July 17, 2014

Meet HIVE, the Armenian LinkedIn with a Powerful Twist

Meet HIVE, the Armenian LinkedIn with a Powerful Twist -

No Armenian online project in recent memory has generated as much global buzz as HIVE, a website launched earlier this year.

HIVE is the first virtual network designed specifically to accelerate the inception and growth of Armenian (and even part-Armenian) internet startups. It enables them to pitch their ideas; matches them with advisors, mentors, and investors; and gives them opportunities to secure major funding.

HIVE co-founder Laura Bilazarian

HIVE co-founder Laura Bilazarian

While this all would be enough to consider HIVE as a giant step forward for Armenian startups, there is an all-important kicker, as HIVE also strongly encourages emerging companies to hire tech talent from Armenia. The goals here are as straightforward as they are ambitious: to help create jobs in Armenia, thereby boosting the republic’s enormously promising tech sector and the economy as a whole; to help stem the tide of migration from the homeland, specially of talented youths; to build bridges between the diaspora and Armenia through professional and creative synergies; and to help proliferate Armenian web entrepreneurship on an international scale.

In terms of functioning as a connective tissue between professionals, HIVE is similar to LinkedIn. But the comparison ends there. That’s because, beyond the obvious fact that it’s envisioned as a network for Armenian professionals, HIVE provides members with a set of unique advantages, including opportunities to form teams; connect with mentors, mentees, and advisors; pitch ideas; and secure seed funding. In short, the things that can be done through the site are far less impersonal, and potentially much more immediately engaging, as the platform is nothing less than the global Armenian community.

To date, the HIVE portfolio includes five startups, all on their way to making good on wonderful ideas brimming with audacious innovation. And momentum is building. Following launch-and-pitch parties in New York and Yerevan’s landmark Tumo Center, and others planned for San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles, HIVE has seen an explosion of new membership—a sure testament to an idea whose time has come.

A Hovnanian Foundation project, HIVE’s architects are a small team of young, highly dynamic professionals whose collective accomplishments—in education, finance, community development, and entrepreneurship—is simply breathtaking. No less impressive is the team of tech entrepreneurs and internet visionaries who serve as HIVE’s advisors, mentors, and facilitators extraordinaire.

The following interview was conducted by Ishkhan Jinbashian with HIVE’s creative team, comprising Nina Kouyoumdjian, Laura Bilazarian, and Hrag Hamalian, as well as HIVE director Glen Dalakian II.

 

Q: In view of your individual professional accomplishments prior to teaming up to launch HIVE, you seem to share a distinct passion for empowering communities, irrespective of ethnicity or geography. Do you feel that a context of social responsibility can and should be a key ingredient in the success of the next wave of internet startups?

A: Our generation of Diaspora Armenians feels a great deal of gratitude for the opportunities that have been afforded to us. This gratitude comes from the realization of sacrifices that have been made by our parents and grandparents, allowing each of us to enact our respective goals and dreams. So it’s true that each of us has felt an obligation in some way or another to contribute and empower others, irrespective of ethnicity and geography.

 

Unfortunately, our tragic history as Armenians has created a disconnect between Diaspora Armenians and our homeland. As Diaspora Armenians, we all at some point have wondered how we can effectively and tangibly re-connect with fellow Armenians of Armenia and help uplift our country to new heights.

HIVE was imagined in the country of Armenia, when a small collective of thinkers and philanthropists challenged us to find ways to use technology as a medium to improve the Armenian economy and outcomes for the Armenian youth. Through our collective experience, we proposed a number of different ideas and, during a presentation we made in Yerevan, the Hovnanian Foundation quickly identified HIVE as the clear winner, and set as its priorities three distinct goals:

1) To create jobs in Armenia;

2) To connect Armenians from around the world;

3) To provide direct support to startups in order to put Armenian entrepreneurship on the map.

Visiting Armenia and imagining HIVE was a euphoric experience for all of us involved.

 

Q: By functioning as a virtual network and accelerator for startups, HIVE is in effect fostering a global community of creative collaborators—all, whether investors, entrepreneurs, fresh talent, or advisors, engaged in the generation of innovative web enterprises. From what you’ve experienced through your work with HIVE so far, would you say there is universal enthusiasm for what you’re trying to accomplish, or have you encountered instances of skepticism? If the latter, where do you think they stem from and how would you respond to them?

A: Overwhelmingly the response has been positive and it’s clear that we Armenians have entrepreneurial blood running through our veins! All parties have been eager to contribute and get involved. Our launch in New York sold out, and since then our membership has been growing exponentially. It’s hard to be skeptical about something that is so clearly capitalizing on Armenian talent at all levels.

 

Q: In recent years, there has been much talk about Armenia’s technological potential. As professionals with experience in numerous countries, how would you rate Armenia’s tech talent as a whole? For instance, whenever you connect with prospective colleagues in Armenia, do you feel as though you’re speaking the same “language,” in terms of an advanced level of knowledge and aptitudes?

A: The talent in Armenia is on par if not better than many other places around the world. However, resources, networks, and exposure are limited. That’s where HIVE is stepping in. We are creating an avenue for Armenians around the world to support one another, utilizing our collective experience and talents to help each other rise above the rest.

 

Q: As HIVE has garnered notice not just from Armenia, but the diaspora as well, what’s your initial assessment, generally speaking, of the latter’s state of dynamism, in terms of level of interest, innovation, and tech acumen?

