Armenia has established a reputation as a centre of excellence for product development in the sportsbook and igaming industry, but gambling is just one element of the nation’s increasingly strong technology sector.
The country may not yet enjoy the same kind of global profile as the more established IT powerhouses, but the number of Armenian tech success stories is growing. With its combination of a good education system, a workforce that is keen to learn and innovate, and a favourable environment for start-ups, that trend is likely to continue.
To find out more about the technology sector and, in particular, the success of the igaming industry in Armenia, we spoke to Simon Westbury (Chief Business Officer, Digitain), Suren Khachatryan (Founder & CEO, Technamin) and Levon Nikoghosyan (CEO of EveryMatrix Armenia & PartnerMatrix and Board Member, AffPapa).
The first part of the interview detailed the impact of the ongoing conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan on the people and businesses of Armenia, while this second instalment examines why the nation is now such an attractive location for tech companies.
SBC: From an international perspective, Armenia isn’t really somewhere that people would pick out as one of the leading tech nations, yet it has managed to establish itself as a centre of excellence for igaming technology. What factors make Armenia an ideal place to base an igaming business?
Suren Khachatryan: Armenia is turning into the region’s Silicon Valley and a hub for tech start-ups. As a result, to say that the country is not somewhere to be picked out as a leading tech nation would be somewhat of a misnomer.
Over the past few years, we’ve had companies from Armenia in the tech sector which have managed to reach major success. These are Silicon Valley companies such as Picsart, Service Titan, All.Me, 10Web, EPAM, and Krisp, which is a unicorn company. Google also has offices in Armenia. On the tech side of things, Armenia has been flourishing and this is not strictly limited to the igaming industry.
The new generation is quite tech-savvy and open to learn, explore, innovate and create. In the context of igaming, this has amounted to professionals who are not just interested in the industry for the sake of profit, but are in it to push boundaries and put new spins on familiar products and solutions.
The traditional way of doing things just doesn’t cut it anymore. We are here to ask ourselves ‘what’s next?’ and then find the answer to that question. For our clients, this means fresh takes on products that can provide them with unique advantages in the marketplace.
Speaking of which, setting up an igaming business in Armenia may prove to be most cost-effective in the long run. As a result, basing an igaming business here would prove to be ideal because there is an overwhelming amount of interest in the industry, and everyone is excited about discovering the untapped potential of this sector.
Lest we forget that Armenia is a historic connective tissue between the east and the west, and if peace persists, it can amount to so many positive things. Gaming and connecting through gaming activities are functions of the human condition, with a history that spans thousands of years. Why not tap into that and build a brighter future for ourselves and the coming generations?
Simon Westbury: Honestly, until I joined Digitain, I held the same view and of course I am biased in this answer as I hold a deep respect and affection not only for Digitain, but also Armenia as a country. My colleagues joke about being my Armenian family, me becoming more Armenian every day, and Yerevan honestly now feels like a home from home. In doing this interview, I cannot say I am Armenian and I do not want to be seen as an imposter but the issues that affect my colleagues daily are truly close to my heart.
I would also say the people, the colleagues I work with are so open to learning and I find Armenians as a people some of the most helpful, kind and open that I have encountered on my travels both in a professional and personal capacity.
To me it is clear, my colleagues have an unquenchable desire to learn, to grow, to develop, combined with a desire for excellence. When you visit our offices, you see that the standards we apply to everything from our working environment to the products we deliver are based on one key premise, excellence. This desire and drive for excellence, which is installed from our founder’s vision, is the main reason Digitain has become such a valued and trusted partner to the igaming industry.
Levon Nikoghosyan: Yes, igaming is highly developed in Armenia, but I would not limit it only to that. There are a lot of successful global companies in Armenia, such as Picsart with more than 150 million monthly active users, high-tech companies Synopsis and DataArt, and the Armenian tech school Tumo, which now opens its branches all over the world. However, I understand that compared to global IT events, this might not be very noticeable.
As for the Armenian igaming sector, its development is connected with two factors. Firstly, the digital specialists market has long been developed in Armenia. Secondly, with the acquisition of independence, Armenia has developed its own gaming legislation.
Thanks to the fact that the shadow business was removed, many companies began to develop their own software and games, now providing SaaS. Today the igaming business is booming in Armenia and attracting more and more international companies to establish new offices in Yerevan.
SBC: What are the likely next steps in Armenia’s economic development and modernisation programme, and how might they benefit the nation’s igaming industry?
Simon Westbury: That really is a question for the politicians and as we have seen from recent events in the UK, anything can happen in politics. From a Digitain perspective I can say that I am seeing the development and expansion of (the company’s Yerevan head office complex) Digitain Town with much construction ongoing. The aim is to provide a tech hub within Armenia and also offer unparalleled office space and facilities for the ever-expanding Digitain Group.
Levon Nikoghosyan: The IT industry is very fragile, especially when it comes to start-ups. You can invest money and time, but it may not pay off, however, you can multiply your investment if you succeed. The government knows this and there are many benefits for start-up companies here.
This began to attract international players as well. In recent years, more and more international brands have been opening offices in Yerevan. Still, there’s much that needs to be done, and for this, I think we need to take an example of other countries with developed legislation for IT and igaming industries, such as the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, the UK and France.
Recent escalations between Russia and Ukraine also forced many IT specialists to move to Armenia, validating the fact that Armenia is a great spot for nomads or remote workers. Our government was quick enough to ease processes of opening bank accounts for non-residents, getting permanent residence and other affairs. All these events indicate that the IT and especially igaming sectors have a very bright and promising future in Armenia.