By TBY | Azerbaijan | Jun 25, 2014
In an unprecedented move, the Azerbaijani government has laid the basis for the development of IT in the country through the establishment of three institutions that will educate, fund, and host IT start-ups.
The High Tech Park, Azerbaijan’s ambitious high-tech innovation hub, was established by presidential decree in November 2012. Part of a national developmental effort aiming to shift capital from energy resources to cultivating human capital, the Park began its operations in mid-2013 and was granted 50 acres of land on Pirallahi Island, 43 kilometers off the shore of the Absheron Peninsula, High Tech Park CEO Seymur Aghayev told TBY.
The Park aims to attract technology start-ups from different fields, including mobile technologies, e-business, software engineering, robotics, mechanics, and LED and biotechnologies, among others. Similar to high-tech parks in other countries, the Park offers incentives to private investors, such as VAT and profit tax breaks, subsidized rent, and ongoing business development support. The Park has already launched its incubator called the Pi-Campus, which counted 13 projects as of February 2014, and, in March, signed an agreement for a strategic partnership with France’s Sophia Antipolis, one of Europe’s oldest technology parks.
In an effort to provide easier access to funding for IT start-ups, the Azerbaijani government also established the State Fund in 2013. For the loan management part, the State Fund will be collaborating with up to 10 authorized agents, and will act as a guarantor for the loans these institutions give out to tech companies. So far, five banks have been earmarked to finance IT projects through this mechanism, namely PASHA Bank, Bank Respublika, Demir Bank, Rabita Bank, and VTB Bank. The loans, which will all have interest rates below 5%, will range from AZN10,000 with a three-year maturity to AZN5 million with a 10-year maturity. The grants will be slightly smaller in size, ranging from AZN10,000 to a maximum of AZN300,000 for a period of three years, and will be awarded on a competitive basis, with the first contests expected to start in 2014.
In addition to financing local start-ups, the State Fund will work to attract foreign and domestic investment in the ICT sector, to promote Azerbaijan’s exports in the field of ICT, to partially fund the residents of the High Tech Park, and to become involved in tech start-ups as a shareholder.
The third and possibly the most important element of the Golden Triangle is the foundation of the first University of Information Technologies in Azerbaijan, which is intended to educate the tech entrepreneurs that will populate the High Tech Park and solicit loans and grants from the State Fund in the future. Unlike the first two projects, which operate under the umbrella of the Ministry of Communications and High Technologies (MCHT), the IT University will be managed jointly by the Ministry of Education and MCHT.
Applicants were able to register at the university starting in mid-2013 to study subjects such as Information Security, Computer Science, Computer Engineering, IT Engineering, and Systems Management. During the first academic year, 2013/2014, only English language courses are being taught, as the University will operate at full capacity starting in 2014/2015. The MCHT also committed to helping graduates pursue Master’s degrees abroad upon completion of their studies, as well as providing scholarships for summer schools for the duration of their studies.