On May 11 the third and final stage of the Technology Goes Beyond Borders (TGBB) Project kicked off in Yerevan. Six teams of young startup entrepreneurs from Armenia and Turkey were involved in the project. Throughout May 11-13 they participated in a number of project completion events in Yerevan, Armenia.
On May 11 representatives of TGBB teams met again at Microsoft Innovation Center and worked with their mentors Arsen Babayan, Nazaret Seferian and Emin Okutan to finalize their pitch presentations in preparation for the next day’s pitching session.
Also on May 11, at 17:00 the project hosted a special lecture on “Effective Investor-Startup Relations” featuring Emre Ozbek, a guest speaker from Turkey. The lecture was held at the Public Journalism Club (Saryan 30) and was open to all young entrepreneurs who have an interest in the topic. In addition to TGBB teams the lecture was attended by around 40 entrepreneurs, technology experts, students, media representatives.
On May 12 the participants pitched their business ideas and prototypes created in the previous 4 months to a highly representative jury panel, comprised of members from Armenia and Turkey, including: Pavel Snkhchyan - Vice President, Sourcio IT Consulting Company, Yervand Aghababyan - COO, SFL, Vazgen Karapetyan-Associate Director, Eurasia Partnership Foundation from Armenia, Marina Mkhitaryan, Head of UNDP’s innovative Kolba Lab, Valeria Arzangulyan, Analyst, Granatus Ventures –all from Armenia and Cansu Sarac - Research Associate, The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) and Emre Ozbek - Partner, Istanbul Startup Angels from Turkey.
The teams pitched the following startup ideas to the jury:
Home Planning: an online interior design platform for offices and houses where customers can finds goods and products available at furniture stores that are registered on the website and experiment virtually with area design.
TPI: an online income earning platform for disabled people, which will also ensure their social integration. The team plans to engage people with disabilities into different skills building trainings that will help them create handicraft products, which will later be sold online.
Paqqy: a novel online delivery network that enables a sender to create a delivery order which is found by a deliverer who agrees with the fee and delivers the package to the destination during his personal or business travel via car or plane.
Evreka: a new concept of smart city and waste management. The software is linked to special sensors placed at garbage bins throughout the city. The sensors register and transmit signals about the fullness and temperature of the bins, which allows the municipality to effectively manage waste removal process.
Semt. location-based messaging board for the sale and purchase of items. Semt is a platform that allows for intra-community information exchange as well as sales and purchase of goods and services.
After the pitching the jury had a deliberation session to finalize their evaluation of the presented ideas based on the following criteria: business opportunity match, marketing, novelty, idea execution, and the business model. The results of the evaluation were made public the next day, at a press conference held at the Public Journalism Club on May 13, at 11:30.
Press conference speakers included Artashes Vardanyan, head of the acceleration project of the Microsoft Innovation Center, Seda Muradyan, president of the Public Journalism Club, Ester Hakobyan, Senior Project Manager, PJC Armenia-Turkey Programmes, Cansu Sarac - Research Associate, The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), project mentor Arsen Babayan and jury member Emre Ozbek.
Seda Muradyan told the journalists how and when the Exchange of Entrepreneurs Project began. “Over one and a half year ago, with our Turkey partner TEPAV Foundation, we were developing an idea that could link the ICT sectors in the two countries. It eventually evolved into the Exchange of Entrepreneurs Project within the European Union funded Support to Armenia-Turkey Normalization Process Programme. Last November we hosted a delegation from Turkey for a reconnaissance visit and for participation in the Armenia-Turkey Startup Weekend,” said Seda Muradyan.
The project has worked, first of all, because entrepreneurs from both countries teamed up to develop innovative ideas regardless of the closed borders and pending historic issues, Muradyan believes. The project was part of the larger InnoWeekend forum implemented by the Microsoft Innovation Center and the Public Journalism Club and supported by the U.S. Embassy in Armenia and European Union.
The technology Goes beyond Borders Project was presented by Artashes Vardanyan. “The project stands out as a unique one since it gave young entrepreneurs a chance to have a two-month comprehensive and intensive mentorship. In late March the teams took part in the crash course during which they worked with the mentors and experts on their ideas and learnt how to promote their startups,” Vardanyan said.
The project stirred interest and received great feedback in Turkey, Cansu Saraç, TEPAV representative said. Sarac shared thoughts on the Armenia-Turkey reconciliation and how the establishment and strengthening of business ties might enhance the normalization process. “We believe the business relations may contribute to the reconciliation of the two countries’ relations. And now, at the final stage we see a great success achieved,” Saraç said.
The project brought the IT sectors of the countries closer and increased knowledge about the technology sector in the neighboring country. “I can recall a discussion at which an investor from Turkey said he did not know anything about young entrepreneurship talent in Armenia and added that he would invest in a good idea regardless its location.” The TEPAV representative added that she at first viewed the project as an pilot one which eventually evolved into an entire process. “I believe we’ll enlarge it in future, involving angel investors and creating networks,” Saraç said.
Emre Özbek shared his impressions about the presented ideas, which he considered viable and addressing important issues. “The ideas are important also because the teams themselves have faced those and seek to solve not only others’ problems but their own well,” Emre Özbek said and added that the training and mentorship the has helped the startups to improve their ideas and presentation significantly.
The speakers believe the project made it possible for the IT specialists from Turkey and Armenia to get to know one another and create a collaborative workspace.
“We had little idea how far Armenia or Turkey was from Silicon Valley. Following these visits we came to know one another’s competences better. It would be a pity if all what’s been achieved so far remained at this initial level, without continuation and enhancement having seen the potential of the IT sector in Turkey and that of the Armenian IT, I believe we can proudly creates the Ararat Valley,” Seda Muradyan said.
The press conference was followed by an award ceremony during which Evreka won the Best Team award and will receive prize financial support from the European Union funded Support to Armenia-Turkey Normalization Process Programme to implement its business ideas.
Paqqy, Home Planning and Evreka were distinguished in the following award nominations respectively-the best pitch, the most viable idea and the best technological solution.
The other participating teams also received some motivational gifts from the organizers.
All these completion events were life streamed on PJC’s and Media Center’s YouTube channels. You can watch the videos here.
TGBB kicked off in February and was implemented in three stages. During the first-capacity building stage (23 February -23 March, 2015) the six teams from Armenia and Turkey received online mentorship from Armenian and Turkish experts, who also assessed their needs. The teams then came together at a four day crash course in Armenia (March 26-29), which was followed by another round of online mentorship during which the teams reviewed and finalized their ideas and prepared for the pitching on May 12.
TGBB is implemented by the Microsoft Innovation Center and Public Journalism Club in collaboration with the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) with financial support from the U.S. Embassy in Armenia and co-funding from the European Union.
Technologies Goes Beyond Borders builds on the success of the Armenia-Turkey Startup Weekend implemented by PJC (Armenia) and TEPAV (Turkey) during the InnoWeekend 2014 as part of the Exchange of Entrepreneurs project financed by the European Union within the framework of the programme Support to the Armenia-Turkey Normalisation Process.
The InnoWeeekend 2014 regional innovation forum was held on November 8-9 at Gyumri Technology Center under the financial support of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia and the European Union.
Ms. Arpine Aleksanyan and Ms. Sona Baloyan from Yerevan, from “Matenadaran” Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, were supported with the travel grant to visit Istanbul, Turkey for meetings with the Armenian Patriarchate, Armenian high schools, foundations and publishing houses to discuss possibilities of further collaboration on preserving the Armenian culture.