Located in the heart of Gyumri, Digital Pomegranate is among the city’s handful of companies driving Armenia’s IT sector forward. Digital Pomegranate, or DP as its employees call it, is a software development company founded in 2013 by Todd Fabacher and Zara Ingilizian.
From a humble start with three employees, occupying an office at the Gyumri Technology Center (GIC), Digital Pomegranate now operates its own independent coworking space, which employs more than 70 people, a number that is expected to double by the end of the year.
The company’s great potential and ambition is reflected through its name. Fabacher describes Digital Pomegranate to be “one of the many seeds of a pomegranate of startups that need to be developed, not only in Gyumri but in other provinces as well.”
And that is not just a marketing trick. Starting as a contractor, the company has developed more than 270 products for businesses and governments in a diverse global market in more than 20 countries, including the U.S., UK, Canada, Japan and Australia.
In addition to developing top-tier products, Digital Pomegranate has also acted as an incubator for startups born out of the company. These include TriviaMatic, English Bento and SeekUnique, which combined with Digital Pomegranate's wider portfolio, serve as leaders in a variety of industries including accounting, health and fitness, education and entertainment.
In the latter, their three-year-strong relationship with Sony Music Entertainment is worth highlighting, for which they have developed more than two products, such as a financial monitoring app that is used by artists like Rihanna and Lady Gaga. It has marked an important milestone for Digital Pomegranate, making them the first Armenian company to ever work with Sony Music.
But perhaps what is more impressive is the people behind those products and startups.
The People of Digital Pomegranate
Narineh Hovhannisyan has worked for the company since 2014, first as a project manager and then as a product owner. Two years ago, she co-founded her own startup - Digital Pomegranate’s first offshoot company - Aion Clouds, which provides digital planning and management solutions to businesses.
Hovhannisyan’s experience reflects the company’s core philosophy, through which Digital Pomegranate's founders either co-found new offshoot startups with employees or offer them shares for developing company products.
“This encourages ownership and helps us have more and higher quality products,” explained Hovhannisyan.
Digital Pomegranate's approach, very common in the startup world, not only helps retain employees, but perhaps more importantly, keeps the youth of Gyumri from migrating elsewhere - whether to Yerevan or abroad.
“I think all of us working at DP right now, maybe before joining DP were thinking about leaving Gyumri and working in Yerevan - even abroad. And now that we’re in this environment, we’re working with worldwide companies, and what can possibly be better than this, right?” said Julia Muradyan.
Muradyan, who started off as a content writer/director at the company three years ago, is now a shareholder and the product owner of TriviaMatic, another DP startup which develops interactive, gamified trivia apps for the U.S. market.
Matevos Karapetyan, who has been working at DP for just around four months, says he has already experienced great professional growth. “And it’s really fun to work for a company that has bigger goals than just developing a website… it motivates the developer to create something for the city, not just for the company,” said Karepetyan.
Hovhannisyan, Muradyan, Karapetyan and their colleagues also shared their excitement about another project.
The construction of Distrikt, a first-of-its-kind residential district, is set to begin this summer in the north-western part of Gyumri, encompassing a 25 hectare plot. It is designed to be “a unique technology-based entrepreneurship ecosystem that fosters innovation, provides decent and sustainable livelihoods to its residents and has a positive socio-economic and environmental impact on Gyumri,” its website says.
At the inauguration event that introduced Distrikt to attendees on May 15, 2021, Distrikt’s Co-Founder Fabacher explained that, when they started asking people what they needed to stay in Gyumri, money was interestingly not the most pressing issue. Instead, it was the desire to live in an integrated, eco-friendly environment. And that is how the idea of Distrikt was born.
“If we don’t give young people what they want, they will go and find it in today’s world. So we are bringing the world to Gyumri and we’re going to do that by creating the first SDG community in the world,” said Fabacher.
As a part of this mission, Distrikt will become a global leader in pursuing the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which strive to eradicate poverty and hunger, and provide affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, among other goals, by 2030. According to Digital Pomegranate’s CEO and Distrikt’s Co-Founder Gayane Ghandilyan this will motivate people from around the world to visit and invest in Gyumri.
Commenting on it, Saten Minasyan, Distrikt’s Project Manager, said that, although they understand that they cannot solve large global issues immediately, they have accepted the social, economic and ecological challenges facing them.
Their active response to some of these issues has already started, in the sphere of education for example, by establishing the Sustainable Development and Entrepreneurship Distrikt Foundation. Through this foundation, they will implement educational programs to equip youth with necessary skills, help identify their talents and eventually employ them in the different startups of Distrikt.
Minasyan also referred to their work in achieving gender equality within Digital Pomegranate, which will also translate into Distrikt. In addition to having a female co-founder and CEO, Zara Ingilizyan and Ghandilyan respectively, women make up the majority of DP’s management team.
“We want to motivate women to come and develop their skills with us, to overcome their insecurities and make managerial decisions,” explained Minasyan.
Through Distrikt, its founders want to bring some of DP’s products and startups, otherwise designed for a non-Armenian user base, home to Gyumri and Armenia - whether that is TriviaMatic, Aion Clouds or their home security products.
“Here at Digital Pomegranate, we have become one of the top developers for software around the world. Yet we provide almost no software to Armenia… because nobody asked for it,” said Fabacher. “I think, given the current circumstances, one of the things that the tech industry needs to do is give back to their own community.”
He added that their aim is to help tackle two of Armenia’s biggest problems - efficient agriculture and affordable housing - with a goal to homes at 50-70% off the current average cost. “We’re going to build a completely automated factory here in Gyumri to be able to produce several houses a day,” Fabacher said.
Meanwhile, they want to attract new people to live and produce in Distrikt. With the concept of a green city, they want to encourage only goods produced in Distrikt, or at least local production, to be circulated in the community. They will be experimenting with other sustainable systems like aquaponics, electricity and biogas production, and the use of solar panels .
The newly-established company Digital Silk Road is another noteworthy startup that will play a central role in Distrikt. With both a digital and physical presence in Gyumri and its sister city, Xi’an in China, Digital Silk Road will help Digital Pomegranate and other companies in the region enter the Chinese market. This ambitious project will prepare employees to develop mini apps for the WeChat and Alibaba platforms in the near future, explained Nareh Argushyan, the manager of the project.
Acting Minister of Economy Vahan Kerobyan, who also attended Distrikt’s inauguration event, described Distrikt as “an amazing project… [with] a very clear and valid idea to build an eco district in Gyumri, to attract more people to live here.”
“There is a need to have this nice environment, where people can live and work and enjoy their life,” Kerobyan said.
Digital Pomegranate, already into its eighth year, has unquestionably played an active role in shifting the image of Gyumri from a city of poverty and tragedy to a city with a viable future. It is exciting to anticipate how Distrikt, along with Gyumri’s other tech entities, will further develop Armenia’s rising city.