iTechnology.am: Glen Dalakian, you are currently living in Beirut, Lebanon and worked with Wamda. What is Wamda and enlighten us on the status of entrepreneurship in Lebanon and the Middle East.
Glen Dalakian: Wamda is a media portal, VC fund and support organization for entrepreneurship in the Arab world. It has a regional focus, highlighting startup and tech news from across the Middle East. It’s an exciting time here; the tech scene has been expanding alongside new investment channels, business plan competitions, accelerators and incubators, exciting events and an increasing interest in starting new businesses. Since I’ve been in Beirut it’s been fascinating to see companies rise and fail, reach new markets and build some amazing products – it’s definitely a fun ecosystem to be involved in.
iTechnology.am: Many Armenian startups focus on the European and US market. Being so close to the Middle East what advice can you give on Armenian companies looking to expand into that marketplace?
Glen Dalakian: Depending on the type of business you are building there are a lot of different answers. In general, companies looking to enter the MENA market should consider localizing their content and language capabilities and more importantly finding local partners to join forces with and share expertise. There are some huge consumer markets here, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Online business is on the rise and people can’t get enough online content, particularly in the Gulf. I’d say that accessible and localized content is the way to meet the market here.
iTechnology.am: Congratulations on launching HIVE, Armenia’s new virtual network and startup accelerator. Lets first start by giving us an overview and mission of HIVE.
Glen Dalakian: Thanks! We’re very excited about the project. HIVE is the first startup accelerator and virtual network for Armenian entrepreneurs and professionals around the world. As a project of the Hovnanian Foundation, HIVE has a focus on improving the IT sector in Armenia through global partnerships, hiring and mentorship. This is where the diaspora component comes in. We are looking to accelerate companies with at least one cofounder of Armenian heritage. The company can be based anywhere around the world, but we want to make sure they have an eye on Armenia as they scale. The network itself welcomes anyone interested in the global Armenian tech ecosystem. So if you want mentorship, investment, tools, resources, talent, and cool events in the Armenian community, create a profile.
iTechnology.am: At your New York launch, HIVE introduced the four selected companies from its first pitch off. Can you please share with us some tips on how future startups can join your next pitch-off. Please add any special tips they can use to prepare themselves better.
Glen Dalakian: We’re very excited to work with these first companies – they are a talented bunch. With the launch of our new website, entrepreneurs can apply to accelerate their startup via our online form. We’re always looking for the next big thing to invest in. Our focus is on scalable tech companies; startups that are looking to target more than one market and have the potential to scale pretty quickly. We do seed investments so we try to support them early on, before they look to venture capital. The acceleration program matches each startup with an Advisor at HIVE alongside seed investment and at least one demo day at the end of the round.
iTechnology.am: You worked with the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA), an initiative designed to enable diaspora communities to scale their efforts to promote sustainable development in their country of origin. Please share you insights in the Armenian diaspora’s similarities and differences compared with others. What are the initiatives that worked well in other communities?
Glen Dalakian: The Armenian diaspora is well known in the U.S. as one of the most organized and cohesive diaspora communities; there is a lot of activity promoting Armenian cooperation around the world. Armenians here in Lebanon feel closely related to their counterparts in Armenia, the U.S., France and all over. There have been networks developed by other communities, or even tried before in the Armenian community, to harness the power of each diaspora group. OneVietnam comes to mind as an example, and we worked with them at IdEA. What makes any of these communities successful is to have a very diverse membership (not siloed in one state or country) and to actually have useful tools for people to connect and improve what they’re working on day to day. That’s what we’re trying to do at HIVE.
iTechnology.am: How can someone interested from the diaspora become involved with Armenia’s increasingly vibrant tech and startup scene?
Glen Dalakian: One shameless plug is to join HIVE. That’s exactly our mission – to provide a space for Armenians in the diaspora to discover talent and cool startups in Armenia, and vice versa. If you want to get involved, create a profile and keep an eye out for the great startups being developed by Armenians around the globe. Also, keep apprised of upcoming events at places like the Tumo Center and the several new incubators and coworking spaces being planned for in Yerevan. I think we’ll see a lot of growth over the next year – just keep your eyes open and you’re going to see a bunch of amazing startups and support organizations popping up in the space.