Leveraging its unique position in the epicenter of the high tech industry, with its concentrated community of IT professionals and transformational entrepreneurs, AGBU Silicon Valley paved the way for the first visit of Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his 20-member delegation to Silicon Valley on September 23rd.
Armenia’s leadership was on a special mission to achieve multiple objectives during their one-day, six-event visit to the world’s mecca for science and innovation: To share Armenia’s impressive IT success story with the industry’s power elite; to gain insights on the trajectory of high tech innovation heading into the next decade; to engage with diasporan IT professionals in the area; and to conclude the signing of two MOU’s designed to support Armenia’s homegrown IT talent through education, training, and opportunities for direct engagement with the Silicon Valley community.
Today, there are over a dozen successful tech companies, many incubated and nurtured in Armenia, with a presence in Silicon Valley—an expansionary phenomenon fueled, in part, by the early efforts of AGBU to help advance Armenia’s IT capacity. Compared with a handful of tech companies that existed in Armenia in the early nineties, when AGBU first decided to plant a stake in the industries of tomorrow, there are now over 800 startup enterprises operating in country. These are in addition to some of the more mature enterprises, some of which were acquired by world-renowned multi-nationals.
A day of discussion, discovery, and mutual intentions
For the better part of the day, Pashinyan and his team engaged in a series of back-to-back high-level meetings from closed-door one-on-ones to an interactive dialogues, along with product demos, educational tours, and business presentations in between. The entire itinerary was organized by AGBU Silicon Valley chapter under the leadership of its chair Dr. Yervant Zorian. A key figure in the Silicon Valley community in his own right, Dr. Zorian is not only the Chief Architect of Synopsys, Inc., but also serves as President of Synopsys Armenia, the parent company’s second largest location in its 35-country R&D network, and the largest IT company in Armenia. He also happens to be the founder of the Armenian Virtual College (AVC), an AGBU signature institution, which is revolutionizing Armenian education around the world while poised to adapt its unique platform to advance education in Armenia’s high schools and universities. Dr. Zorian currently serves on AGBU’s central board.
Agreement Signed with Venture Capitalist Tim Draper
The official tour began with a meeting at the invitation of titan venture capital investor Tim Draper, founder of Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), Draper University, Draper Venture Network and Draper Associates. Mr. Pashinyan, Minister of the High-Tech Industry Hakob Arshakyan, and select members of the delegation engaged in discussions leading to the signed MOU for a Draper University branch in Armenia. When established, it will provide the next generation of enterprising tech professionals in. Armenia with access to one of Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneur training programs.
Excursion to Computer History Museum and Apple Park
During the private talks, the rest of the delegation, including the spouse of Prime Minister Anna Hakobyan and Minister of Economy Tigran Khachatryan, took a side-tour to the nearby Computer History Museum and Apple Park. The visit was hosted by the leadership of the museum along with members of AGBU Silicon Valley and AGBU young professionals of Northern California.
Demo and Meeting with Nvidia Leadership
Pashinyan’s next stop was the headquarters of Nvidia Corporation, inventor of GPUs, which creates graphics processing units for gaming and professional markets, as well as a system on a chip units (SoCs) for the mobile computing and automotive sectors. The Armenian delegation, eager to learn more about Nvidia’s artificial intelligence capabilities, was fascinated by a demo of real-time virtual simulation based on machine learning which took place prior to a side meeting with Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang. Mr. Pashinyan took that opportunity to extend a personal invitation to visit Armenia as a means to promote the country as a favorable and attractive location for R&D in artificial intelligence.
Continuing the conversation at the Synopsys campus
At the halfway point of their visit, the delegation headed to the Synopsys Inc. headquarters complex for three final engagements. First up was a meeting with Synopsys executives headed by Co-CEO Chi-Foon Chan to review the many innovations that this semi-conductor giant has brought to the industry and partake in boardroom discussions on the latest developments by Synopsys at large, and by Synopsys Armenia in particular, including its future expansion plans. The conversation then moved to another building on campus in which Mr. Pashinyan met with a group of a dozen high-tech executives, investors and academic leaders interested in pursuing a first-time involvement in the IT sector of Armenia.
“The Armenian government has declared the technology sector a priority and, therefore, we prioritize our partnership with huge technological companies, such as Synopsys, “stated Prime Minister Pashinyan. “We are interested in attracting investments in the field of high technologies, creating jobs, and training specialists. We stand ready to promote this process with our government’s toolkit intended to create a favorable ecosystem for technological startups and investments. Our government is ready to develop cooperation and exchange views on future joint action with Silicon Valley.”
The tour culminated with the Armenia Tech Forum presided over by Dr. Zorian, PM Pashinyan, and the Minister of IT Arshakyan. The 140 representatives, mostly young professional Armenians from the tech community, were encouraged to engage in an open dialogue with the Prime Minister. Topics ranged from tech industry issues, the future of education and its deep impact on R&D, to post-revolution politics and Armenia’s economic and business climate for startups.
Announcement of the Virtual Bridge Concept
During the forum, Minister Arshakyan announced the finalization of an MOU between the ministry and AGBU Silicon Valley, whereby the chapter would be available to facilitate the creation of a dedicated facility for visiting tech professionals from Armenia setting up temporary residence to explore opportunities for venture capital, partnerships, and other collaborations with the local digerati. When implemented, the Virtual Bridge Project would facilitate stateside experiences by offering lodging, providing office space, and covering other logistical needs.
“The Virtual Bridge is the first and largest project that will be done directly with the Diaspora,” remarked Minister of the High Technology Sector Hakob Arshakyan. “It will allow the Armenian startup companies and entrepreneurs to visit Silicon Valley, participate in acceleration programs, and meet with venture capitalists.”
The Virtual Bridge serves as a compelling reminder of just how far Armenia’s IT sector has evolved since its early days of independence, when AGBU was the first to break ground in the development of the tech industry with the inception of advanced computer science retraining at the American University of Armenia (AUA) in the early nineties.
These seminal initiatives helped set the foundation for the next phase of development with the introduction of Silicon Valley startups establishing R&D in Armenia, often facilitated by well-connected Diasporan leaders in the tech industry. That period was followed by an era of acquisition, whereby a number of such startups were acquired by multi-national corporations. These developments combined have led up to the coinage of the term “Start Up Armenia” as an apt descriptor of the nation in a 21st century context.
While the arc from startup infancy to high tech mastery can be traced to AGBU’s longstanding commitment to the IT sector, it also makes the case for why Armenia’s government has decided to put most of its chips on technology as the primary driver of the economy, ahead of agriculture and tourism. Since the Velvet Revolution, Armenia’s leadership has repeatedly stated that the Armenian Diaspora plays a vital role in ensuring Armenia’s competitiveness in shaping the technologies of the future and expanding its footprint in the high-tech arena. AGBU Silicon Valley will no doubt be instrumental in bringing that vision to pass.
Reflecting on AGBU’s commitment to Armenia’s IT sector, Dr. Zorian stated: “For decades, AGBU Silicon Valley, with its deep ties to this center of innovation, has been ideally situated to support the IT sector in Armenia. This time, organizing the Prime Minister’s visit here represents another step toward strengthening the synergistic bond between Silicon Valley and the IT sector in Armenia, especially after the government announced it was a sector of priority.”