Interview with Yeva Hyusyan - Microsoft Innovation Center Armenia

The Armenian Information Technology (IT) sector is developing at unprecedented speed. Industry revenues have grown at a 27% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) between 1998 and 2011.The evidences are everywhere: growth in the number of businesses and startups, rise in mergers and acquisitions activity, foreign investment into the sector by large multinationals such as D-Link, and increased interest from companies such as Intel and IBM.

Another example is the Microsoft Innovation Center Armenia. It was inaugurated in May 2011 and jointly established by United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Microsoft Corporation and Enterprise Incubator Foundation. The Center, located inside State Engineering University of Armenia (SEUA), now joins the global network of innovation expansion and development efforts commenced by Microsoft.

The correspondent of iTechnology.am online magazine had an interview with Yeva Hyusyan, Director of Microsoft Innovation Center Armenia.

iTechnology.am: Ms Hyusyan, tell us about the center. What are the main activities the Center is engaged with?
Ms. Hyusyan: The Center has three main components: (i) creation of start-ups in the IT industry, (ii)  skill/capacity development (through training and retooling) and (iii) organization of events, aimed at young professionals, to develop new ideas and then to identify those ideas that can be developed into marketable products.

iTechnology.am: What projects are you working on at the moment?
Ms. Hyusyan: Now we are working on two projects that are aimed at improving job management. Recently the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia visited the Center and found the projects quite interesting and effective. He instructed respective government departments and bureaus to cooperate with us and to implement include these programs in their activities.

iTechnology.am: You mentioned that you organize events aimed at finding and developing ideas and initiatives of young professionals. Could you tell us more about some of those events?
Ms. Hyusyan: I want to separate the two events. The first is Microsoft Imagine Cup international competition, which brings together young students worldwide to compete on innovative ideas. The second one is Hackathon [YAN] contest, which has become a tradition for the Center. The competition took place on December 22-23 2012. This contest gives 24 hours for the teams, consisted of programmers and non-programmers, to develop the prototypes/demo versions of their programs, applications and mobile applications that are assessed by a jury of experts. At the end of the event we get not only innovative ideas but also the almost finished product.

iTechnology.am: What are the main achievements of the Center since its inception?
Ms. Hyusyan: Now we have 1,600 beneficiaries involved in the training courses. I think this is a great achievement for a Center which has been launched only 18 months ago. We also have the first registered company, Bigbrain (www.bigbrain.am), which uses kinect technology and is already introduced into the marketplace.

iTechnology.am: What do you think is the greatest achievement of the Center?
Ms. Hyusyan: There were many goals that we have accomplished and they can be mentioned as achievements, but I think our greatest achievement is the “tech” environment which we managed to create. In my opinion, the success of the Center is the atmosphere, in which young people come, get engaged in the activities, and find whatever they were seeking for: be it a job, a training course or simply participate. I am glad to note that +80% of our participants find a job in the IT industry.

iTechnology.am: What are the incentives and prerequisites for Armenia to become a world known technology hub?
Ms. Hyusyan: I can state that there are no prerequisites but serious steps, both in terms of capacity and infrastructure, that need to taken to make Armenia a world known technology hub. Step by step Armenia has gained the position of the regional leader and now it is beginning to be recognized for its potential all over the world. Slowly, IT is becoming a brand for Armenia. I am happy to add that this year, during the ArmTech Congress 2012, an office was opened in Silicon Valley to help present and commercialize Armenian products in the US. Also, the office will be used to foster bilateral connections between Armenian and American companies.

iTechnology.am: What challenges or obstacles are obstructing the development of the IT sector in Armenia?
Ms. Hyusyan: I think that any company operating in this sector will affirm that the biggest obstacle is the lack of professionals. As the sector is growing very fast, first we have both the lack of quantity and quality of specialists. The second problem is in the educational system. The opportunities given by our educational system do not meet the demands of today’s IT sector. This is why our training courses are so popular. We introduce students to the latest technologies and innovations and give them the chance to use them and implement them.
I think that if you want to continue with the progress achieved in IT so far, more investments need to be made in the education system, because the potential for Armenia is there.
I wanted to add that earlier this yearArmenia was the second (afterPoland) in the competition for online digital applications, while our neighbors were not even on the list. So we are the regional leader and we are seeking for larger markets.

iTechnology.am: What are the Center plans for 2013?

Ms Hyusyan: We will continue organizing competitions, namely Imagine Cup, Hackathon, etc. Besides we are expecting the launch of two start-ups into the marketplace. I don’t want to mention the names yet, but time will show what we will manage to accomplish in 2013.

iTechnology.am: You took part in ArmTech 2012.  Tell us more about it.
Ms. Hyusyan: This year’s congress was much better than the previous ones. There were many serious and quality companies among the participants. A very important agreement was signed between Armenia and Intel, according to which Intel will open an educational center here in Armenia. This means that another major corporation will have a foothold in Armenia.
I can say that the ArmTech Congress was not only impressive, but also successful in the accomplishments that resulted from the Congress.

This post is also available in: Armenian