How my EPIC Experience Helped me Launch a Startup in Munich
Contributed by Viktor Aghajanyan (BAB ‘19)
In March 2019, the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) at AUA initiated a joint project with a team of MBA faculty and students from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. One of the goals of the program was to enable collaboration and teamwork in entrepreneurship between students of AUA and Dartmouth. The directors of EPIC at AUA and the Center for Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth Tuck organized the project, set the project goals, and helped guide us to success.
Three other students and I from AUA worked with the Dartmouth MBA team for six months to rationalize and structure an AUA-based Angel Network and Angel Fund for investment into new ventures in the Armenian startup ecosystem, benchmarking angel and venture capital funds across universities around the world. For our project, we looked at the startup culture in Armenia, funding ecosystem, exits, technical infrastructure, legal and policy infrastructure, etc. As a part of the Tuck team’s visit to Armenia, we met with VC investors, angels, accelerators, and incubators. For over one week, I observed how Ivy league MBA students – some of whom later became friends – would ask questions, raise their issues and concerns, ask follow-up questions, encourage, debate, solve problems, respect, recognize, reward, and coordinate with one another. We designed the operational structure, investment policies, learned about the challenges and nuances of the industry, drew insights from current funds operating in Armenia, assessed the fund’s financial feasibility, identified potential sources of investment, etc. The project was then presented to the AUA President and Provost, Director of EPIC, BAB Dean and others.
The time spent with the Tuck and EPIC teams was rewarding, and a big chunk of knowledge was transferred to us. I would like to reflect on how my experience with EPIC helped me to start building my own startup.
One area in which I found my experience helpful is understanding investor motivation. Over time, we met with VCs and angels, and I learned more about their organizational structures and how they operate and ambitions and got insider knowledge about how they value startups, etc. In other words, it helped me understand the traditional entrepreneur/investor information asymmetries. By learning what they want and what drives their decisions, I learned numerous techniques to turn the idea, pitch deck, and website into something investable.
My experience of meeting with entrepreneurs from Germany, the U.S., Spain, etc. and hearing other people’s stories has taught me that it is not only my knowledge and experience that matter but rather the ones that I do not have. It is probably more about the experience and learning, rather than the immediate outcome. Working with someone who knows how to build a business from the bottom up has saved me from many months/years of making mistakes. This is perhaps the best thing I learned from the EPIC experience. Working with an industry veteran who has many contacts and has built authentic relationships with key partners has helped me learn non-obvious insider knowledge about a high-value problem in my industry. Over time, the Director of EPIC – Prof. Michael Kouchakdjian – and my AUA professor – Prof. Emil Vassilyan – helped guide me through an entrepreneurial venture and more.
With that said, in my professional venture, I partner with programmers from the Technical University of Munich and a Unicorn co-founder to help private investors avoid double taxation in Europe and improve access to securities data in Europe. I am leading the business development and data monetization. Our startup has established business relationships with Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, Google Cloud, and other banks, marketplaces, magazines, and portals in Germany. Currently, our ultimate goal is to pioneer a remarkable Fin-Tech growth around securities APIs [application program interfaces] in Europe. We have a unique chance to become the first Fin-Tech startup in Europe to collect data from securities APIs of clients of many banks, create an ecosystem strategy through data aggregation, and build a Third Party API Integration system to improve the security data access in the EU. This will create a lasting value in the Fin-Tech ecosystem not just in Europe but also in other countries, since the portfolio and other data of private investors can successfully be leveraged by, for instance, high-frequency trading firms and hedge funds.