BY ALINE BARSOUMIAN
LOS GATOS, Calif.,—The Armenian National Committee of America’s Silicon Valley Chapter organized a panel presentation titled “The Future of High Tech in Armenia.” The event took place on April 6, at the Kabuki Theater inside Netflix’s headquarters. With over 300 community members and supporters in attendance, the theater was full to a capacity crowd.
Vache Shirikian, a Senior Software Engineer at Netflix, opened the evening by welcoming everyone to this one of a kind special event. “I hope that you will all leave this event with a renewed hope and a deeper understanding of the current progress and the future of High Tech in Armenia,” said Vache. He also encouraged them to submit questions to the q/a portal which was live throughout the presentation. The panel discussion was meant to be an open dialogue in the Armenian Community of the Silicon Valley.
The panel was moderated by Aline DerAlexanian Barsoumian. Aline, who is currently the Assistant Director of Development at the American University of Armenia, is a longtime ANCA activist and community leader. After introducing herself, she shared with the audience how the committee came to organize tonight’s event.
“Armenia has been a high tech hub since before the fall of the Iron Curtain. The idea for this event came to our committee naturally. We live in the Silicon Valley and Armenia is in the midst of a high tech revolution. We aim to bridge the 2 worlds on this platform this evening,” said Aline.
Today, Armenia has attracted some of the biggest tech giants in the world, and is also home to some amazing innovation and startups. There are so many factors contributing to the growth of the IT sector in Armenia, including a highly skilled and educated workforce, and some government initiatives that are expediting this renewed growth. The purpose of this event was to bridge the 2 worlds: Silicon Valley and Yerevan and discuss what role education, law, and entrepreneurship play in securing a better future in Armenia in the High Tech sphere.
The panel consisted of four experts in their respective fields, which included Dr. Mary Papazian, Nina Achadjian, Edith Khachatourian, and Meruzhan Danielyan. Dr. Mary Papazian is the president of San Jose State University. Nina Achadjian is a partner at HIVE Ventures, and a Principal at Index Ventures. Edith Khachatourian is the founder and partner of International Legal Consulting. Meruzhan is the founder and CEO of Teamable.
The panelists had a lively discussion and their feedback primarily focused on 4 areas: Armenia’s education system, Armenia’s competitive advantages, key areas to focus business development, and Silicon Valley’s role in Armenia’s technology revolution.
Dr. Papazian, a seasoned leader with nearly 30 years of experience as a university professor, academic and administrative leader, who is also avidly involved in educational initiatives in Armenia, highlighted the need for more pedagogical higher learning institutions in Armenia.
She also highlighted Armenia’s strong background in foundational sciences and stressed the importance of focusing more on applied learning. Papazian explained that the pipeline of talent in Armenia needs to be made larger by improving the educational system and by fostering a closer partnership and collaboration between industry and universities.
Further, the panel observed that there is a higher proportion of women in tech in Armenia than in the Silicon Valley, but still more work to do. “It is very exciting to be a female in technology today. And Armenia is light years ahead in that aspect where more than 40% of its workforce in Tech related jobs are female” mentioned Nina.
She continued to say that “the best thing we can do is to empower female founders in Armenia because that is what is going to cause a ripple effect for decades to come.” Dr. Papazian also shared that when she was recently in Gyumri, she noticed that nearly all of the startups were led by women entrepreneurs hence the need to continue empowering them on the paths to success.
Meruzhan, who is one of the co-founders of Teamabale, a successful startup that originated in Armenia, highlighted Armenia’s location and market as both a competitive advantage and a competitive disadvantage. Armenia’s small domestic market forces developers and entrepreneurs to focus their efforts on reaching a global audience.
Along these lines, Meruzhan and the panelists agreed that startups in Armenia should focus their efforts on business services.Furthermore, Meruzhan commented on the current situation of the startup market in Armenia where “before it was more difficult, but now we have a high tech community and HIVE, so there is progress compared to 5-6 years ago. It would be helpful if it were more systematic and people knew where to go.”
Nina, a partner at HIVE, a firm that provides funding and operational support to startups in Armenia, indicated how much progress has been made in the tech sector in Armenia just in the last several years. Where she previously would have reviewed business plans of tens of fundable companies, she is new reviewing those of thousands of fundable companies. This is indicative of a maturing tech industry.
Nina also commented that a small amount of capital can go a long way, and mentoring founders and tech workers in Armenia has a profound impact on furthering the development of the sector. She also stressed the importance of the role of the diaspora in advancing the High Tech sector in Armenia by empowering the attendees to make a difference, even from afar. “Make 3 helpful introductions for someone that’s Armenian each month, you all have incredible networks and can share those resources, people with expertise” said Nina.
Edith, a licensed and seasoned attorney in Armenia and the United States, discussed the differences between civil law in Armenia and common law in the United States. She indicated that in order to make Armenia a more visible in the High Tech sphere, there has to be a stronger availability of a talented workforce. “There is no lack of information about Armenia out there. Unlike tourism, where the louder you advertise the more people will come. You have to have the goods to back it up. This is where a strong educational and training systems come into play to prepare the workforce.”
She also mentioned the need for a survey in the Silicon Valley of the needs of the Tech companies that Armenia can fulfill so that the Armenian educational system can improve its offerings and prepare a better workforce based on the industry demands. She also discussed the importance of providing across the board industry information, such as salary ranges for the workforce in order to make Armenia a more comfortable place to run a business since high Tech jobs are the highest paying jobs in Armenia.
The panel discussion concluded by a thoughtful question from the moderator to all the panelists. She asked the panelists to highlight how the diaspora can feel empowered to be a part of this High Tech revolution in Armenia. All of the panelists had encouraging and hopeful messages to the audience. Nina said, “It is possible to make an impact sitting 7,000 miles away.
Whether its mentoring a group, building a group that’s good at product design, taking an idea and running with it. One person can make a difference.” Edith’s message was to empower and encourage those who are coming to the Silicon Valley. “One of the needs that startups are facing when they arrive in the U.S. is the lack of support from the community at large. They need help negotiating contracts and a variety of other needs to have a softer landing.”
In her closing remarks, Ani Yeni-Komshian, chairwoman of the ANCA Silicon Valley Chapter, thanked the speakers and the audience for a thought provoking and engaging discussion. “This evening’s discussion reaffirms that High Tech is one sector of many that has great potential in Armenia. Its advancement, depends on multiple factors as discussed here tonight: education, training, job opportunity, and laws that will benefit the employer as well as the employee” said Ani. “Strong steady growth can bolster a healthy economy. With hopes that all this can happen, while Armenia maintains its unique rich heritage and culture of thousands of years.”
This solution focused discussion yielded many suggestions for growth and improvement. Since one of ANCA’s goals is to encourage the growth of the US-Armenia Economic relationship, these suggestions were very much in line with its mission. One of the main suggestions was the opening of a trade office in the Silicon Valley in order to help connect the two markets and foster healthier working relationships.
The idea of this trade office would help accelerate the process of launching companies and everyone can benefit from the collective expertise and knowledge of those involved. If the tech field is going to grow and secure an economic vitality in Armenia, where else does that happen other than the Silicon Valley. The impact we can have collective could be enormous.
The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.