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"We will continue to evolve to a better situation between the US and Russia"

December 20, 2017

Molly Cernicek knows first-hand that change is never linear and smooth. When Russia just started the post-Cold War transition in its defense industrial sector, Molly was among those who explored ways to turn its challenges into commercial opportunities. She had a chance to do it - consecutively - in the capacity of a private entrepreneur and as a LANL employee. Armed with this double optics and looking back a quarter of century later, Molly offers her view of the pains and gains of technology commercialization in Russia. This effort was largely channelled through the Industrial Partnerships Program (IPP) that began in 1994. It sought to engage US companies in joint ventures with Russian teams to find and develop technologies with a market potential.

In the retrospect that Molly Cernicek offers, the IPP early days were dynamic. "We began creating and implementing a very complicated program in a short time. It was much more of a startup environment than a government process." The energy was there, but "we all did not understand - just how difficult it is to commercialize something. <..> Those of us who had never commercialized anything before had never contemplated what it would take to transition a technology into a product."

With the power of the hindsight and a new vocabulary, the lessons look clear enough. "We should have integrated the Lean Startup Method and customer discovery into every proposed project, brought successful tech entrepreneurs and seed capital partners to Russia and funded experienced entrepreneurs who were willing to commercialize some of those IPP technologies in the US." 

The main point though is about the larger significance of this experience. Growing in Los Alamos, Molly still never could make sense out of the nuclear deterrence logic. "In the 1970s, between the US and the Soviet Union, we had produced over 75,000 nuclear weapons capable of destroying the world over and over. That approach was not sustainable. What was really positive about the beginning of IPP was that the world was in major transition as the Soviet Union fell apart and we were engaged in trying to find ways to contribute to making the transition positive. Change is never linear or smooth, but we were all in building new relationships and opportunities that were so much more personal and full of potential than could have ever been imagined during the Cold War."

Even with the current state of relations between Russia and the US, the change Molly Cernicek witnessed through the three decades of her life signals hope, not doom. "In the end, it’s about communication. We're connected now in many ways. It never occurs to me if I hire a Russian software developer that there's something odd about that. I don’t hesitate to connect to a Russian friend or colleague on social media. I have so many people in my life who are Russian. <...> We will continue to evolve from where we are now to a better situation between the US and Russia as new generations gain governance and global challenges continue to weigh more heavily on the entire world than within our current grievances."