The destiny of an electronic monument in memory of Steve Jobs in St Petersburg has attracted public attention this week after its owner, a Russian company named “West-European Financial Union” (ZEFS in Russian), withdrew it in an expression of its radical anti-US and anti-gay stance.
The past few weeks have demonstrated the uncomfortable position Western venture capitalists that have traditionally invested in Russia are finding themselves in as a result of the international tensions. While, in the eyes of some them, the Russia label has become a stigma, other VCs have proclaimed their commitment to continue investing in Russian startups – with all the possible nuances of strategy and expression in between.
Among those loyal to Russia is Intel Capital, one of the pioneers in global emerging market investments. Having developed over the years a portfolio of more than 10 Russian companies, the fund led recently a $7.3 million Series A round in Webinar.ru, a Russian web- and video-conferencing software company.
Earlier this month Russia Partners, the Moscow-based private equity affiliate of global alternative investment firm Siguler Guff & Company, announced that Rakuten acquired Slice, a portfolio company in its technology fund. The details of the deal have not been revealed.
Over the past few years, the Japanese online retail company has invested several billion dollars in e-commerce projects in Asia, Europe including Russia, and North and South America. A few weeks ago Rakuten bought up cash-back rebate site Ebates for $1 billion, as reported by Venture Beat.
Wikimart, a major Russian B2C marketplace, has agreed a capital increase with a group of Russian investors, including Finprombank chairman Anatoly Goncharov. The news was revealed last week by business daily Kommersant and confirmed to East-West Digital News by Wikimart’s press service.
The $40 million capital injection will be used in part to acquire Terminal.ru, a multichannel retail group that comprises a network of 25 outlets in 13 Russian cities as well as e-commerce sites Terminal.ru and Mallstreet.ru.
In a series on Europe’s “hottest startups,” the UK edition of tech magazine Wired published earlier this month a selection of 10 Russian startups. These included peer-to-peer publishing platform Gitoon, e-commerce intelligence platform Ometria, “rephotography” app publisher Timera, slideshow assistant app Penxy, music-streaming service 10tracks, taxi app publisher Wheely, driving navigational system WayRay, video game marketplace Gameslooper, educational program comparison engine Choister, and autopilot system developer RoboCV.
Wired — which says nothing about its selection criteria — presents the Russian startup scene quite optimistically. Citing perhaps outdated statements by Russian venture capitalists, the UK publication envisions an “increase in private and international investors on the Russian venture market” and “an average GDP per capita growth of six percent per year until 2015.”
While Russia is shifting a part of its business focus from Western countries to alternative partners, Asian bank card giants UnionPay and JCB have expanded initiatives to conquer the Russian market.
China’s UnionPay, which entered the market in 2007, claims to be accepted by over 100,000 POS terminals and more than 30,000 ATMs in Russia, and that a total of 45,000 UnionPay cards have been issued in Russia.
Anna Chapman, the Russian businesswoman and alleged secret agent uncovered by the FBI in 2010, has teamed up with the Otto Group to launch an e-commerce shop dedicated to her own fashion brand.
According to an agreement signed last month, the group’s logistic subsidiary eTraction will provide the warehousing, fulfilment, call center, and returns management services required to support the online shop. Delivery will be provided by eTraction’s specialized partners.