October is the highlight of Armenia’s technology-themed events calendar. The apex was reached with the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) global conference from October 6-9, 2019, in Yerevan, but annual events also draw a crowd from members of Armenia’s IT community, the general public and even international visitors. October 2021 saw two large-scale events: Engineering Week and DigiWeek21.
Opportunities for established experts in the IT sector to network and share their wisdom with up and comers is vital for all kinds of industries, from manufacturing and cybersecurity to agriculture and education. By understanding what the priorities and needs are in different sectors, innovative solutions can be developed to overcome the challenges at hand.
One of the points in the Armenian Government’s 2021-2026 Government Programme on developing the high-tech industry calls for the “creation and development of special engineering and industrial zones, following the example of the Engineering City.” Launched in 2020, Engineering City is a public-private partnership between the Government of Armenia and a consortium of private companies. The aim is to create an environment for engineering companies in the high-tech sector to facilitate and accelerate the development of complex engineering solutions. And Engineering Week is precisely pursuing this goal.
The Engineering Week exhibition and forum, originally launched five years ago in Vanadzor, is organized by the Ministry of High-Tech Industry, the Engineering Association of Armenia and the Enterprise Incubator Foundation (EIF). It aims to promote high-tech engineering and manufacturing in Armenia, bring together experts to understand the issues, find solutions and generate results. The 5th annual iteration of the event took on the title “From High-Tech Engineering to High-Tech Manufacturing.”
Engineering Week kicked off in Yerevan on October 21 and, over the course of five days, also held panel discussions and events in Gyumri and Vanadzor. The event gives participants an opportunity to exchange ideas, take part in a series of lectures, hold discussions on worldwide and Armenia-specific developments, and share outlooks for the future.
This year, the achievements, shortcomings, challenges and opportunities of nine different industries were discussed: automotive, semiconductors, aerospace, biomedical, electronics, manufacturing, cybersecurity, education and science. Specialists in these sectors shared their personal challenges, achievements and the experience of their companies through talks and exhibits. According to Arsen Arustamyan, a member of the Engineering Association of Armenia, the close cooperation of engineers in the design phase and implementers in the production phase is extremely important.
Representatives of the nine industries face many similar challenges: a shortage of human resources, gaps in the education system, importing components and global market competition. The objective of these events, however, is to focus on finding solutions and lessons to be learned from the international and domestic experience so that innovative breakthroughs can be developed to overcome obstacles.
The last panel discussion in Vanadzor was about education and science. Representatives of different departments of several Armenian universities, emphasizing the importance of the participation of the engineering sector, stated that engineering solutions can help develop agriculture, biomedicine, and the chemical sector. All that remains now is to act.
Engineering Week is not an end in itself. After all the panel discussions and talking about achievements, there is also a time set aside for doing. On the final two days, hackathons on “Innovative Ideas For Creative Industries Development in Shirak Region” and “Innovative Engineering Solutions For Conventional Industries Development” took place in Gyumri and Vanadzor, respectively. Each hackathon had cash prizes for the top three contenders.
One of the important steps for moving from words to action is the signing of memorandums, agreements and documents on cooperation. In order to maintain contact with vocational education institutions, the Enterprise Incubator Foundation (EIF) and the Engineering Association of Armenia signed a memorandum with the National Center for Vocational Education and Training Development, to cooperate in the area of vocational education in engineering.
Engineering Week ended with the transfer of the technology baton to another important event, DigiWeek21. The event included the annual Digitec Expo, the Digitec21 Summit, the Hyetech Showcase, the DigiWeek Science and Sustainability Summit, the DigiWeek AI Summit and the DigiWeek Venture Summit. The events took place from October 27 to November 3, 2021, in Yerevan and Gyumri
DigiWeek launched with the HyeTech Showcase entitled “Talent Matters” on October 27 and included a variety of panel discussions including Global Talent, Scaling Globally, Tech Bridge to India and more. HyeTech Showcase Gyumri was held the following day.
The two-day Digitec Expo kicked off on October 29 and showcased technology companies established and operating in Armenia. It is the largest annual technology exhibition held in the Transcaucasus and gathers representatives of the technology sector under one roof. Its mission is to showcase the technological developments of Armenia and the world, and the role of Armenia in those developments. It has been held since 2005 by the Union of Advanced Technology Enterprises (UATE).
This year's Digitec Expo was rather different. Following the success of WCIT in 2019, Digitec adopted a new format with a much larger capacity. The exhibition was held at the expansive Karen Demirchyan Sports and Concert Complex to be able to host more companies and visitors. Digitec Expo brought more than 100 technology companies together under one roof. There was a lot to see, discover and explore, from robots created by schoolchildren to technological solutions, AR/VR technologies, educational programs and a coding competition. Krisp, Picsart, Instigate, Volo, Arloopa, CodeSignal and other technology companies, as well as Armath Laboratories, had set up their own booths.
The inaugural edition of Digitec21 Summit took place in parallel with Digitec Expo. It positioned itself as a global conference focusing on how emerging technology-oriented countries respond to global challenges and opportunities. Digitec21 Summit, entitled “Thriving in a Post-Covid World” was attended by high-ranking officials of Armenian and international technology companies, tech journalists and industry experts. During a number of keynote panel discussions, senior executives from some of the most successful international and Armenian-founded companies operating in Armenia discussed a variety of topics, including how the pandemic impacted the ways businesses are run, whether technology company employees will return to offices in the near future, on- and off-campus university education, and ways to innovate together.
The DigiWeek21 Science and Sustainability Summit was held on November 1 and examined the critical role of science, innovation and sustainable technology on the Armenian economy. It focused on the key role of science and those crucial areas that need to be developed for Armenia to remain at the forefront of technology innovation. Speakers from the FAST Foundation, Gituzh and others examined the role of basic and applied science research in education, life science and biotech entrepreneurship.
The following day, November 2, participants attended the DigiWeek21 AI Summit that delved into the possibilities of promoting Armenian companies and experts in AI and data science worldwide. Panelists discussed how Armenian-based companies are using AI to innovate in areas such as robotics, life sciences, biotech, and voice and image processing. They also discussed how Armenia can emerge as a global leader in AI, machine learning and data science and where Armenia should focus in AI education and research.
The final day was the DigiWeek21 Venture Summit. It focused on the emergence of Armenian Angel Investors, VCs and startups on the path to becoming unicorns. Some of the questions that panelists addressed included how fundraising challenges have changed since the pandemic, from the perspectives of both VCs and entrepreneurs, and how it will be possible to harness the power of Angel Investors in the life cycle of Armenian tech startups and prepare the next generation of unicorns.
This year’s DigiWeek was both expansive and exciting, a reflection of Armenia’s tech sector itself.