EPIC and Dartmouth Create Plan for Crowdfunding for Armenian Startups
YEREVAN, Armenia — The Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) of the American University of Armenia (AUA) recently concluded a project with faculty and students from the Tuck School of Business of Dartmouth College. Tuck is ranked as one of the top business schools in the world. For five months, a team of MBA students from Tuck together with a team of AUA undergraduate students worked to assess the feasibility of creating a crowdfunding platform in Armenia. The project concluded that it is feasible to create an investment vehicle for early-stage Armenian startups to secure pre-seed equity-based financing from the Armenian diaspora and beyond. Similar crowdfunding financing approaches have been successfully used in developing countries to target individuals from prosperous diasporas for financing startups.
For over 20 weeks, the teams conducted market research with dozens of stakeholders including startup founders, diaspora representatives and investors, crowdfunding experts, and legal advisors. The teams analyzed the local conditions for establishing and deploying a platform. Though the visit of the Tuck team to Armenia was called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all planned interviews were held remotely. “Despite the challenges, the work was first-rate, providing EPIC with an actionable business plan that we will begin to implement this summer. I am proud of our AUA students who were repeatedly praised by the Tuck professors for the quality of their work. No doubt, there was considerable learning by our enthusiastic students,” commented Professor Michael Kouchakdjian, Director of EPIC.
Entrepreneurial endeavors and new business startups continue to grow in Armenia and are expected to play a significant role in Armenia’s economic success. Currently, early-stage venture investment and financing options in Armenia include bank debt, angel funds, and venture capital. However, there is a gap in the ecosystem for small-dollar, pre-seed financing (less than $50,000). Through this project, EPIC aims to establish a vehicle to complement existing financing options and to fill the demand gap while providing an opportunity for diaspora investors to participate in Armenia’s startup landscape and channel their engagement by way of investment in lieu of donations. Thus, crowdfunding provides the means to address the need and also provide opportunity.
“In the scope of this project, I have worked with incredible people from Tuck with great experience and working style, who were willing to share their knowledge with us. Not only have I learned a lot about the benefits of crowdfunding and the significant impact that it will have on Armenia, but also I had the chance to get valuable insights about Armenia’s startup culture and learn about the existing gaps in the startup ecosystem. It made me think about how I could fill those gaps in the future and contribute to the improvement of Armenia’s overall business environment,” shared Elen Gevorgyan (BAB ‘21) from the AUA team.
During the research, students had multiple opportunities to talk with key players in the Armenian entrepreneurial ecosystem and other stakeholders whose expertise and advice would be essential for the project’s successful implementation. Meetings with financial and investment leaders, marketing experts, and various other professionals from the diaspora kept the students engaged throughout the project. “It gave me a closer look at the microeconomics of the small business market in Armenia and the funding channels from the Armenian diaspora to the homeland, the existing challenges and possibilities,” noted Georges Ohannessian (BAB ‘21).
Working with a team that has global experience while focusing on real-life and practical issues and challenges in a developing country such as Armenia led to a valuable collaboration for everyone involved. For the participating AUA students, in particular, the project realized the learning objective to observe best practices and teamwork exemplified by the Tuck MBA students. Gohar Avsharyan (EC ‘21) noted that “Each person brought their individual outlook and skills to the team. Through the in-depth interviews jointly conducted with the Tuck students, I understood the significance and power of teamwork. Their willingness to bring each other’s skills to the fore was an essential component of the research and something I would always apply in the future.”
The teams delivered their final presentation on May 22 to the faculty of both universities, EPIC’s staff, and other invited guests. “Working on this crowdfunding project with AUA has been a great learning experience for us. Coming from an investment background, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to interview so many different stakeholders in the Armenian entrepreneurship ecosystem, from startup founders to VC/angel investors, as well as legislators and advisors. I can’t wait to see this platform come to life,” says Anh N.H. Nguyen (Tuck MBA ‘21).
The Tuck team plans to visit Armenia as soon as travel opens up in the future, and will maintain active ties with the AUA students and EPIC. The crowdfunding platform is scheduled to go live in early 2021.
The Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) is a platform for promoting entrepreneurial education, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and startup venture incubation. EPIC provides an ecosystem for the American University of Armenia’s (AUA) emerging entrepreneurs consisting of first-class facilities and collaborative workspace, programs and events, and a network of mentors, advisors and investors. EPIC fosters the understanding and application of entrepreneurship with students and faculty at AUA to craft high-impact multidisciplinary ventures.