Armen Orujyan

Dr. Armen Orujyan Wants to Put Armenia in the FAST Lane

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By Monique Svazlian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

SAN FRANCISCO — With the recent change in government in Armenia, there is a renewed sense of hope for the future of the country. It feels like the timing couldn’t be better to complement the recent influx of future-forward initiatives and projects that have nudged Armenia toward progress such as the Tumo Center, UWC Dilijan College, Aurora Prize and an increasing presence of technology and venture capital focusing on social, cultural and economic development in Armenia.

One prominent name behind some of these projects has been entrepreneur Ruben Vardanyan, whose vision for the future of Armenia is no secret. His most recent venture is the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST), focused on science and technology innovation in Armenia. I recently had the chance to speak with FAST’s CEO, Dr. Armen Orujyan, about what he sees as the opportunities and possibilities in Armenia.

Orujyan was born and lived in Armenia until age 16. He left in 1989 for the United States and completed all his schooling up till his PhD in the US. He has been an entrepreneur and innovator his entire career, having built organizations and initiatives such as the Athgo Corporation, one of the world’s leading entrepreneurship platforms in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, UN Department of Public Information, and the World Intellectual Property Organization. Earlier in his career, he joined the UN’s Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID) as a Founding Member. He further served as a Commissioner on the UN’s venerated Broadband Commission for Digital Development through 2015.

A lesser known fact — he was also one of the founders of the Armenian Genocide March that takes place in Hollywood every year on April 24.

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In 2017, he met Ruben Vardanyan in Los Angeles, after which he invited him to go to Armenia to explore the country. “It was incredible to see the progress since I had been there last in 2007. That’s when Ruben introduced me to his vision for making Armenia a science and technology hub. He was looking for someone to take over that initiative, so I agreed to go for six months to get to know Armenia better, to know the team and it was like falling in love – both with the country and the people working on these incredible initiatives like UWC Dilijan and IDeA, it was really exciting. I’ve been involved ever since.”

FAST is a nonprofit organization that reinforces intellectual, financial, and network capacities of the science and technology ecosystem in Armenia and beyond. Focused on producing an ecosystem that drives scientific advancement and technological innovation, under Orujyan’s leadership, FAST has launched a Fellowship for the top 10 percent of all PhDs in Armenia in STEM, deployed numerous scientific grants, and established the first Science and Technology Angels Network in Armenia.

FAST is focusing on developing four main areas, specifically data sciences (AI, machine learning, big data and analytics), bio-technology, advanced materials and micro-electronics. They plan on doing this through concentrating resources behind select breakthrough innovations, inventions, and multi-stakeholder projects, and coordinating activities of scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs to amplify their work and impact both in Armenia and the world. “The goal is to successfully advance these four verticals, to make Armenia a very competitive country, grow the GDP in line with Western standards, stop the brain drain and think about the brain gain in the country and attract Armenians from the Diaspora as well as non-Armenians from other countries,” says Orujyan.

The bigger objective is to turn Armenia into a Top 10 Innovation country. Currently, Armenia is number 69 on the list. “It’s going to take a big cultural and socio-economic shift, as well as lots of out-of-the-box thinking to get there. Culturally, however, Armenia is ready to embrace science – we love studying physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics. The instruction level is fairly low in the country, so education and knowledge needs to be improved, but it’s an issue that exists and we can correct that. But we do have the talent, the drive and the passion that can help us grow exponentially.”

I asked him why he thought this was such an important initiative for the country, given all the other challenges it faces currently. “Armenia is very small, we don’t have many natural resources. Our best resource are our people, we have human capital. Science doesn’t require big numbers, it requires intellectual capital and we can do that with the people that are in Armenia.”

Currently, the organization is looking to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to turn Armenia into a science and tech hub, through philanthropic investment, impact investment, and return on investment. “We need intellectual capital as well as coaches and mentors for our young fellows in various areas of science. We also need to develop our network capacity to get in touch with top notch institutions around the world we can collaborate with. We welcome everyone’s support – we can’t and don’t want to do this by ourselves!”

To learn more about FAST, visit https://fast.foundation/

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