Decoding Information Technologies

 Origins of the Information Technology sector in Armenia

IT is unsurprisingly the fastest growing sector in Armenia. It has a steady annual growth rate of 20 – 22% and accounts for over 3% of the GDP of the country. Considering the notoriously difficult position Armenia has in the global economy – no access to ports and other conventional trade routes – no wonder the country is betting all hopes on the emerging industry. If things go right, Yerevan might become a center of innovation in the region. Although it seems that the IT boom came out of nowhere and is now giving very optimistic promises, the assumption is far from being true.

IT in Armenia has a surprisingly long story. The interest in engineering is a legacy left from the Soviet Union. Engineers and researchers of Armenian descent were valued and respected. Armenians were responsible for over 30% of all the Soviet’s military high-tech innovation. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the interest in mathematics, physics, and computer science not only remained, but almost became part of national identity. After the recession at the beginning of the century, the technological sector started catching up and transformed from primarily being computer science and electronics centered to more mobile entrepreneurship and IT.

The Armenian diaspora played a decisive role in the rebirth of the technologies in sciences by actively lobbying corporations like Synopsis, Microsoft, and VMware. Armenians living outside of the country were initiators of the first startups and tech centers. That is how the process of innovation was launched, and the small city of Yerevan started turning into a major IT hub.   

The government understood that supporting the tech sector, which accounts for $450 million a year, would be a valuable investment in the future. Now, the legislation allows for substantial tax cuts to IT companies, and the application process is available online. The Government of Armenia tried to make it easy to start an IT business in the country and manage it from afar.

Common problems and how they can be tackled

It is easy to be excited about success in IT, but if the country wants to ensure growth, much is yet to be accomplished. To start solving interesting technological and engineering problems, the country needs to have developed and well-operating domestic systems and infrastructures. 

Here is what we have and what kind of problems they can help solve. If you need to: 

    1. Turn an idea into a company
      • Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Centre (EPIC) at the American University of Armenia (AUA) — an on-campus startup incubator, which helps students and alumni develop their ideas into working companies by offering appropriate facilities, mentorship, and promotion. 
    2. Get advice from the best Armenian scientists and engineers
      • Fund for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST) — It is not easy to get in touch with Armenian scientists that have the right expertise. The new project of IDEA Foundation aims to create a global community of Armenian scientists, developers, and researchers and nurture the innovative culture in the country.
    3. Level up
      • TUMO – many of us already know about it, but with the variety of lectures and materials TUMO offers more. So, even people that could not get into their programs can get a glimpse of their expertise. They often invite professional designers, developers, and engineers to give public lectures, so paying attention would not hurt.
    4. Look for investment (congratulations if that’s what you are already doing!)
      • HIVE Ventures – invests in and partners with early stage Armenian startups around the world.        
    5. Present your work
      • DigiTech Expos – the largest technological exhibition of the region, supported by Government of Armenia is a place to look what the tech scene of Armenia has to offer and maybe eventually present your projects. Around 60 000 people from around the world visit the event, which makes it gain new business contacts, promote the innovation and find investors.
    6. Join the conversation
      •  ArmTech conferences – series of events, officially adopted by the Republic of Armenia that aim to influence, change, and shape the policy and legislation of the tech sphere in the country.

The list is far from being exhaustive. It becomes harder and harder to talk about IT in Armenia without leaving something out, which is a sign that the country is moving in the right direction.

The future of innovation

With the quality of tech culture rising, the amount of funding and investment is also expected to increase. There are many promising science and tech projects like an Engineering city in Bagrevand (Jrvezh), which promises to transform Armenia and Yerevan into the Silicon Valley of the region. However, if someone says that every Armenian should now jump inside an accelerating train by learning to code and betray artistic callings, they are missing the point. 

In the original Silicon Valley (San-Francisco), the rise of startups created interesting food, arts, and music cultures that the city is currently famous for. In the same way, technological innovations in Armenia might contribute to the development of other, seemingly unrelated spheres. We are just as proud of our artists, musicians, and writers as we are of our engineers, and this should not change. Innovations in the IT sector can help reshape what we already have and lead to even more creativity. The main purpose of technologies is to solve human problems. Needless to say that innovation for the sake of innovation is bad innovation.   

There is not much we can be sure about but we are on an unpredictable path. There are problems which still need to be solved, and even more will arise if we decide that we want to make innovations Armenia’s niche. However, that is how it is supposed to be. Though the journey is going to be chaotic, it will, hopefully, be worth it.  

Maryam Israyelyan – from the third issue 

 

 

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