YEREVAN — Over the past decade, Armenia has been cultivating global renown as a sort of European hub for technology and innovation. Yet the story of how Armenia transformed itself from “Soviet Silicon Valley” to the “Silicon Mountain” that we know today really mirrors that of its better-known Californian counterpart.
This story, as most Armenian stories do, begins with tragedy, and, again as with most Armenian stories, evokes memories of resilience and innovation through necessity. Yerevan, at the time, the capital of Soviet Armenia, witnessed the first inklings of an emerging technology sector during World War Two, when the retreating soviets sought to move sensitive technology development away from the front lines and towards the ‘interior’. This growth continued well into the 1980s as money and talent poured into the small soviet republic to develop everything from transistors to personal computers and guidance systems for soviet ICBMs in between.
Right about the time when the Soviet Union’s experimenting with Perestroika unveiled the first cracks which would soon lead to its demise, on the other side of the Atlantic — and far closer to the Pacific — Aart J de Geus and David Gregory founded Synopsys Inc., focusing on silicon design and verification, silicon intellectual property and software security and quality. Their office would be just a few miles down the road from the iconic Fairchild Semiconductor building, located at 844 East Charleston Road, Palo Alto, the site which created Silicon Valley as we know it today.
Founded in 1957, Fairchild Semiconductor literally pioneered the transistor and integrated circuits industry. While the company was eventually sold and resold before being merged through an endless series of corporate reshuffling, its legacy continues to shape the way humanity interacts with technology today, with spin off companies spanning some 6 generations of technological iteration. Hewlett Packard (HP), Intel, AMD, SanDisk and more.
Back in soon-to-be-independent Armenia, massive state-owned semiconductor and microchip manufacturers were feeling the pinch of economic liberalization.
Recognizing the need to preserve the accumulated talent and knowledge of this highly educated workforce, well connected Armenians in the Diaspora would soon act to turn these people into a nucleus for an emerging indigenous tech scene. Among the early pioneers in the Armenian technology industry Monterey Arset and Leda Design. Due to the considerable capital expenditures, political risk and logistics issues involved, microchip manufacturing was soon discounted as a viable option, but chip design and iteration, on the other hand, was perfectly suited for the Armenian tech climate.