Watching a laser engraving cutter at Fox Valley Technical College’s Fab Lab, Yuriy Saprykin was clearly impressed. A deputy in the legislative assembly from the Krasnodar Region of Russia, Saprykin was soaking up everything he heard.
“It’s impressive what they have here,” he says, referring not only to FVTC, but also to the partnerships between businesses, education organizations and government in the Appleton area. “The businesses and city work well together and try to help each other. We would love having something like this back at home. It has been an incredible learning experience.”
With Saprykin were two Russian professors and an entrepreneur who visited in mid-November as part of the Open World Program, where they toured several businesses, including the Ariens Co. in Brillion and a Hilbert dairy, and met with officials from local community development offices and FVTC. Run by the Open World Leadership Center in Washington, the program’s goal is to expose Russian professionals to new ways of thinking while also laying the groundwork for future partnerships.
Marie Martin, director of FVTC’s Global Education and Services, says the program creates relationships that last long after the Russians return home. “We are talking with one of the professors about partnerships with their universities, how we can send our professors and students there to learn and study some of their innovative sustainable work,” she says.
Karen Harkness, director of community development for the City of Appleton, says the visit was an eye-opening experience for the Russians. “We do things so differently here when it comes to development. We talked about tax increment finance districts and our comprehensive planning and how we get input from the public, other city offices and the county,” Harkness says. “They were really surprised by the amount of input we seek in our planning.”
Developing entrepreneurship is essential to growing the Russian economy, says Roman Chepa, an Open World facilitator who traveled with the group from Russia. “Having something like this Fab Lab would be an immense benefit to Russia,” he remarks.
“America is a model of innovation and we’re looking to pull the best ideas that we can take back with us and encourage more entrepreneurship,” says Artem Razamkov, general director of Satellite Innovations.
FVTC’s Fab Lab is an extension of a program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that provides inventors with a “take it to market” approach to innovation, linking entrepreneurs with professors from the college as well as business resources available through the Venture Center.
FVTC, which hosted the group along with the Fox Cities–Kurgan Sister Cities Program, gains a lot from the Open World visits, Martin says. “The connections and ideas exchanged are extraordinary,” she says.