Serial entrepreneur Arman Toskanbaev was one of 19 young innovators on show at the Ideas Market, a highlight of the Changing Skills for a Changing World Torino Process conference. His latest endeavour – the Association of Young Entrepreneurs: New Green Technologies, Zertis Project (Kazakhstan) – enables vegetables to grow all year round in Kazakhstan’s harsh climate. It’s one of many entrepreneurial adventures he has embarked upon since the European Training Foundation first met him through the Entrepreneurial Communities initiative in 2015. For this #ETFTRP post, we re-visit another one of his success stories.
Business time, presidential style!
Arman Toskanbaev’s ambitious goal required precision timing. The serial entrepreneur was determined to gift the president of Kazakhstan one of his company’s luxury watches, in person. On 1 December 2016, a year after launching the luxury watch brand Otan Watches – the timing was just right. President Nursultan Nazarbayev was preparing to address a youth forum, as Arman recalls.
‘The President was preparing to give a speech, there was a pause, and I saw a window of opportunity. I turned the microphone on and presented myself and the story of the watch, then I asked the President if I could present it to him in person.’
‘When he put the watch on, he raised his hand and declared: We are not wearing foreign Swiss-made watches anymore, we are wearing Kazakh-made watches!’
The story went viral. Arman’s face, and the intricate gold watch face, bearing the national coat of arms, was all over the evening news. Business soared. Otan Watches have become Kazakhstan’s official gift for high-flying officials, even Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev wears one.
See the events unfold on YouTube here.
Building entrepreneurial communities
Arman believes his meeting with the President was more than coincidence – because at the time, he was 25 years-old and Kazakhstan was celebrating 25 years of independence from the Soviet Union. Some may cite superstition, but those who know Arman will call it determination.
The ETF met Arman through the Entrepreneurial Communities initiative in 2015. Since then, he has started a number of businesses: fruit and vegetables, luxury watches, livestock feed and IT solutions. He has also published a book ‘From Idea to Business’ which he had translated to English just in time to market at the #ETFTRP conference.
He is also the Director of the Youth Business Association, working with more than 1,000 young entrepreneurs across the country. In addition, he recently started a career guidance and orientation programme for students called New Generation.
The Youth Business Association is a key partner in the Entrepreneurial Community in Karaganda – one of 10 thriving local partnerships explored in 10 ETF partner countries. The association works together with the Chamber of Entrepreneurs and 26 local vocational education and training (VET) providers to strengthen links between education and business and stimulate private sector regional economic growth.
(Local Skills Matter: A journey through entrepreneurial communities publication, in English, French and Russian, available here)
The ETF-led initiative helped Arman to grow his business network beyond the regional and national level.
‘I realised the world is much, much, bigger than my own country. I am communicating with people without knowing English, and I have grown relationships and my business. There are no barriers to this type of learning in the world today!’
Arman recently travelled to Israel to meet with Ravit Dom from the Israeli entrepreneurial community. She is the General Manager of the Amal Network which runs the entrepreneurship centre at the multi-disciplinary high school in Hadera, a small coastal city around 45 kilometres from Tel Aviv.
Arman was joined by representatives of the Kazakh Ministry of Education so they could see how students (aged 15 to 18) learn the entire business cycle, from idea generation to production, marketing and sales. Entrepreneurial learning is high on the national agenda in Kazakhstan, with plans to embed it in the school curricula in 2017.
Unlocking entrepreneurship: The key to success is?
Arman is passionate about helping young people learn, succeed, and fail. A year before Arman met the President, he declared bankruptcy when a consulting company he had partnered in went bust.
‘I learned that not everyone thinks like I do. I used to see life through pink glasses and thought everyone was as driven and motivated as I am. But money changes people.’
He turned the loss into a win, investing his time in his new ventures. For Arman, failure is an important lesson, one that he shares with young entrepreneurs. Another lesson is that partnerships, not financing, are the key to startup success.
‘I teach young people that a business partnership is like a marriage. The most important thing is to be open. Not everyone is like this with their wives or husbands,’ he muses.
‘Business is like a child born from a good partnership, one in which you are open and honest about finances, transparent and everyone knows exactly where they stand.’
Success is also about investing in human capital, says Arman who simply wouldn’t be where he is today without his team of talented employees.
Back to the future
Proudly, Arman explains, that while the machinery of the watches is still Swiss-made, production is progressively moving to Kazakhstan. He and his talented team are helping to create local jobs.
While Arman says it’s ‘not exactly the goal’ to see Otan Watches on the wrists of all world leaders, his dream, moving forward, is to customise designs with the emblems of different countries and locally-sourced materials.
Watch this space!
Story by Susanna Dunkerley, originally published in Live&Learn Issue 38
Photos: Arman Toskanbaev and Andrea Guermani