Azerbaijan is well positioned with its own economy and regional position
THE BUSINESS YEAR talks to Seymur Aghayev, CEO of High Tech Park, on developing an R&D center, the Pi-Campus business incubator, and expectations for domestic and foreign investment.THE BUSINESS YEAR What is High Tech Park and what has it achieved since its establishment?
SEYMUR AGHAYEV High Tech Park came about via HE President Ilham Aliyev’s decree on November 5, 2012. This decree was signed within the Azerbaijan 2020: Vision of the Future framework, the main vision of which is to shift income from energy resources to help develop human capital. High Tech Park is considered one of the pillars of the Golden Triangle for the future development of ICT in Azerbaijan, which also include the IT University and the State Fund for IT Development. High Tech Park started its activity in the middle of 2013 and, to date, we have almost completed the staff formation, where the average age of the young and ambitious team is 29. At the same time we have been granted 50 hectares of land on Pirallahi Island, very close to Baku. The most important part of the project is that the sum of the tax incentives for investors and potential resident companies has already been confirmed by our parliament in a very short time frame, which includes exemption from land, real estate, and VAT on necessary infrastructural and technological imports, as well as corporate income taxes for a seven-year period. Other incentives that are currently being discussed include migration and customs incentives. Taking into account that the development of the land will take some time, and in order not to lose time, we established the Pi-Campus, an incubation center with the goal of supporting high-tech startups in the heart of Baku. The “Pi” comes from the name of the island, as well as the mathematical symbol. We are currently finalizing the guidelines for developers who want to be a part of this business incubator, and we plan to open our doors in February.
What are your milestones in the next few years?
According to the statistics, 56% of about 400 similar tech parks around the world are government owned, showing us that government support and involvement is extremely important for such projects. As a company that has been established in order to manage this project, first of all we want to secure projects and investments. We are starting from the previously mentioned Pi-Campus pilot project, but, again, we are also in the site development stage. According to our requirements, and based on our initial research and negotiations, first of all the general master plan of the site must be established. Since the project itself is a new one, we are creating an infrastructural package for potential investors alongside the master plan of the development. Hence, during 2014, we also plan to finalize an attractive business package for our future investors.
What balance are you seeking between domestic and international investors?
We are trying to avoid any kind of limitation. We are looking for businesses. If a local business brings us an interesting idea, of course we will develop and market that. However, if foreign investors come with valuable projects, of course we are open to them as well. We are interested to see if foreign companies will bring their R&D centers to Azerbaijan, and, most importantly, we want to see what they will demand for such moves. One of our main purposes is to create a regional technology park and become one of the top players in the region. While we are working on that, we will also continue research on attracting possible anchor tenants who are interested in basing themselves at High Tech Park. That is the second part of the simultaneous work that will be taking part over the next couple of years. First, we will prepare a short list, and then one by one we will ascertain the requirements that each company is willing to come to Azerbaijan for. The third stage, obviously, is to adapt a flexible master plan that will attract and accommodate the needs of the anchor tenants.
To what extent do you think that Azerbaijan is prepared to become an innovation center?
We define innovation as invention plus commercialization. To make more inventions possible in Azerbaijan, High Tech Park will provide state-of-the-art infrastructure. To make the commercialization of those inventions possible, we believe Azerbaijan is well positioned with its own economy and regional position. Furthermore, our culture is open to trade and commerce. What motivates us the most is the passion Azerbaijan’s youth shows for high technologies. You can find many Azerbaijani IT specialists who are working in different IT companies worldwide. This is why we are starting a new kind of a project, but at the same time we already have a base that we plan to tap into to make this project a national and regional success story.
At what stage of development is Pi-Campus?
The Pi-Campus incubator will begin operating in February. Right now, we have been primarily shortlisting and engaging all the projects that are capable of becoming part of the incubator, and there are 13 live projects and two at the planning stage that want to be a part of High Tech Park. We are first launching the incubation center part of Pi-Campus. Next, the residency benefits will be available, since there is a certain procedure that needs to be followed before the companies can become residents that are eligible for all the previously expressed tax incentives.