Photo: UNDP Azerbaijan

As prepared for delivery

InnoCamp 2019

31 August 2019

Shamakhi, Azerbaijan

HORMETLI TAHIR MUELLIM –Dear Mr. Tahir Mammadov, (Head of Executive Authority in Shamakhi)

Dear Mr. Rashad Azizov (Head of the Innovations Development of the Information Society and Electronic Governance Department, MTCHT)

Dear Tal (Mr. Tal Catran -  International expert on Innovations and start-ups)

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

SALAM! (hello)

It’s such an honour and my utmost pleasure to be here today in this beautiful city of Shamakhi, in the heart of the spectacular Great Caucasus Mountains, home to Azerbaijan’s prominent Astrophysics Observatory where science, nature and technology merge so beautifully. Some people even call it Azerbaijan’s window into the universe. No wonder why this precious spot in Pirqulu was chosen as the venue for the InnoCamp this year. It’s where we come together with the country’s top thinkers and chief business executive to learn and share, to decide what the future of innovation should look like.

Today’s roundtable, as you all know, is part of the second edition of the Innovation Camp – or as we call it, the InnoCamp, which I take pride in saying is organized within one of UNDP’s flagship projects jointly with and through financial support of the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies (MTCHT). Through this long-lasting partnership, our joint efforts focus on modernizing the ICT systems in Azerbaijan to increase the sustainability and efficiency of the ICT infrastructure and services.

Our first InnoCamp in Azerbaijan was brought to the table in 2018 as the concluding chapter of last year’s intense round of Idea to Business (I2B) tours, the nationwide innovation contests that took place in 11 different cities and regions of the country. Altogether, these I2B tours aimed to expand the potential of business-minded youth with interest in information technology, particularly reaching out to those living in the rural parts of Azerbaijan who hadn’t had such experience before and hadn’t maybe even thought that one day their business proposals would meet fierce interest of top investors.

Together, we have come along a two-year journey investing restlessly in the youth around the cities and regions of Azerbaijan, trying to entice their enthusiasm to become inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, to think creatively and generate bankable ideas that also solve larger development problems facing our world. That’s exactly what the “I2B” start-up tours have been aiming at for the past two years and what has brought us all together here to think collectively how we can take these efforts to the next level. We want to learn what we did well, where we didn’t achieve what we have initially envisioned and how we can work together – both at the policymaking and grassroots level – to improve the start-up and innovation ecosystem in Azerbaijan, leveraging on the unparalleled potential that this country has. I wrote a blog this summer on the 4th Industrial Revolution and the UNDP Accelerator Lab in particular, where I also make a point that we are witnessing firsthand how much progress Azerbaijan has made in moving innovation to centre-stage of its policymaking, and the results speak for themselves.

Take the I2B, for example. Since its launch in April 2018, I2B tours were brought together more than 2,000 participants from different cities and regions of the country in the nationwide start-up marathon, with 3 most outstanding projects later winning the national finals. Those folks are all here today, just next door, working hard to master their business development, financial management, marketing and communications skills to turn the prototypes they have developed during the I2B tours into successful startups and later on to grow into solid business enterprises, with impressive revenues and portfolios.

Along this journey, the I2B has seen tremendous support from a broad range of partners, donors and stakeholders, which I want to acknowledge and thank them all here. In fact, they are the ones who started it all having launched the first I2B tours in Azerbaijan, before even we as UNDP came on board. Led by the initiative of the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies, I2B tours and the InnoCamps have received support from the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the Regional Development Public Union, the Azerbaijan Youth Foundation, Azercell, Azerbaijan’s Innovation Agency and Microsoft.                  

Our InnoCamps are a unique platform for start-ups, technology parks, innovation experts, inventors and entrepreneurs, as well as numerous acceleration centres. The InnoCamp offers unparalleled training programmes for local and foreign techno parks and the innovation community.  

The InnoCamps also present an invaluable opportunity to the innovation and startup ecosystem players to broaden their business networking and knowledge sharing opportunities as well as seek new solutions and new partnerships.  Today, for example, we have come together to look into the face of some of the most critical challenges and opportunities for start-ups in Azerbaijan and see how we can cooperate better –in a more coordinated, efficient and effective manner to tackle these issues.

Why are we doing this? Because innovation, youth, business and technology are important for our development work not only in this country, but across the globe. This is important for a healthy economy of every country. It is also equally important for achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the blueprint agenda for people and for the planet, peace, prosperity and partnerships

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The second InnoCamp comes at an important time –and place –for the UNDP and Government of Azerbaijan, when we are focusing our efforts on developing a brand new concept on Smart Cities, designing new Regional Forums and building Robotics Labs (we call them RoboLabs for short) in high schools. All of these efforts are taking place in Shamakhi.

As this region is brought to the forefront of our development work around the ICT systems, I would like to specifically note the important role that the Shamakhi authorities play in all of our joint efforts.  My sincere gratitude to the Head of Shamakhi District Executive Power, Mr. Mammadov for his personal contribution in all these initiatives and his interest and willingness to strengthen productive partnership with UNDP. Tahir muellim, cokh sag olun! (Thank you very much, Mr. Tahir Mammadov!)

We are planning to establish an Acceleration Centre (Incubation Centre) in Shamakhi district together with the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies. The Acceleration Centre will support the implementation of new innovative ideas and will ensure a broader use of ICT for greater efficiency, sustainability, economic diversification and holistic development, as well as for Roboparks and artificial intelligence.

In general, our development work covers a broad array of regions, not just Shamakhi. UNDP is always interested and focused on promoting the innovation environment in the regions of Azerbaijan. For instance, we are building state-of-the-art network infrastructure and network security equipment for Yevlakh Redundancy Data Centre, which is under construction at the moment. This is part of our new partnership initiative with the Government of Azerbaijan we are implementing through a new USD 6.6 million project funded by the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies.

I would also like to emphasise that earlier this summer we had a soft launch of the UNDP Accelerator Lab in Azerbaijan, which is one of 60 Accelerator Labs UNDP created around the globe to revolutionise development for 21st century. AccLab in Azerbaijan will be instrumental for designing future I2B initiatives and InnoCamps, which both indeed have become a unique platform for many key players in this field to come together and share, learn, and innovate for development. Together with local actors, the Labs will identify grassroots solutions and validate their potential to accelerate development.

I trust that this InnoCamp 2019 in Shamakhi will be a useful and beneficial platform for all to share ideas and involve in key discussions and would like to wish you all a fruitful day ahead. Let me take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to each and every one of you for all the joint efforts to modernise and increase the sustainability and effectiveness of the ICT systems, with a clear vision for putting the youth, entrepreneurship and partnership at the centrepiece of these efforts.  

Thank you very much! COKH SAG OLUN!

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