ITMO University launched the Advance program earlier this year to help young people struggling with unemployment or lack of career prospects to gain the skills necessary to become better specialists and assist them towards starting their own business. The program is offered completely free of charge to motivated young people aged 22 to 35 who have difficulty finding work or have low-income jobs. Advance is sponsored by the English Language Office at the US Embassy in Russia, and operates in twelve other cities across Russia: Tula, Rostov-on-Don, Khasavyurt, Nizhny Novgorod, Syktyvkar, Chelyabinsk, Cherepovets, Smolensk, Yekaterinburg, Yakutsk, Kursk and Nalchik.  

The program’s participants come to ITMO twice a week to study Business English and either Entrepreneurial Skills or Computer Skills for two hours per subject. As part of the computer skills course, the students learn about making effective presentations, graphic design, and  Microsoft Office software. As part of the entrepreneurial skills course, which is run by ITMO’s Center for Entrepreneurship, they learn about how to develop their business ideas, find investors, pitch their ideas, and more. Once a month, the groups take part in additional activities that help them further develop their skills in these three key areas.

The English Language office also gives some lucky Advance participants the opportunity to participate in special trips, seminars, or conferences in Russia and abroad.  This April, two Advance students got the chance to participate in an Advance Spring School for small and medium-sized businesses in Smolensk.

Advance Spring School

Anton and Ekaterina, who took part in the Advance Spring School, were eager to participate and present their business ideas. There were some personal reasons, too: Anton’s great-great-grandfather was from Smolensk, and he wanted to see his ancestor’s hometown.

The Spring School consisted of 4 lectures, 4 meetings with representatives of small and medium businesses, and visits to three companies and the Gnezdovo museum reserve. All participants were also given a sightseeing tour of the city. During their stay in Smolensk, they also had a great opportunity to learn about the personal experiences of successful entrepreneurs.

Participants of the Spring School in Smolensk
Participants of the Spring School in Smolensk

“The highlight of the Spring School,” Anton shares, “was getting to meet owners of medium and small businesses. The owners told us about the history of their businesses, their mistakes and their successes.”

During the seminar, they also had a chance to develop their fundraising and negotiating skills, learn marketing strategies on social media, develop their networking and strategic management skills and acquire new soft skills needed to advance their career.

“The most useful information and impression we received by participating in the seminar,” says Anton, “was that there is nothing universal in the entrepreneurial world. Every idea, every business, is unique in its own way. If you decide to open your own business you either open it, or you keep talking about.”

Anyone who wanted to take part in the Spring School had to describe their own business idea in their application. Anton’s business idea was to create a Russian online service similar to Glassdoor that would provide potential employees with information about possible jobs, salaries, and companies that they could work in. Ekaterina’s idea was to start a Russian language school, called “Journey in Russian Language”, for international students studying in Russia. Its program would include a special website, an educational YouTube channel, a language school with Russian language teachers, a language immersion hostel, and sightseeing tours that combine cultural and linguistic education. Together they’ve already started working on the second idea. Since coming back from Smolensk, they’ve launched an Instagram page and a YouTube channel for the language school, and are looking for investors to open their “lingua-hostel”.

You can apply for the Advance program at any time. Periodically new participants are sought to fill a space in the program if one frees up. And once a year a new group is launched. If you are interested, you can apply here. At the end of May, eight lucky Advance participants will visit the Skolkovo Innovation Center to participate in the tech entrepreneur conference Startup Village.

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