Our team had chance to interview Armenia StartUp Cup organizer, Hayk Asriyants, the young initiator of this great event. Let’s enjoy our talk and learn what is going on in this year’s StartUp Cup.
iTechnology.am: In what phase is this year’s Armenia StartUp Cup now?
Hayk Asriyants: Our judges have chosen 12 semi-finalists, and they have received additional coaching. Right now, they are working to improve their business models and are getting prepared for the next round of pitching in October. Out of the 12 semi-finalists, 7 will advance to the final.
iTechnology.am: What is different for this year, besides more participating teams?
Hayk Asriyants: Indeed, the number of participating teams has quadrupled since last year. This year we received applications from 48 teams, compared to last year’s 12. We’ve also widened our geography and improved penetration into Armenia’s regions and even reached the Diaspora: we have start-ups from Talin, Ijevan, Montreal, and London. Also, we have increased the “incubation” process from two months to four, so that the teams go through more stages and improve their business models through more coaching and judging. Our own team has grown, and we have new faces among our coaches and judges. We are doing our best to engage industry leaders and top-notch professionals, and at the same time maintain diversity among them: we have men and women; locals, repats and expats; entrepreneurs and managers; investors and consultants. Also, we have secured new partners and supporters, have grown our network, and we are already planning next year’s competition. Also, for the first time, StartUp Cup founders from the United States conducted three levels of entrepreneur mentor training in Yerevan, including a very important master mentor training for those who are ready to take on the role of a Train-the-Trainer. This contributes to the development of the mentorship institute in Armenia, which is an important component to our entrepreneurial ecosystem.
iTechnology.am: What can you say about the participants? Are they mature enough to start a company?
Hayk Asriyants: This year again, Armenia’s entrepreneurs have demonstrated a passion towards making their dreams come true and have worked hard in order to achieve their goals. They are talented, and have amazing potential. A few of them have been in business before entering the competition, but the majority joined the competition not with a business model, but, as we say, with ‘ideas written on napkins’. We are very proud to see a few of them already launch their businesses, meanwhile the competition is not over yet! This is the best way to win the StartUp Cup: go to the market and start generating revenue.
iTechnology.am: Are IT ones dominant in the list of participating teams?
Hayk Asriyants: We’ve always clearly stated that Armenia StartUp Cup is open to any type of business idea, but, given both the global trends and Armenia’s position as an emerging IT development and outsource cluster, indeed, almost half of the 48 submissions represent the IT industry, ranging from locally-oriented e-commerce websites up to scalable Software-as-a-Service and deal-hunting mobile apps.
iTechnology.am: There are a lot of events for start-ups, mostly IT ones to develop ideas, create business models and to do real steps to enter the business market. What is your opinion on this? Are start-ups interested in such events and how they help the teams?
We don’t compete with other events or competitions. I’d rather say we support them and try to help them grow. My vision is to support the development of Armenia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and all these events (be that a hackathon or a developers’ meet-up) are integral to the ecosystem and it’s in my best interest to see them succeed. I’m proud to be surrounded by people who share my vision. Let me remind you that I’m the Host of the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Armenia, and, in our second year, we are forming an executive board to coordinate our actions and develop a joint strategy.
Are the start-ups interested and do we help them? You’d better ask the startups, or rather follow their success. Last year, Armenia StartUp Cup alone has contributed to starting 5 companies and opening 20 jobs. For example, we have incubated Ask Audiobooks, which has produced a few dozens of Armenian audiobooks and sells them online. Nest Innovations, a very successful IT outsource company, is another example. And of course Tectum, the last year’s winner, has successfully launched their probiotic cheese production. Moreover, Microsoft’s Imagine Cup and EIF have supported Lionsharp Solutions to develop the Voiceboard. And Mardamej social innovation camp gave birth to Ankashar.am project, which successfully fights against corruption in the education sphere; the first Armenian online blood bank registry, and TaghInfo hyperlocal news platform. We have many more examples, and I believe soon enough we’ll have even more.
iTechnology.am: Who are the organizers and sponsors of Armenia StartUp Cup?
Hayk Asriyants: For the second consecutive year, we are proud to be supported by the USAID funded Enterprise Development & Market Competitiveness (EDMC) project. They have an amazing team, and without their support Armenia StartUp Cup would be impossible. Also, we’ve joined our forces with Ayb High School and OneArmenia this year, two organizations which share our values and vision on entrepreneurship and the development of Armenia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. I’m proud to see well-established and esteemed companies, such as Deem Communications, IAB Centre, LegalLab and many others among our partners
iTechnology.am: As an organizer of the event what are your expectations for the next year?
Hayk Asriyants: We plan to reach out to all regions of Armenia. My vision is to slow down the migration from small towns and rural areas through creating jobs. Start-ups are a great source for this. Also, we’d like to become more active in the Diaspora and among refugees from Syria. We want to show them that Armenia can be a great place to start a business and that we can support them with this. We have already supported two Armenian repats to start a business in Armenia, and have contributed to another Armenian to repatriate and expand operations. This makes me extremely proud of our team.