[Ed. This article has been edited for broken links and outdated information. 22 October 2010]
Initially surprised by an invitation to cover the launch of ArmTech '07, a global high-technology conference held July 4-7, within fifteen minutes of arriving it seemed apropos to participate in a country's passionate efforts for renewal on a grand scale.
The spirited energy at ArmTech '07 was evident walking through the portal of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Conference attendees mingled in the lobby, while clusters of people debated topics of interest on their way to the next session, and others tapped away on laptops to friends, colleagues, and business connections half a world away.
Two years in the planning, ArmTech '07 offered a robust selection of cross-cultural learning and technical exchanges truly representative of the rapidly rising technology sector of Armenia. Topics ranged from semiconductors to digital learning to renewable energy.
Jeff Muscatine of Prospero Consulting Group, chaired the Marketing and Communications committee at the request of Tony Moroyan, founder of ArmTech Congress and a principal executive of venture and incubation activities. Joining Jeff as Communication Manager, Kim Bardakian, supported the evolution of ArmTech '07 from idea to fruition with the dedicated help of numerous volunteers, exhibitors and corporate Diamond Sponsors: Synopsys headquartered in Mountain View, CA; Armenia-based VivaCell and Armenia TV Company, along with more than a dozen other Platinum, Silver and Organizational sponsors.
The first high technology congress and exhibition designed to connect professionals interested in engaging in the global Armenian community, the level of charged excitement was evident as entrepreneurs and operating companies networked with government officials, scientists, educators, and service providers under one roof.
High-level officials from the Armenian government included His Excellency Vardan Oskanian, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Excellency Vardan Oskanian, Minister of Foreign Affairs; executives from operating corporations in Armenia and university representatives. Counterparts in the U.S. included the Honorable Joe Simitian, California State Senator; Dr. Chi-Foon Chan, President and Chief Operating Officer of Synopsys, Inc. , and Andre Andonian, Director, McKinsey & Company in Europe.
A power-packed four days of business and fun awaited international attendees; a blend of international keynote speakers, detailed presentations in advanced technologies, alongside a robust selection of programs on future innovations, pivotal trends, and the logistics associated with Armenia's reinvention. Rounding out the conference was a bay cruise dinner on board San Francisco's famed Hornblower line and a closing gala event at the Fairmont.
ArmTech '07 provided attendees with opportunities for firming existing relationships as well as developing new ones. Alfred Rostomian, President of Montreal-based Troika via, a consultancy that helps its partners establish global and strategic markets, saw the four-day conference as an excellent opportunity to establish relationships with key decision-makers in a more casual environment.
The immediate needs and long-term benefits of education are top of mind for Armenia's leaders and educators in designing a knowledge-based culture with a capacity for innovation. University and business leaders expect Armenia's intellectual property to serve as a key differentiator for investors, strategic alliances, partners, and service providers when considering source locations in future.
Therefore, it's no surprise to find IT and the internet at the hub of university life with joint programs such as the one established by the State Engineering University of Armenia (SEUA) in partnership with Synopsys Armenia CJSC, and now includes regional universities Yerevan State University (YSU) and Moscow Institute of Electronic Technology (MIET).
Top-performing students compete for placement in the Synopsys Armenia Educational Department (SAED) with its state-of-the-art computer lab, specially equipped classrooms, and top business and academic minds preparing them for advanced studies in VLSI design and EDA.
To date 168 students have successfully completed the SAED program with a majority of graduates employed as engineers at Synopsys Armenia.
Upon meeting Dr. Gayane Markosyan, a Senior University Program Coordinator for Synopsys, you realize immediately that the almost three decades she served as professor at SEUA prior to joining Synopsys ten months ago was a goldmine for the U.S. headquartered company.
Dr. Markosyan's goals in the next few years? Responding as if she's thought of this for the last ten years, she highlights three areas of focus for her and the Synopsys Armenia team:
- Speed the university curriculum so that it keeps up with the fast-moving semiconductor industry.
- See Synopsis Armenia double in size in two years from its current 374 employees.
- Develop a new tool created in Armenia for Synopsys use worldwide.
Connector par none, Dr. Markosyan introduced me to Dr. Ruben Aghgashyan, Vice-Rector, International Relations & Educational Reforms at SEUA who shared some university history.
In the 1980s the university was one of the largest polytechnic schools in the Soviet Union with more than 25,000 students, but changed its official name in the early nineties from Yerevan Polytechnic Institute to the current State Engineering University of Armenia. Currently, the number of students attending SEUA is 11,000 with two thousand students focused on IT and another thousand on Cybernetics and Radioelectronics. Today, Dr. Aghgashyan serves as a collaborative link between SEUA, other regional universities, and industry.
Tony Moroyan stopped at our lunch table, proudly sharing Armenian culture and his own success stories associated with some of the country's programs, such as Viasphere International and its subsidiary, Viasphere Technopark in Armenia. Where others see unsolvable problems, Tony sees innovative opportunities.
One success story that is revitalizing the country's border villages is Armenia's Rural Development Program funded by Armenian-American billionaire, Kirk Kerkorian, which enables American University of Armenia (AUA) students to support sustainable development in the vulnerable border villages via micro-financing "seeds of change".
