex – called Akadempark – three years ago in an attempt to revive a declining Soviet planned town.
The town – called Akademgorodok or Academic Town – is tucked into clearings of lenticular birch forests that stretch north to south across central Siberia. In 1957, the Soviets conjured the town out of nothing as a home for the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This monument stands alone in a clearing near the academy's botanical gardens.
When the Soviet Union fell, Akademgorodok experienced a massive brain drain as engineers fled to the West to work for companies like IBM or Lockheed-Martin. Boris Grobov helped build the "Poisk" Children's Movie Studio after plans to create a full-fledged film production company crumbled with the collapse of the post-Soviet economy.
A cardboard cutout of a character for a mobile video game created by Playtox, an Akadempark startup, stands in the main incubator office space of the towering main building.
Nick Volynkin manages projects for Academ Media, one of the biggest startups in Akadempark. The tech incubator fosters new companies at a steady clip and gives them a one-year runway to find a business model and become profitable.
A machine is used to wind wire for transistors in the innovation center's fabrication building. Akadempark is a cluster of buildings, one dedicated to office space, one for biotechnology and another to fabricate components that are hard to acquire in the middle of Siberia.
The main building of Akadempark lit up at night in the red, white and blue of the Russian tricolor. The 13-story buildings spans a road and towers over everything else in Akademgorodok. The top floor, accessible via a transparent skybridge, is a dedicated coworking space for tech entrepreneurs.
Akadempark holds two startup accelerators a year to create new companies. At the end of the incubator period, aspiring entrepreneurs face a panel of five judges that measure a project based on its level of innovation.
An aspiring startup founder presents his invention, an automatic servo, to the judges. They grade ideas' innovativeness on a scale of 1 to 5. This entrepreneur was not among the funding winners.
Institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences surround the incubator. Academics there study everything from science to humanities. Anna Bolshakova, a numismatist, reviews ancient Slavic coins she collected during a field expedition for her studies at the Institute of Archaeology.
Kairat Kaseynov (left) and his friend Che-Che Baatyr traveled from the nearby mountain region of Altai that borders China and Kazakhstan for a startup conference at Akadempark. One is an aspiring businessman and the other an engineer.
The Institute of Nuclear Physics at night. This institute is the academy's largest and most prominent, known for decades of contributions to the field. Pieces conceived and built here in Siberia were shipped 4,000 miles by truck and installed at CERN in Switzerland.
Sergey Polosatkin stands with dissambled pieces of machines that he uses in the study of plasma physics. The machine behind him is a neutron generator.
Dmitry Vinnick pours water on the scalding rocks of a steam bath. Vinnick is a philosophy professor writing about the moral and ethical implications of technological innovation.
Polina and Ivan with their daughter Vasilisa in their home.Polina studied in South Korea and speaks fluent English. Ivan programs set-top cable boxes for American and Russian televisions. It's the second tech company he has worked for in Akademgorodok.
Maya Sidorova, a dendrochronology graduate student, with the Institute of Paleontology's collection of tree-ring samples.
Elena Salina studies the genes of wheat. She has worked in the Academy of Sciences since just after the fall of the Soviet Union. She expressed concern about a federal takeover of the Russian Academy of Sciences last year, part of a larger trend of consolidation of power in Moscow.
Feofil Zhuravel, a retired professor of mechanical physics, ices fishes on the Ob Sea on a sunny day. Though many academics left with the fall of Soviet Union, those that stayed hope that Akademgorodok will not lose its intellectual and quirky character to become just another sleepy Russian suburb.
Nikita Sokolov, 6, draws frames for a cartoon he is conceiving. The daycare and movie studio where he plays is inside the first building ever built in Akademgorodok, before the town's official beginnings in 1957.
Inside the annex of the Institute of Archaeology and Paleontology, a building on the outer edge of Akademgorodok.
Anton Nikolenko makes adjustments to a particle collider that he uses for experiments at the Institute of Nuclear Physics.
Genetics graduate student Irina Mukhamedshina poses with her pet and thesis project Viliya, a domesticated fox that lives with her. Her research focuses on training the genetically manipulated foxes. The Institute of Cytology and Genetics is another of the most prominent in Akademgorodok, known for Dmitry Belyaev's decades-long experiment to domesticate wild foxes.
Ilya Surin repairs a collider in the Institute of Nuclear Physics.
Marina Pilipenko watches her friends – many of them born in Akademgorodok and now attending university there – burn the effigy of a witch on the frozen waters of the Ob Sea to mark the end of winter. The town is also home to Novosibirsk State University, a pipeline of talent for the academy and now the incubator.
Elvyra Skorynina is the curator and academic behind the Museum of the Sun, dedicated to sun mythology and recreations of sun icons from around the world.
Sasha Vasiliev, 6, prepares before a violin recital in one of Akademgorodok's oldest buildings.
The Akadempark logo in winter.