Raffi Elliott, center, at the Synopsys offices in Yerevan

Silicon Valley in Shadow of Ararat Mountain


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.

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A well-known fellow and chief architect at Synopsys, Dr. Yervant Zorian, was instrumental in Synopsys’ entry into the Armenian chip design market, navigating the purchase of several smaller companies and integrating them into Synopsys’ global ecosystem. Spearheading the acquisition of HPLA in 2005 and Virage Logic in 2010, Dr. Zorian turned Synopsys into one of Armenia’s top tech employers, and one of the largest taxpayers, hiring almost 1000 programmers and designers. In 2015, Dr. Zorian was made President of Synopsys Armenia. Synopsys eventually instilled a Silicon-Valley style work culture and business acumen among their employees.

This working culture is what Synopsys Armenia head of Communications Dr. Gayane Markosyan says is the company’s most prized contribution to the Armenian tech ecosystem. “Our employees feel like they’re part of a community and treat the company like home” she said. Markosyan pointed out that workers who leave the company often return years later, even after gaining experience abroad.

In cooperation with local business, government, and academic organizations, the company has also sponsored a number of STEM-related events for the youth of Armenia, and also helped put Armenia on the global IT map by inviting foreign participants to coding competitions held in Yerevan. This is what Markosyan calls “corporate citizenry.”

With several indigenous Armenian tech startups making global headlines and raising multi-million dollar funding rounds, it’s only a matter of time before the first of them goes public. Industry watchers like Dr. Armen Kherlopian expect such an IPO to “instantly create 50 new millionaires in the country.” Such a sudden growth of wealthy risk-tolerant entrepreneurs ready to reinvest into the ecosystem is likely to spur and inspire the rise of generation after generation of Armenian startups, much like the Fairchildren did back in Silicon Valley.


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