In 2011, four Armenian entrepreneurs in Sunnyvale, California realized that they had trouble connecting with other Armenian technologists in the Bay Area. So they began to expand by inviting friends from their networks to join lunches. The attendee criteria was simple: if they believed the person would be interesting to meet, invite them.
In just a few months, this simple formula of inviting participants with similar backgrounds and interests expanded the group to 30 people. They soon organized their first full-day Brainstorming Session, where the community gave feedback on other members’ startups, and included talks on topics ranging from sales to social marketing given by community experts in those areas.
Careers of those first Brainstorming participants skyrocketed. Davit Baghdasaryan became the co-founder and CEO of Krisp, one of Armenia’s fastest growing start-ups. In 2021, Vahe Kuzoyan’s company ServiceTitan was valued at $9.5 billion.
The group later arranged their first Showcase, organized by Roda Group in Berkeley, where early-stage startups and well-established companies came together to present their work and share their stories. Several startups in that showcase have reached success over the last decade, including Armen Berjikly (co-founder of Kanjoya), Levon Budagyan (co-founder of Aarki), and Henry Khachatryan (co-founder of IRL). Armenian entrepreneurs from Russia also attended, such as Tatul and Hrachik Adjamian, the co-founders of Wakie, and Gevorg Sargsyan, the founder of Plexonic. HyeTech’s network had suddenly expanded beyond the borders of California to the global market.
In 2012, Gevorg Sargsyan hosted a networking event in Armenia with 40-50 members of the industry, including 5-10 members who had flown from the United States to engage the local tech community. One participant learned from an Apple team member during the event that their idea would never be approved on the App Store, saving the participant months or years of work effort.
These events became common over the next five years. As organizations such as Granatus Ventures, HIVE Ventures, and SmartGateVC began to form, they were able to use connections made through HyeTech, many of whom are key players in Armenia today.
HyeTech’s biggest Armenia event came in 2015 when the network organized Create Together, a 200-person event involving lectures, pitching competitions, and Armenia’s first hackathon, where teams spent 24 hours cranking out innovative technology solutions. 20 Californian-Armenians attended Create Together, and had the opportunity to visit places such as Picsart, ImpactHub and CivilNet. Pitching competition participants received invaluable feedback from veteran entrepreneurs and industry professionals.
The success of Create Together spawned the idea of the Entrepreneur Immersion Program (EIP), now in its third iteration. EIP brings early-stage startup entrepreneurs from Armenia to Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area for 10 days with the goal of helping its participants establish more effective communication, networking, and develop a more entrepreneurial mindset. Participants visit Silicon Valley startup accelerators, such as Y Combinator and 500 Startups, and tech giants like Facebook, Google and Salesforce. Participants may also showcase their products to the community and investors. Alumni include Expper Technologies, Circa, EarlyOne, EasyDMARC, Heltun, and Coin Stats.
Previous iterations of EIP supported budding entrepreneurs by covering part of their costs through community fundraising. For the first program, 50% of the fundraising came from Armenia, while the other 50% came from community members in the United States, highlighting not only the community’s willingness to help each other, but the amount of money already in Armenia to support such ventures. It also proved that startups in Armenia’s tech sector do not generally compete with one another for market share. Often, they are solving different problems and competing on a global market. The entire experience underscored the importance to the network for more people and companies to gain valuable experience and connections through a program like EIP and bring it back to Armenia, even when the value does not directly benefit the supporters. Members of the Armenian tech startup ecosystem also generally agree that a sense of comradery and shared purpose exists among its members.
To quantify the value and growth of Armenia’s tech startup ecosystem, when HyeTech first began, the total value was in the millions of dollars. Five years later, it had increased to roughly $5bn, and now in 2022 is close to $20bn.
HyeTech aims to continue to be a catalyst for this explosive growth by applying the community’s collective learnings on entrepreneurial best practices and, most critically, effective team building to create world-class organizations who can not only compete on a global scale, but also lead the charge on creating a better tomorrow for everyone.