Earlier this month Asbarez reported on Neruzh, a new initiative launched by Armenia’s Diaspora Ministry to encourage young entrepreneurs from the Diaspora to submit their ideas for startup businesses in Armenia and become eligible to gain funding for realizing their project in the homeland.
Asbarez Editor Ara Khachatourian reached out to Armenia’s Deputy Diaspora Minister Aramayis Grigoryan, who is heading the initiative, to flesh out some of the specifics of the project and how it can advance Homeland-Diaspora relations. The interview with Grigoryan was conducted via email, the answers to which are presented below.
Asbarez: What are some of the specifics of the Neruzh Program?
ARAMAYIS GRIGORYAN: Neruzh is an interactive program for young entrepreneurs of Armenian descent, which gives them an opportunity to bring their business ideas to the motherland and found a startup with minimal risk. We wanted to create a program that specifically engages with the youth of the diaspora, as this has been a population segment that has historically been underserved by our ministry.
All young Diasporans between the ages of 18-35 are encouraged to apply by sending their business proposals via the website neruzh.am. Up to 100 applicants will be selected through a rigorous screening process and will have the opportunity to come to Armenia and get introduced to the Armenian business environment during a week-long retreat from December 16-21 at the UWC Dilijan campus. Up to 10 projects will be selected to be financed in order to start their business. The deadline for applications is September 13.
The main precondition of the program, is that the selected teams will have to repatriate to Armenia and found their business in Armenia. They will receive a 4 month membership to the FAST Startup Studio, which will provide them with co-working space, coaching, and support to see their start up idea take form and become a viable business proposition. Afterwards, they will be supported by Impact Hub Yerevan with an 8 month fellowship program.
Asbarez: How does the Neruzh program fit in the larger goals and mission of the Diaspora Ministry?
A.G.: One of the primary missions of the ministry is repatriation. But we have to accept that relations with diaspora should be built on mutually beneficial principles. As such, repatriation of our diaspora should not be just the mere relocation of people – they should know the social and business impact of that process. Neruzh addresses that issue by giving diasporan youth an opportunity to learn firsthand what they can expect to encounter if they decide to repatriate. It supports bright diasporan entrepreneurs in launching their business, while at the same time helping to create new jobs in Armenia as their businesses grow. We believe this is a much more effective engagement of the vast human capital potential that exists in our diaspora.
Asbarez: Why have you decided to focus of the three specific realms of agriculture, tourism and IT?
A.G.: This is one of the most frequently asked questions. Neruzh 2018 is the first time we are conducting such a program, and as such it’s a pilot. We had to include certain restrictions in order to be able to control the quality and quantity. Moreover, those three sectors are the most needed in Armenia, and are clearly defined in our government program as priority sectors. I’d also like to mention that IT is referring to INNOVATIVE technologies. As such, if any idea has an innovative solution it is eligible.
Asbarez: Who is paying for the project?
A.G.: The budget consists of two parts: organizational and startup finance. In general, half of each part is financed by the Ministry and the other part is provided by our partners. In particular, we are partnering with the FAST Foundation the IDEA Foundation, as well as UWC Dilijan, Impact Hub Yerevan, the Russian-Armenian University and other organizations and individuals, which will be announced as the scope of their commitment becomes finalized.
Asbarez: Will the participants be expected to make additional investments in their startup (outside of the 15 million dram allocation)?
A.G.: During the main event in Dilijan which is going to be in December 16 – 21 we are going to invite additional investors and businesses in order to foster potential future cooperation that extends beyond the financing we provide. The chosen startups will also be provided with in-kind resources, including coaching and mentoring by our partners as well as temporary operating space.
Asbarez: What are the metrics based on which these proposals will be judged?
A.G.: The metrics are diverse and reflect the specifics of each sector. For this reason, we are involving a jury panel for each sector, comprised of experts in each field, in order to ensure professional evaluations. For me personally, as a member of a jury, it is important that the project be realistic and scalable for the Armenian market.
Asbarez: How does the Neruzh program address the larger and more complex Homeland-Diaspora relations issue?
A.G.: This is the reference of the principles that we have adopted. Armenians should come to Armenia not only for bringing their financial resources but also gain resources by bringing their ideas. We hope that Neruzh will grow to become a large scaled project that engages many entrepreneurs from the diaspora for years to come. Armenia-Diaspora relations shouldn’t only be based on emotional nationalistic tendencies, but should be very much grounded in reality. If a diasporan youth is engaged in a startup project that has nothing to do with our traditional notions of homeland engagement, that’s OK! We want them to simply carry on doing whatever it is they are doing in the diaspora, but to do it in Armenia instead. That is the basis for a sustainable repatriation strategy and movement.
Asbarez: Are similar opportunities being offered to locals through another ministry?
A.G.: I have heard that there are such projects in the works, especially in terms of systematically supporting the growth of the IT and startup sector in Armenia, but as this falls outside the scope of our ministry and project, I’ll refrain from commenting further until the appropriate ministries launch their initiatives.
Asbarez: Any final thoughts?
A.G.: I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank our partner organizations and individuals, which have been working very closely with us since day 1 to make this project a reality. It would not be possible without their support. Indeed, they are the true unsung heroes who are building this country as true partners. I’d also like to remind those who are interested that the deadline for applications is September 13. May the best applicants win!