It was my privilege to address an audience of close friends and many other active members of the Armenian community at the annual Bay Area Friends of Armenia banquet. I was asked to talk about being an ABC, Armenian By Choice, and our Paros Foundation’s philanthropic work in Armenia. I tried to dig deep and reveal aspects of my personal identity. I hope that you too will think about your own identity and relationship with your Armenian heritage and take that opportunity to reflect upon who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going.
The following is a modestly edited version of my remarks:
Innovate Armenia talk February 2016
As an entrepreneur and venture capitalist with over 3 decades experience – I say there has never been a more exciting time to be an entrepreneur in Armenia. We have a critical mass of talented human resources, cool working environment, ability to create intellectual property that an be efficiently exported to the rest of the world, and a lovely lifestyle.
Today there are about 400 IT enterprises employing about 15,000 IT professionals in Armenia. Those numbers are growing over 15% a year. There are thousands of open positions for engineers. About 15%-20% of our IT companies are developing and marketing their home grown, intellectual property. We are moving from 1 start up a week to one start up a day. I am excited about the increasing number of product designers and artists who are conceptualizing new products for international markets. And there are dozens of clever, hard working entrepreneurs starting service businesses like delivering food and Uber like taxi services with exportable business models. Yerevan is a great place to educate kids, eat, drink and enjoy life. You do not have to endure 1 hour commutes, expensive real estate and high labor costs. There is an organization called Repat Armenia to support those of you who commit to a year or more of professional engagement in the country. I am so excited for my fellow dreamers and for your opportunity to build a successful, world-class business in Armenia.
So what is it about being Armenian that will increase your probability of success? In the face of adversity, tragedy, limited resources, being a minority, Armenians have never ceased to dream of a better future and for making a positive impact on the entire world. You value education, tenacity, creativity, family, and your unique culture and language. You are respectful of and often burdened by your past, but you are ultimately empowered by the remarkable spirit and passion of your fore fathers and mothers. You care deeply about honoring your heritage with good deeds and successes that will earn you, your family, and your people rewards and recognition. I admire and relate to those characteristics. So, as a first born American, as an American dreamer, the child of parents who lost almost everything and rebuilt their lives in America, I think I can appreciate the journey you are on……and well…join you….as an Armenian by Choice. We share a value system and aspirations. You call people like me ABC's. I wear that label like a badge of honor. It is a privilege to work and live in our vibrant global Armenian community.
So let me tell you what I am doing in Armenia today:
Some people, particularly older Diasporans are not so optimistic. They do not see Armenia as a land of opportunity. They observe and even experience corruption and in some cases limited free speech. These are real issues in Armenia. However, these are not reasons to avoid engagement in Armenia. Just look at what one ABC is able to do. We want more Diasporans to take actively engage and take advantage of the opportunity to make a positive impact in Armenia and to enjoy the associated personal growth and satisfaction. Our community of intellectual property developers and exporters is living and working in a parallel universe without significant impediments or obstacles, except, of course, our own abilities. And we are harnessing what is best about Armenia …everything I have just talked about.
We can do some things better. Some say that we need easier access to investment capital. I say we need to develop stronger business plans to compete in the global market place. We need to improve our skills to effectively communicate our ideas to investors and partners. I am confident we will do so and that investors will come to our field of dreams and play ball!
So life has come full circle for me. Dad's job was to identify world-class talent and to build new friendships and to create new professional possibilities. 50 years ago, Dad discovered what he was looking for in Armenia and shared this with his family. Now his son and his grandchildren are seizing the opportunity to do the same in an Armenian ecosystem that has all of the ingredients for a grand and enriching adventure ahead.
Thank you for your attention.