For its Diaspora Armenians in IT edition iTechnology.am talked to Vahan Chakarian, Founder @ Technology and Science Dynamics Inc., which has been operating in Armenia under the name Armtab Technologies. Read the interview below to learn the story of the first Armenian tablets and a successful entrepreneur career path as well.iTechnology.am: Armtab is quite a step forward for the Armenian tech manufacturing sector. But before the tablets, lets talk about you and your career. Please share with us your story as an entrepreneur.
Vahan Chakarian: I was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia during the Soviet Union. You couldn’t do much of anything “entrepreneurial” during the Soviet times. Things started changing, however, during the 1980s with Glasnost and Perestroika. During that time I became the Board member of the Soviet Foundation for Social Innovation and President of the Armenian branch of the Foundation. The purpose of the Foundation was to promote and identify entrepreneurial ideas from Soviet citizens and then find overseas sponsors - especially in the United States - to carry out the most promising ideas. The Foundation garnered such significant attention within the United States, that the Foundation opened offices in San Francisco, New York, and Juno, Alaska. One of our first sponsors in the United States was the George Soros Foundation. During the first two years of our efforts, over 6,000 young Soviet professionals visited the United States in various exchange programs, including in financing, management and language.After moving to the United States it took more than a decade to learn and adapt to the different culture, laws, and system of doing business. It is one thing to have sponsors to carry out ideas for you, it’s quite a different story to do everything yourself. With two kids and a wife, I had to adapt quickly and use what I knew best. With my education in sports medicine and science, I managed to open a sports medicine and rehabilitation center in Santa Barbara, California in the late 1990s. That was the beginning of my entrepreneurial career in the United States. Approximately eight years ago, I became involved in the IT business through my friend, Eric Ryan. Eric has been involved heavily with IT, and specifically, forensic technology, for the past twenty years. He was constantly in search of talented, well-educated, and experienced software and hardware engineers for his businesses. I told Ryan that Armenia was known as the “Silicon Valley” of the Soviet Union, and do this day, has a strong IT sector with tremendous untapped talent. I helped spearhead the search for talent in Armenia, and developed close relationships with many engineers and other IT specialists. The young Armenians I met were more talented and professional than I could have ever imagined. They helped us develop cutting-edge forensic technology in record time and top-grade quality. During this time, we realized the great potential for IT in the education sector, both within the United States and elsewhere. With our team of Armenian engineers, Eric and I decided to start a new project developing tablets that are designed for educational use. We understood that we could not fight against giants like Apple or Samsung, yet we also realized that with our small group of talented engineers, we could offer something others did not: customized tablets that are developed according to the budget and specific needs of educational institutions. We feel strongly that with our relatively small size and talented group of engineers, we could provide high-quality tablets at a low cost without compromising quality. Our tablets are known by the brand name “Minno” in North America and South America.iTechnology.am: Please tell us the story of the Armenian tablets and smartphones? How did it progress from idea to the full implementation and what parties were involved? What is your vision for this new venture?
Vahan Chakarian: After becoming familiar with the free-economic zone in Armenia, we made the strategic decision to move our production line of Minno tablets from China to Armenia, and in the meantime, develop new tablets under the brand name “Armtab.” Already having in place a group of engineers in Armenia, it was not a hard decision to make. The assembly, software development, and PCB design are all done in Armenia, while production of PCBs and other parts are purchased from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Our engineers in Armenia also developed smartphones under the brand name “Armphone.” We made this decision because we see a great opportunity for our tablets and phones in the former Soviet Republics, where there is a strong demand for low-cost but high-quality tablets and smartphones for educational and business uses. Moreover, these countries have long recognized Armenia as a leader in IT, and so there is a level of recognition and trust that we can deliver on our promises. There is also a strong market beyond the former soviet bloc countries, including in the Middle East where we feel we can establish a presence as a credible and trustworthy technology provider.Right now we are in the stage of remodeling our production space in Yerevan, and expect to start our first official production in September 2014. So far, we have assembled a small batch of tablets and smartphones for marketing purposes and donations to rural schools located near the Armenian-Azerbajain border.iTechnology.am: What are the technical specifications of the devices? How competitive is it in the marketplace?Vahan Chakarian: As mentioned before, we make customized tablets. Our customers can choose from our various specifications to create their own custom-made tablet. We will be offering Android based tablets or dual OS Android/Windows with Vostan DOS. We will offer dual-core, quad-core, and octa-core tablets that come in sizes that range from 7-inch, 7.85-inch, 8-inch, 9-inch, 9.7-inch, and 10.1-inch. RAM ranges from 1GB to 2GB, with ROM of 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB. All Armtabs come equipped with dual cameras, from 2 megapixel up to 13 megapixel. Screens are TN, IPS, or retina display. Wifi, 3G, bluetooth, GPS, mini-HDMI, full-HDMI, USB chargers, SD card slot capabilities. Some Armtabs also come equipped with phone capability. Batteries up to 8000mAh. These are only some of the customizable specifications which we will be offering starting in September of this year.
We firmly believe that with the ability of our customers to customize their tablets, we will be very competitive in the marketplace.
Video by PastNewsiTechnology.am: What percentage of production do you estimate to be sold domestically vs be exported? Which countries do you believe you will be competitive in? With Armenia looking to join the Customs Union, do you see Armenia as a good launching pad for the large Russian market? What about under served markets like Iran?Vahan Chakarian: Armenia is a relatively limited market in all aspects, not just for technology products. It is difficult to discuss in terms of specific percentages and numbers how many products we expect to sell in Armenia. However, based on pre-orders and agreements with certain customers up to this point, most of our products will be exported. We do believe Armenia will be a great launching pad for the large Russian market. Russia is an important market for technology products and other Armenian-made goods. I believe joining the Customs Union will give Armenia the competitive advantage it needs to sell its products at a lower cost.
Regarding Iran, we have been in on-going discussions with various Iranian business customers who have expressed interest in purchasing our tablets. The close-proximity of Iran to Armenia and our long-history of trade relations points to a great potential for sales of Armenian technology products to Iran.iTechnology.am: You now operate in Armenia. How was this decision made considering the fact that Armenia has some risks and challenges for investors and businessmen? Has the Tax Free Zone given you the extra competitive advantage needed to compete with Chinese made devices?Vahan Chakarian: I think many of the so-called “risks” of investment in Armenia are exaggerated. If you are transparent with the government and follow the rules, then investing in Armenia is relatively straight-forward and predictable. Of course there are obstacles, as Armenia, like other former Soviet republics, is in the early stages of adopting principles of the free-market to their economy. However, it has been my experience that the Armenian government is willing and able to help those who want to invest in the Armenian economy. The free-economic zone is a big step forward in rewarding those investors who believe the Armenian economy will only become more dynamic and competitive going forward.iTechnology.am: Could you provide some advice for Diasporan Armenians who want to move their businesses or open new ones in Armenia?Vahan Chakarian: Come to Armenia with an open heart and good ideas, and you will find your home once again.iTechnology.am: Mr. Chakarian, Thank you for the story. We will stay tuned to share news about Armenian tablets and how they progress in the foreign markets.