A: We think Diaspora Armenians are ecstatic to be part of HIVE. We’ve created the equivalent of the Armenian LinkedIn but with even better features: allowing for the ability to build teams, find mentors or mentees, or pitch ideas and get seed funding and advisor support. There has never been a cleaner or clearer way for Armenians to connect across the globe to support each other in their professional development. It takes less than 30 seconds to sign up (through Facebook or LinkedIn), and within seconds you are exposed to a global network of individuals who are at different points in their career trajectory. For the tech community, this is an invaluable resource if you are looking for that integral team member or advisor who can support your endeavor.

 

Q: To date, your portfolio of companies comprises five startups. What does it take to make it into the HIVE portfolio? What, would you say, are some of the core attributes shared by the startups you have selected?

A: The basic qualities for making it into the HIVE portfolio are simple:

HIVE director Glen Dalakian II

HIVE director Glen Dalakian II

1) A company needs to have an innovative and scalable tech idea;

2) A company needs a strong team (with at least one member of Armenian descent).

Aside from these, a company needs to demonstrate its value by addressing the same components any startup should be thinking about: need for product/idea, competition, market, ability to scale, financials, risks, etc. In addition, the company needs to resonate with our advisors, who, as seasoned professionals, have years of expertise in a variety of fields.

Finally, every company that gets accepted into the HIVE portfolio would also be in some way or another interested in giving back to Armenia. Whether that means hiring developers from Armenia, creating avenues for other Armenians to be involved in the company, or simply putting Armenia on the global technology map, we hope that each company has a mission and vision of enhancing HIVE’s priorities.

 

Q: What would an outstanding startup pitch sound like? Any particular do’s and don’ts you might offer to aspiring startups?

A: Outstanding pitches easily identify the problem the startup is addressing and its proposed solution. We also want to see why a team is most qualified to build the company. A good team is the most important piece of the puzzle, but we also want to see a clear vision, early adoption, and a strategy for customer acquisition. While we do ask startups to pitch to our team a few times to receive our feedback and answer preliminary questions, for our first investment round we gave each company five minutes to pitch their startup to our advisors.

This is an incredibly short amount of time to cover all the key points of what will make a company successful while being confident, collected, and concise. Boiling down to the basics of what will resonate with advisors and funders is a skill set that is only sharpened with a lot of feedback.

We encourage all HIVE hopefuls to solicit feedback from a wide pool of constituents before presenting their pitch. Creating a masterful pitch is like creating any work of art. It takes time, commitment, and practice.

 

Q: You seem to place considerable emphasis on mentorship. How do you envision the mechanics and desired benefits of HIVE’s mentorship component?

HIVE co-founder Hrag Hamalian

HIVE co-founder Hrag Hamalian

A: If selected to be part of HIVE’s portfolio, companies will be paired with an expert advisor who will be available for consultation, networking, and development.

For the remainder of HIVE’s members, initially we are interested in simply connecting Armenians to one another. We facilitate this by offering a powerhouse search engine that allows Armenians to search for one another through a variety of different keywords and methodologies.

In the next few months, we will create further structures around mentorship. Message boards will allow mentees to solicit advice and feedback from potential mentors who are willing to advise in certain arenas.

Eventually, we will have very structured ways in which mentors will be selected and tagged on our website. Mentees will have clear pathways to pair up with willing advisors. HIVE will help structure these meetings and their desired outcomes.

 

Q: Talk a bit about HIVE’s online and offline events as well as any educational programs you have planned.

A: HIVE’s first launch event, in New York City, was a great success and sold out within a week of its posting. We have a number of additional launch events, during which like-minded Armenians will meet and mingle, scheduled for July in Yerevan and August in San Francisco and Boston (check out the HIVE website, at www.hivestart.com, for more information).

HIVE is also constantly working in the background to advise, facilitate, and run programs that enhance our mission of driving technology and improving outcomes for Armenia.

 

Q: Although HIVE is geared mainly toward entrepreneurs, startups, fresh talent, and investors, can non-stakeholders, so to speak, join the site? If so, how would they benefit by being members?

A: Of course! The site isn’t limited to tech-minded individuals. People who join HIVE can benefit from the network in a number of ways. First and foremost, founders of

HIVE co-founder Nina Kouyoumdjian

HIVE co-founder Nina Kouyoumdjian

companies are looking for people with a variety of skill sets to become team members or simply just to advise. A skill set in law, education, media, marketing, etc., could be of interest to the next big company looking to fill a gap in their team. Additionally, any HIVE member has the ability to link to another member who is currently operating in their field. You’d be surprised as to how many fellow Armenians are working in similar fields, who are looking to help you advance in your own career or to learn from your experiences.

 

Q: What does a good day’s work at HIVE look like?

A: Every day is a good day for HIVE. We’re so excited to see our membership rise, and to see how the connections made on our website are leading to friendships, partnerships, and the next wave of change that will be good for Armenia and the world at large.

We’re regularly posting relevant content, fielding investment applications, connecting members, and planning for our next events. It’s a busy time as the network grows faster than we expected.

 

Q: Where do you see HIVE five years from now?

A: We are going to go where our user base takes us. Our ideas as a startup have gotten Armenians around the world excited to utilize our website, pitch to our advisors, and come to our events. Based on the feedback we hear from our membership, we are going to continue to enhance our features to meet their needs. We have also discussed with the Hovnanian Foundation the potential need to help step up the scope and breadth of the educational infrastructure in Armenia to ensure we continue to expand the employable talent within the country. The foundation continues to remind us that its support of HIVE is contingent upon a focus on implementing its desire to help develop the IT sector within Armenia and halt the tide of promising talent leaving the country.

Just like any startup, we are here to serve a market: Armenians around the world.

 For more information about HIVE, visit www.hivestart.com.

         
       Kantsasar Weekly  Diario Armenia