12:28 | 25.10.17 | Interviews | exclusive 81215

Ilja Laurs: Stanford and Armenian Polytechnic universities have many similarities

Ilja Laurs is Founder & Chairman of Nextury Ventures venture fund.

Founded in 2013, this fund helps IT startups realize their innovative ideas, providing both financial and mentoring-consulting support.

The Lithuanian investor participated in ArmTech Congress, attended DigiTec Expo and had some official meetings in Armenia.

Itel.am talked to Ilja Laurs on the details of his visit to Armenia.

-Do you have specific plans with Armenia?

-Yes, there are intentions and plans. In fact, the operation of Nextury Ventures in Lithuania involves not just investments. We work with the government, academic environment and startups, so it’s a more complex ecosystem approach.

Armenia is a great country with its culture, history, people and food. It’s just mind blowing. I met a number of IT players during my visit to Armenia and had some official meetings.  Currently we are trying to deeper understand the ecosystem in the country, as you need to understand the whole context before investing in a company. I will need some time to process what I have heard and found out in Armenia, but the first impressions are really great.

I was very surprised to visit Tumo Center for Creative Technologies. I would like to see more centers like this one in other countries as well. Real achievements are practical results, like the number of talented professionals discovered during these initiatives.  I have heard that Tumo robotics team won the 3rd place in FIRST Global robotics competition. I think those examples will send a positive message even globally.

-What are the similarities of tech ecosystems in Lithuania and Armenia?

-We have similar tech companies, same demand for IT employees and even similar salaries (smiles: editor). Tech is “doing really well” in Armenia in terms of salaries.  

-What would you advise to Armenian tech players?

-I discussed this issue during my meeting with Prime Minister of Armenia Karen Karapetyan.

First of all, you need to regulate the legislative field and make sure rule of law exists, since it is very difficult to do anything at all if it lacks. But it seems you are in a solid process of doing this.
I spent 5 years in Silicon Valley. For me Silicon Valley is about Stanford University, not about billions of venture capital.

It all starts if science is serious. We were talking with your ministers and telling them that Stanford University is by size so similar to Polytechnic University that I visited – 8000 students in each. But in Stanford, every single year students raise billions of dollars to fund their innovations. And in Polytechnic, zero funds are raised. These are the same smart students in both universities, so I would say the level of science is similar. But in one university they get the funding and in the other they don’t. This shows something is wrong.

And it’s not only about the ecosystem, it is also about the internal regulations. This is something valid for all post-Soviet countries. Universities incentivize academic achievements and publications more, but they don’t have any economic goals, so that translates into lack of practical output. If a country wants to capitalize on IT and build value but isn’t creating a vehicle to translate it into commerce, that’s wrong.

Either don’t build science, or build those vehicles properly.

There are exactly the same problems in Lithuania and even at the European level. This is something that needs to be solved, otherwise the process will go in the wrong direction.

- Would you recommend Armenian startups to view the Baltic countries as a target market?

- No, you have to start in local market. I had a talk with the founders of gg and we discussed the competition with Yandex, huge Russian company vs local startup. It does look like gg is winning that battle despite the millions of investments on the competitor’s side. This is an example that you should start in the local market. Once you figure out the model and the product you are going to work with in the local scale, it doesn’t make sense to go to another small market. If you figure that it’s a good model, choose a big market and go there. My advice would be to establish your product in the local market and then chase something big.

Narine Daneghyan talked to Ilja Laurs