Meet the Winners of EPIC’s “The Future Innovator” CompetitionReading time: 5 min
YEREVAN, Armenia — August 17-23, 2020, the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) of the American University of Armenia (AUA) launched the first Entrepreneurship Summer Festival (ESF2020), an organized week-long program designed to disseminate knowledge and create enthusiasm in entrepreneurship through a unique series of online events.
The Festival culminated with “The Future Innovator” Competition, an intensive 2-day program for teams and individuals who had technology-based startup ideas. EPIC and its partners provided technical support and pitch training. Winners of the competition were awarded prizes. The program was supported by the EU4Business “Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia” project and jointly hosted by a half-dozen local university partners.
“The Future Innovator” Competition was jointly organized with PicsArt Armenia and Webb Fontaine Armenia and provided the opportunity to discuss the participants’ business ideas and receive mentorship from the technology team at Webb Fontaine, one of the top software companies in the region. The second part of the competition was dedicated to the business aspects of starting a venture. The keynote session focused on the strategies behind pitching ideas and was hosted by well-known entrepreneur, investor, and venture coach, Chus Lozano. In the day-long program that focused on business, EPIC mentors conducted one-on-one sessions with the teams by providing detailed guidance and advice on developing their ventures.
11 teams out of 20 participated in the final pitching competition and were evaluated by the representatives of EPIC and partner organizations — GIZ, Armenian State University of Economics, Webb Fontaine Armenia, and PicsArt Armenia. The competition resulted in an interactive event, during which the jury and participants also discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the individual pitches. Prizes for the winners (holding a monetary value of over 1,000 EUR, including Kindles, external memory drives, headphones, and PicsArt Gold memberships) were provided by the ESF2020 partners: EU4Business, GIZ, PicsArt Armenia, and Webb Fontaine Armenia. All the winners were invited to apply to the EPIC Incubation Program.
Meet the three startups that won “The Future Innovator” Competition: Butterfly Tours, 4Future.ai, and Perfect Look.
“With us, everybody can visit Armenia from their couch,” says Rima Shahbazyan, CEO of Butterfly Tours. The startup founders are Rima Shahbazyan and Narek Pirumyan, technology and tourism enthusiasts who saw the opportunity to launch their startup following the implementation of restrictions related to COVID-19. “The initial idea was to create virtual reality tours for tourists in Yerevan, but the lockdown influenced us to consider altering our main idea. After some brainstorming and research, we concluded that we should create a low-cost version of regular on-site tours. Narek has five years of experience in tourism and I have experience in startup crowdfunding and web development, so we combined our skills to create Butterfly,” Shahbazyan continues.
The team doesn’t consider itself a typical travel company. Rather than taking a person to a different country, Butterfly Tours brings the country to him/her through live broadcasts from the desired destination, along with a professional guide who answers questions during the online tour. The tour will be shot with the help of drones, accessible from the Butterfly Tours website.
“Winning ‘The Future Innovator’ Competition was our first big milestone, and it was a great experience for not only learning the nuances of pitching an idea, but also for understanding our product more deeply. For me, the most valuable part of the competition was not the prize, but the opportunity to listen to experts’ opinions. 1000 EUR won’t buy you success — the skills and knowledge to make the most of that money, will. In our team, we have a great habit of organizing in-house knowledge-sharing events, so that whenever one of us learns something new, we gather and tell one another about it. This competition was no exception. I took a lot of notes during our calls with the mentors and spoke about the subject matter to my team for a couple of hours,” mentions Shahbazyan.
4Future.ai is an artificial intelligence (AI) toolbox that can be integrated into any closed-circuit television (CCTV) system of a venue to identify its hygiene procedures and customer inquiries. The startup helps industries fight against the COVID-19 pandemic by warning consumers of venues with poor hygiene practices, such as cafes, restaurants, and other public places.
“4Future.ai brings certainty to the uncertain world,” remarks Khachatur Vrtanesyan, the co-founder of the startup. “Before the pandemic, we were working on an AI reservation system for restaurants. However, when the pandemic hit, we decided to shift our direction to encourage people to start visiting restaurants and cafes again, and help hospitality market players go above and beyond to oversee and monitor environment hygiene and customer inquiries to regain the trust of their customers,” continues Vrtanesyan. “What is unique about our team is that we started operating during the lockdown in Armenia. After many endless work days of designing, planning, and debating remotely, we managed to sign our first agreement. We are moving forward in small steps, and EPIC’s ‘The Future Innovator’ Competition was one of those steps that encouraged us. We are honored to be one of the winners among these incredible startups. Thanks to the help of EPIC, we are now one step closer to our success.”
Perfect Look helps women and girls find clothes according to their body types with the help of a quick and one-of-a-kind calculator. The main goal of Perfect Look is to help women and girls understand the peculiarities of the body, its uniqueness and beauty, and to be free from widely-promoted beauty standards.
Karine Martirosyan, the founder of Perfect Look, reflects, “One of my favorite television shows in childhood was ‘America’s Next Top Model,’ where the process of creating fashion magazine covers and society’s fashion standards was demonstrated. Another show I enjoyed was ‘Gok’s Clothes Roadshow,’ in which Gok, a famous American stylist, travels around the U.S. and meets ordinary women, recommending fashion choices according to their body types. I remember the moment I realized that the world and the fashion industry often don’t meet the ordinary person’s demands. And this was when the idea for ‘Perfect Look’ was born.”
The team developed an online application that gives dressing recommendations according to the user’s body type. The team has also generated a unique algorithm to calculate a body type, hoping to attract customers to Perfect Look by helping them learn more about their own body structure, get individual recommendations, and purchase suitable clothing from online stores.
“We decided to participate in ‘The Future Innovator’ Competition to receive valuable advice and feedback from top specialists. It was our first experience of participating in this kind of competition, and we all were very excited to hear the feedback from the audience, judges, and potential users. We were happily surprised to hear that the judges believe in our product as much as we do, and we hope to make Perfect Look available for all users who need our help. The competition gave us confirmation that we are on the right track, and we will continue to develop our product, making it perfect for our users,” wraps up Martirosyan.
The Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) is a platform of the American University of Armenia (AUA) for promoting entrepreneurial education, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and startup venture incubation. EPIC provides an ecosystem for 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 in students and faculty at AUA to craft high-impact multidisciplinary ventures.