Russia’s Consummate Connector

Sasha Galitsky, a scheduled speaker at DLD Moscow, a conference taking place May 27-29,  is one of the most influential persons in the Russian tech industry. A a tech pioneer, serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist and consummate connector, on any given day you might find him in the Kremlin or hanging out at Eric Schmidt’s office at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley.

In 1988, not long after U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed a nuclear arms treaty with Soviet leader Leonid Gorbachev , Sasha Galitsky, a Ukrainian computer scientist, the youngest national program leader for on-board computer systems and low-orbit data communication systems for the Soviet “Star Wars” response program, took a government-owned jet on a secret mission.  As the plane sat on the runway in the industrial city of Votkinsk, the pilot mentioned that some travelers had missed their flight and needed a ride. Galitsky agreed, only to discover, to his horror, that the hitchhiker was none other than the newly appointed American ambassador to the Soviet Union and his bodyguard, who were on their way to open a U.S. mission.

At the time Galitsky was not allowed to have any contact with foreigners. The KGB was waiting when he and his team returned to Moscow, whisking each away in a separate car for questioning.

Fast forward to 2012 and Galitsky is making a career of building bridges with the United States, traveling to Silicon Valley as often as once a month.

Then, as now, Galitsky, a scheduled speaker at DLD Moscow, is one of the most influential persons in the Russian tech industry. Everybody knows Sasha. Galitsky served as one of the top technical executives for the Soviet Space Agency and Defense industry. Between 1979 and 1992 he was responsible for the design and implementation of satellite and spacecraft software, as well as computer and data communication systems. After that he started the first of five companies, the beginning of his career as a serial entrepreneur. Esther Dyson invested in one of his start-ups. So did Sun Microsystems, after he impressed impressed Bill Joy, Geoff Baehr and John Gage (all three of whom are now working as venture capitalists in Silicon Valley) with pioneering WiFi technology .

Baeher, Sun Microsystems’ former chief network officer, describes how astonished he and his Sun colleagues were when Galitsky and his team demonstrated how they could build ad hoc wireless networks back in 1992. “At the time there was no chipset to do this; they designed the complete radio frequency side of it,” he says. Sun was so impressed it made its first-ever investment in a Russian company.

Galitsky has over 30 patents for numerous inventions, including parallel processing, WiFi and VPN security technologies and was named a global Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in 2000.

Although he didn’t excel at operations, as an entrepreneur “his concepts were way ahead of the market,” says Dyson.

In 2003 Galitsky made the transition from entrepreneur to investor, creating the Information and Communications technology investment practice at Russian Technologies, one of the first venture capital funds in Russia. It was a tricky position because final approval on deals had to be given by a group of oligarchs. And Galitsky did not always agree with their decisions.

“My dream was to create a fund to help Russian entrepreneurs that could serve as a bridge between Russia and California,” says Galitsky. In 2008 he was able to realize that dream, closing a $72.5 million fund called Almaz Capital, with the financial backing of Cisco Systems, EBRD and UFG Asset Management: all non-Russian investors.

Almaz Capital, was honored in May by the Eurasia Center with its Star of Excellence Award for “monumental work in building successful technology investments in the Russia Federation.” Its portfolio contains two of the most successful Russian tech companies to date: Yandex, which has a market cap of over $7 billion and Parallels, a global software automation and virtualization company that is expected to go public soon. Investments bridge both companies geared for the Russian market and those aimed at the global market.

Those who know him well describe Galitsky as modest, kind-hearted and non-aggressive, adjectives not often used to describe men in the macho, hard-driven world of venture capital.

Yet, Dyson and others  consider him a “great investor,” and a generally all-around nice guy. “He is a good guy, honest and trustworthy,” adds Dyson, echoing the comments of many who know Galitsky.

Galitsky was an early investor in Parallels, which was founded by Serguei Beloussov, one of Russia’s other high-profile serial entrepreneurs.

Says Beloussov: “In his own way Sasha has very good intuition about technology: the explanations why often make no sense to me but he usually proves to be right. And, he has even better intuition when it comes to business people.”

In his spare time, Galitsky, who is raising an Almaz Capital II fund, serves as advisor to Runa Capital, an early-stage Moscow-based fund co-founded by Beloussov, and is chairman of the advisory board for the Russian Venture Company (RVC).

He is also a member of the Skolkovo Foundation Council, along with Google’s Schmidt and Cisco’s John Chambers.

Galitsky works hard, constantly traveling around Russia and between Russia and Silicon Valley. “That helps him to find a lot of opportunities,” says Beloussov, “and because Sasha knows so many people opportunities find him.”

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