Sunday, April 27, 2014

Armenia as a Technology Hub?

Armenia—with its highly educated population, an entrepreneurial spirit, a legacy of research and development during Soviet times, and high growth digital sector—can become a technology hub or “Silicon Mountain” in the region.
According to the Enterprise Incubator Foundation, in 2012, Armenia exported $120 million worth of IT software and services, mostly to the U.S., Canada, and the European Union. There were about 360 IT companies in Armenia, with an average annual growth of 23 percent. Revenues accounted for 3.3 percent of its national GDP, with the industry contributing 8 percent of total exports. About 1 in 10 of the companies had a turnover of more than $1 million.
Armenia used to be a hub for the Soviet Union’s scientific and research and development (R&D) activities, including industrial computing, electronics, and semiconductors. Since independence, the country’s focus has been towards software development, outsourcing, and IT services.
Although Armenia has around 90 percent coverage of 3G network nationally, only around 40 percent access the network.
Students experiment in robotics during a workshop at Tumo.
Students experiment in robotics during a workshop at Tumo.
That is why places like the Tumo Center are so important. Tumo is a new kind of after-school learning environment where thousands of teenage students are put in charge of their own learning, in a place where there is access to the internet and technology. The Center teaches skills necessary to succeed in the digital industry, for example in animation, video game design, web development, and digital video and audio.
Another organization helping prepare Armenia for digital future is Armtech, which promotes Armenia’s high technology economy and encourages investment; allows for the networking among high tech professional worldwide; and organizes a leading Armenia tech conference every year.
Then there have been the technology investments. In 2011, Microsoft Corporation established an Innovation Center in Yerevan, and in the same year India set up a joint Center for Excellence in Information Communication Technologies at Yerevan State University. In response, the Armenian government opened an information and high-tech office at the Plug and Play Center in Silicon Valley in December 2012.
The latest accomplishment came in December 2013, when Technology and Science Dynamics Inc./Armtab Technologies Company, an American-Armenian joint-venture, announced the first tablet and smartphone made in Armenia.
A country that has made the most of its small land mass while leveraging the intellectual capacity of its population has been Israel. The percentage of Israelis engaged in scientific and technological inquiry, and the amount spent on research and development in relation to gross domestic product, is the highest in the world.
A number of factors have contributed to this, including investing within the country to patent technologies and attracting foreign investment to build research and development centers. The Armenian government should consider these and other models to further enhance some its natural resources—its people.
Perhaps it could appoint an Advisory Board (including diasporans) to work alongside these existing organizations to set and implement Armenia’s digital plan, to not only develop the sector but identify new opportunities to leverage.
Armenians are no strangers to the digital sector, with Avie Tevanian, a former senior vice president and former chief software technology officer at Apple; Alexis Ohanian, co-founder the social news website Reddit; Vahé Torossian, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Small and Mid-market Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) organization; Katherine Safarian from Pixar, and an Oscar recipient; Zareh Nalbandian co‐founder and CEO of Animal Logic, one of the world’s leaders in digital animation; and many others.
The opportunities that are available are huge. For example, WhatsApp Messenger, a cross-platform mobile messaging app, was recently acquired by Facebook for $19 billion.
Armenia’s most valuable commodity is before us, we just need to open our eyes.

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