Brought to the university for specialized training and mentoring, village entrepreneurs hone their skills and prepare business plans and practice delivering their "funding pitches"--a phenomenal achievement given that these micro-entrepreneurs have had no previous exposure to the formal tools of business!
This funding augments the $25 million loan approved by the World Bank for repairing or reconstructing rundown schools, healthcare facilities, and water supply networks in remote parts of Armenia to close the huge development gap between Yerevan (business and university center) and the rest of the country. U.S. assistance through its five-year $235.6 million Millennium Challenge Account Program aims to rebuild Armenia's rural infrastructure. The country's leaders have also called upon the Armenia Diaspora to contribute heavily to these efforts.
Research and development will enhance Armenia's capacity for innovation, a reality not lost on the country's business leaders, scientists, and educators. The ability to create strong international networks between scientists, technologists, educators, entrepreneurs, and change agents will kick-start the efforts in place for seeding and nurturing change throughout the country.
Powerful business partnerships with international companies, such as Synopsys, Inc., a company that gained its Armenia presence through the acquisition of the Yerevan engineering branch of Texas headquartered LEDA Systems in 2004. Synopsys Armenia quickly extended its reach and influence through two additional acquisitions, along with its innovative training programs established through the universities and the company's local hiring practices.
Rich Goldman, CEO Synopsys Armenia, took a few moments to share his thoughts between sessions, quick to point out that the Synopsys presence in Armenia has not been without its challenges.
"Internet bandwidth costs for a company whose business depends on the smooth delivery of data to customers worldwide has been a challenge." Noting that the monthly $20K costs for bandwidth are clearly moving in the right direction through deregulation, with an expected drop to $5K, Synopsis can now focus on other areas such as expansion.
The company expects to move into a larger facility this August to accommodate its growth.
Low key as she is intelligent, physicist Tamara Babayan Director of the Armenia Renewable Resources and Energy Efficiency Fund (R2E2), an independent donor financed agency, is determined to move Armenia in the direction of Renewable Energy (RE) at a faster clip. The agency's involvement in dispersing a number of soft loans totaling over $2M for projects focused on wind and small hybrid, and heating energy efficiency, look to offset larger project costs through a consortium, such as those needed for solar panels.
Dr. Artak Hambarian, Associate Director, Engineering College, American University of Armenia, extended our solar panel discussion by sharing some success stories of solar energy projects at AUA.
We spoke about Santa Clara's Applied Materials and its CEO, Michael Splinter with his passion for solar energy combined with his smart move of enticing Charlie Gay, formally of SunPower, to head up AMT's Solar division. And now a deeper connection exists with the recent announcement by Applied Materials that Synopsys Inc., Chairman and CEO, Dr. Aart J. de Geus will serve on its board of directors and strategy committee.
Five opportunities exist for Armenia to pursue aggressive alternative energy solutions (abstract source: Renewable Energy: Rapidly Maturing Technology for Armenia by Kenell J. Touryan, Ph.D., and Araig Marjanyan, Ph.D.)
Based on recent studies performed by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Armenia has 1,000 km2 of land with good to excellent wind resource potential. The first wind farm in Armenia the Pushkin Pass "Lori-1", a 2.6 MW placed into operation December 2005, resides in one of four areas identified as prime wind power locations in Armenia.
Due to its 2500 hours of sunshine a year, Armenia's terrain offers significant solar energy potential. California-based Amonix, Inc. is negotiating with World Bank Armenia to bring the high concentration of photovoltaic technology to the country designed to support Armenia's villages and small communities.
Biodiesel and Ethanol
Raw materials for bio-diesel are high oil content plants capable of growing in a number of geographical zones. Should Armenia determine that it has the potential to produce alcohols; the country can consider the production of alternative liquid bio-fuels. Growing Jerusalem artichokes (Konja), robust root plants in Armenia that grow in arid, mountainous regions.
In an effort to avoid the high costs of hydrocascades that served to industrialize Armenia under Soviet system, the country is now working with the World Bank to explore mini-hydro options and, thus, bypassing expensive dams, instead concentrating on using river power.
Although the development of hydrogen fuel cells would take the longest to reach the market (~30 years), but already a small high-tech company with seed funding from the Cafesjian Family Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy, plans to change this model. Yerevan-based H2Economy has developed a hydrogen fuel cell for backup power.
Thanks to a more competitive environment that has led independent power producers to support smaller, innovative power products, renewable technologies could now have the edge over conventional fuels.
It seems that some people have a tendency to confuse Armenia and Albania (click here for a map) and that the phrase "Armenians find bread from stones" is actually a proud reference to their resilience and not some type of crunchy bread they're cooking up.
What does show is the country's double-digit economic growth. And their willingness to reach out to international organizations and companies to build long-term relationships. Moreover, it shows in their commitment to learn from the past in order to reinvent a new future.
The Armenian Technology Congress, headquartered in Silicon Valley and founded by technology and business professionals, fosters professional growth in the worldwide Armenian technology community. You can visit them at www.armtechcongress.com for additional information.