“Five years ago, I was a successful entrepreneur. Today, everything has changed. Why? Because we asked ourselves how can we help future generations to build a better world? With that simple sentence, Igor Rybakov summed up his world in the past few years when he was speaking at the Forbes Europe Under 30 Conference held this year in Berlin.

Rybakov, who has a kind look, believes what he is saying and you can hear it from his voice. He also has the means. He is one of the richest people in Russia and Forbes estimates his wealth at $1.4 billion.

Igor Rybakov. photo by: Alon Yehezkel

His wealth was made from a company called Technonicol, which supplies water sealants, thermal insulation and roofing materials,  and which he founded in the 1990s with his partner Sergei Kolesnikov when they were studying at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Russia’s most prestigious research university.

While at university, the two men earned a living by mending roofs in the Moscow area, earning  them a monthly salary of $500. Over time, the company became the largest supplier of roofin materials  in Russia with a network of hundreds of distributors throughout the county, making them Russia’s youngest billionaires.

Now Rybakov, and his wife Yekaterina, want to use the wealth they have accrued to arouse inspiration in future generations to realize their entrepreneurial potential.

To this end they set up a $100 million education fund five years ago and last year they launched the Rybakov Prize, awarded to social entrepreneurs involved in the future of education. The prize awarded each year by the Rybakovs includes $1.2 million for the three entrepreneurs who reach the final. This year as well Igor and Yekaterian took advantage of the Forbes conference in Berlin to choose two candidates for the finals in 2020. He said, “The recognition of these social entrepreneurs, mainly in education, is a genuine answer to the complexities of the world.”

The Right Place

Rybakov’s sympathy for entrepreneurship has also made Israel an interesting place for him in the past few years – not only for social activities but also for business. Prytek is one example – an investment fund in startups, which has opened a branch in Tel Aviv. SOK, a co-workspace which recently opened in Tel Aviv’s Nitsba Tower is another example of his operations in Israel.

“The ecosystem in Israel is one of the best in the world,” Rybakov says in a special interview, which took place during his visit here now. “Therefore two of my companies are here. It is the right place for technology and it is the place to begin building something for a better world. Israelis are among the smartest people in the world and they are also brave and you also need to be brave in order to change things.”

Since it was founded two years ago, Prytek has invested more than $150 million in 35 ventures worldwide in various stages of raising capital. In the company’s investments portfolio are companies in the fintech, human resources, artificial intelligence, cyber security, education and media sectors. The Israeli office has 10 employees.  

Giving Empowers

In contrast to the investment fund, the co-working spaces company was set up for a different reason. According to Rybakov, “SOK is like a university of the future – the place where processes of innovation continue to grow. The professional companies that are coming to there are teaching each other.”

The co-working space is the first that Rybakov has opened outside of Moscow. The facility that he has opened extends over three floors in an overall area covering more than 3,000 square meters. Rybakov does not intend stopping in Tel Aviv and he is already planning to set up five more co-working spaces in Israel in the coming three years.

“My dream is to empower the world and Tel Aviv is the right place for this. The technology, the courage of the people, full of passion – from Israel we can influence the whole world. It is like every company that I have opened. At first it sound crazy but it works. All of my businesses are more than businesses, they are also tools for social change, for a better world,” says Rybakov.

“Giving empowers me and makes me happy, giving is my life – the companies are instruments through which I can do this. I am a very successful entrepreneur but my personal mission is that there should be another 10,000 successful entrepreneurs like me in the world.”

Picture caption: Israelis are among the smartest people in the world and they are also brave and you need to be brave in order to change things. This is the place to begin building something for a better world.”                

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