The IT sphere has grown to be one of the most important industries in Armenia, with its startups, tech entrepreneurs and innovators who believe in a high tech future. One Armenian startup has created the Triple-E Augmented Reality Platform, and is expanding its business to Europe and beyond thanks to the assistance provided by the European Union.
Armenia is looking to IT to grow the economy through virtual commerce. The increasing promotion and success of this burgeoning sector is raising hopes that this landlocked country can bring back the days when Armenia was the “Silicon Valley of the Soviet Union”. One Armenian startup, the Triple-E Augmented Reality (AR) Platform, is attracting attention from European investors, having received mentorship and practical support on how a business should be managed, through SMEDA (Support to SME Development in Armenia), a project co-funded by the European Union in the framework of the EU4Business initiative.
One of the founders of Triple-E is Aryan Behzadi, an Iranian who came to Armenia almost two and a half years ago to work at the IBM ISTC (Innovative Solution and Technologies Centre), where the startup has been incubated since March 2016. This innovative startup aims to be the first social platform based on Augmented Reality (AR), enabling the creation of an AR experience without needing special technology skills. “The challenge is that creating augmented reality needs experience, is expensive and time consuming. We have shortened the process, giving the opportunity to create AR just on your mobile phone having an image and adding the content. This is the main difference, and for regular users it is free,” said Aryan.
According to Aryan, the platform currently has around 400 daily active users. “And there is no need to be a software guru to create AR in this platform. The only thing needed is to know how to use a mobile phone. You need to have the app, then go to the guidelines, like on Facebook or Instagram, and it explains how to do it. Once done, you’re good to go.”
According to the startup, the platform can replace the huge variety of AR apps that are made for specific usage in marketing, education, art, interior design, and architecture, as Triple-E is a multifunctional platform, making it a one-of-a-kind platform throughout the world, and already boasting its first investor from the Netherlands – the Crosspring Seed Accelerator Incubator.
With the European investment and enthusiasm of the co-founders, the Triple-E platform was modified and changed, but for each step forward the startup needed support in how to run the business and to become known internationally. When in 2017, EU-funded business trips became available, the startup team was among the first to visit the Startup Ole’ 2017 international tech and entrepreneurship event for startups held in Salamanca, Spain.
“The Salamanca start-up fair was mainly a local event, but 10 Armenian start-ups were participating with support from EU-SMEDA, and we were one of them. It helped us to adapt the product to the international market, and also to understand the business models,” said Mane Varosyan, one of Triple-E’s co-founders. The platform’s beta version had been launched before Salamanca, and back from the fair the team started working on improvements based on the knowledge they had gained. Several phases of improvements took the startup to the next level, launching the platform officially in September 2017.
Even more significant changes and improvements took place once the startup participated in the Armenia Startup Academy, an initiative supported by the European Union through the EU-SMEDA project, aiming to boost the startup ecosystem. Up to 15 startups were selected for the first cycle and trained for a duration of 12 weeks. Apart from lectures and talks, the Triple-E team got access to mentorship for business development and an opportunity to acquire hands-on experience in all knowledge areas that are crucial for a startup’s future growth, customer and product development.
The EU-SMEDA project also organised the Armenia Startup Academy Berlin for selected Armenian startups, and Triple-E was among the participants. Mane Varosyan said there were two sets of educational classes on internationalisation and marketing, discussions, meeting potential investors, getting insights on how the system works in general and what are the differences from US or European countries. “The Berlin trip in September 2017 was a significant growth for us, especially from the business point of view: how we should approach the client, changing the platform and the presentation, how the global startup ecosystem is working, and what are the requirements of the international market, so it helped us a lot. It was a kind of a field study to get into the European market. Thanks to EU support we got lots of contacts, feedback on what we should improve, what to do to get in a specific market,” said Mane.
Now the city authorities from Zoetermeer in the Netherlands are among the customers of the platform. “Thanks to the pleasant cooperation in which quick and clear agreements were made, the residents of Zoetermeer can now enjoy a special experience of AR in the artworks of the city. Through AR, residents once again discover their own urban art and how valuable it is for Zoetermeer and society,” said Chantal Eijsackers, the Virtual Art Project Leader of the Municipality Society Department, Zoetermeer.
Another client the Triple-E team has started working with is the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts – Matenadaran, which holds one of the world’s richest depositories of medieval manuscripts and books in Armenian and many other languages. “We are really interested in using the Triple-E platform in art and cultural heritage. It allows us to use augmented reality to present the manuscripts and print heritage kept in Matenadaran, and we are getting ready to provide visitors with the Triple-E app to present Armenian written heritage in an animated way,” said Aram Torosyan, editor of the Matenadaran website.
He believes this will be very interesting for school children, allowing them not only to see the manuscripts’ miniatures, but also to watch animations of the miniatures. “The miniatures will be shown in action providing a clearer image and understanding of exhibits, and of what the writer or the author of the miniature wanted to present. This will all be accessible very soon, and I am confident that it will be interesting for many,” said Aram Torosyan.
“We are expanding our market to Europe, having on-going support from EU-SMEDA, which as part of different events, brings to Armenia international experts to learn what we are doing and teach us how to improve,” said Mane from Triple-E. She believes the list of the potential business users will grow: negotiations are undergoing with some restaurants, event organisers and museums in Armenia, as well as banking and retail organisations, and publishers.
Now, Triple-E is testing a new version, making the creation of AR easier, more user friendly and B2B oriented, based on the lessons learned from the Berlin trip and the Academy in general, with a belief that oneday Triple-E will become an AR social platform connecting people that send and receive messages, share and follow AR posts.
Triple-E is a universal Augmented Reality Platform. Without having any technical background, users can use the app to create their own augmented reality samples, share their creations, showcase them, view, like and share others' creations and follow them. The platform has a built-in 3D store (under development), where 3D artists can share and sell their creations. The platform has been launched for mobile devices, and will soon be available for web also. Triple-E was founded in March of 2016 by 4 co-founders: Aryan Behzadi, Haik Varossian, Mane Varosyan and Mariam Stepanyan. The company got several awards and investments:
IBM Global Entrepreneur Prize - June 2016
Smarter Armenia Hackathon - November 2016
STEP “From Idea to Market” Competition - December 2016
Investment from Crosspring Lab (Netherlands) - February 2017
First place in Sevan Startup Summit - July 2017
SMEDA (Support to SME Development in Armenia) is co-funded by the European Union in the framework of the EU4Business initiative and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and implemented by GIZ.
EU4Business is a European Union umbrella initiative which brings together all of the EU programmes that offer support to SMEs to develop the private sector. EU4Business covers nearly 40 projects in the region of the Eastern Partnership countries, and its total active portfolio is worth over €300 million in EU funding. Across the six countries of the Eastern Partnership, EU4Business offers access to resources, funding for export investments, alignment with EU standards and support for female entrepreneurs and new businesses, including through advice services.
In Armenia, EU4Business supports 12 ongoing projects for a total of over €30 million that provide improved access to finance and new markets, training, advisory and consultancy services for SMEs, targeted support for women in business, start-ups, technology-based enterprise and cluster development, as well as regional development and social entrepreneurship.
This article was produced in the framework of the EU4Business initiative.