16:15 | 28.09.18 | Interviews | exclusive 65021

Seedstars: We want to unite the entire startup ecosystem in Armenia

On September 29, Armenia will conclude its national selection of the global contest Seedstars at Komitas Museum-Institute, with ten startups set to compete for one winning spot.

The local summit is organized by Microsoft Innovation Center. Whoever takes the first place will proceed to the global summit of Seedstars in Switzerland, which promises investment of up to USD 1 million for its winner.

Ahead of the final in Yerevan, Itel.am has talked to Alina Rozanova, Associate for CEE & Central Asia at Seedstars.

Seedstars returns to Armenia for the 5th successive year. What are your expectations this time?

We are expecting cool startups, well-developed projects with some AI base. We see that VC is also developing and that Armenia is backed by Armenian VC’s and funds from U.S. and other countries. They are supporting the local ecosystem.

We are trying to work with all representatives of the ecosystem in Armenia to unite them all, to make it bigger and more powerful.

We hope that this year we will really find someone who will represent Armenia at a good level both in regional and global summits. And we hope that they will get in the top 12 in global summit. It will give them opportunity to pitch from the main stage and represent the CEE and Central Asia region.

This year we had one representative from the region, it was a Ukrainian startup which got to top 12. We hope that this year we will have more representatives there.

Based on your experience working with startups from different countries, which startups are more successful and go further in Seedstars?

It actually depends on challenges that arise in different countries. In Seedstars we are looking to emerging markets. We are trying to help emerging markets startups to make impact in their countries, create jobs.

Emerging markets have almost the same challenges and are working on almost the same solutions. This year’s winner from Ghana had a platform which helps farmers to sell their products directly to the costumers avoiding any intermediaries, such as supermarkets, etc. When I was in Mongolia this year, guys were working on a similar project there, because they have the same challenge. In Dnipro, I saw the same challenges existing.

We see that people are eager to solve really painful challenges and this is what is trending.

It’s not about tech. We know that blockchain, crypto, AI are trends but they are just technologies with which you can solve problems.

The startup selected from Armenia last year, Chessify, was also based on AI technology.

Yes, it is a really great combination of chess and AI. I know that Armenians are very good at chess. I hope to find qualified AI specialists here, as I was informed there are many people in Armenia involved in the development of AI solutions.

In other countries these specialists are in demand for other projects. We hope to make interconnection between countries.

What are the most frequent mistakes the startups in this region make?

The first problem is the lack of people who know good English. Sometimes we have cool projects with great people working on them, but they can’t deliver the message in order to sell their project because of bad English.

The second mistake exists both in this region and globally. Sometimes startups chose a narrow direction, and they don’t think about applying their technology in other sectors as well. They create sophisticated technology, but they don’t think that this technology can be used for solving a bigger issue.

Another problem is specific for countries that are surrounded by more developed economies. They don’t look abroad and focus on their local market only. The advice here is that you are not alone with your country problems, and if you look at other regions, you will find countries with absolutely the same problems, where your solution can be applied too. What you need to do is to add a few more languages in your webpage or just make it only in English.

If you are an excellent programmer, you can’t be an entrepreneur at the same time. You should understand the code behind the product, but at the same time you should know how to communicate with people, how to pitch. That is why we are trying to work more with founders and CEOs. It’s not because we don’t need developers, but we need to divide the duties and understand who is responsible for what.

10 startups will be pitching at Yerevan final on Saturday. What would be your advice to them?

Don’t be afraid to fail, because we all learn on our failures. If anything goes wrong just keep going. Simply don’t forget to ask for what you need for your startup to grow. You can ask for investment, advice, mentors and specialists.

We hope to have an intensive and fruitful event on September 29. That’s why we are also inviting all ecosystem players to attend. We will also be glad to see young entrepreneurs, who have just launched their startups – it’s a great opportunity for them to hear the pitches of other startups, hear the jury questions and understand what is expected from them, what they should be prepared for.

Narine Daneghyan talked to Alina Rozanova