Introducing Nejdeh Hovanessian: EPIC’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence4 min read
The concept of Entrepreneur-in-Residence was originally associated with attracting skilled and experienced entrepreneurs to venture capital firms to assume lead positions to provide promising startups with focused support and mentoring for new product development and growth. Over the years, such positions evolved globally to be embraced by corporations, universities, investors, accelerators, and incubators.
The Role of Entrepreneurs-in-Residence in the Armenian Context
In late 2019, the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) of the American University of Armenia (AUA) took the bold step of testing this concept. Though EPIC had successfully secured the participation of numerous advisors and mentors, engaging an Entrepreneur-in-Residence would add value and further develop the Armenian startup ecosystem. The Entrepreneur-in-Residence would connect beginner entrepreneurs with consummate professionals possessing international entrepreneurial experience, networks, and hacks, thereby stimulating enthusiasm among startups and effectively bridging the gap between theory and practice in entrepreneurship.
Relying on its strong diaspora network and inviting well-seasoned repatriates, EPIC recruited its first Entrepreneur-in-Residence — Nejdeh Hovanessian. Newly established in Yerevan with his family, Hovanessian has repatriated from Iran, holds advanced degrees from London in design, strategy, innovation and entrepreneurship, and has had past venture experience in Armenia. In the early 2000s, he had created the design unit and developed the rebranding strategy of Grand Candy. Returning to Iran, he co-founded with two friends an auto trading platform that currently is the leading platform in Iran (among the top 10 in e-commerce) with over 10 million active users monthly. As founder of another startup and as a strategy consultant, he has advised numerous large and small businesses with a special focus on digital startups.
“In addition to mastering a wide range of entrepreneurial traits, the Entrepreneur-in-Residence has to be enthusiastic and also capable of sharing his/her motivation, knowledge, and experience with novice entrepreneurs. When I joined EPIC, the position was completely new to me too,” explains Hovanessian. ”I had to study the ecosystem, understand the young first-time entrepreneurs, and gradually develop my role. The Entrepreneur-in-Residence concept itself is very new to Armenia and also new to AUA. An experiment, if you will. One of my first initiatives was to create a personal network of entrepreneurs that function as Entrepreneurs-in-Residence in different institutions around the globe. I consider these individuals to be a good resource to learn more about the position and be able to identify the existing potential and opportunities for impact. To that end, LinkedIn provided the ideal solution!”
Since he joined AUA, Hovanessian has worked with the previous three batches of EPIC incubation program resident teams, supporting and guiding them through the incubation process.
Gor Varosyan, the CEO of EPIC startup narinj, asserts that Hovanessian is one of the most positive people he has met at AUA. “During my time at EPIC, Nejdeh’s input has proven invaluable in guiding our team,” Varosyan notes.
“If there was any hard decision our team had to make, we knew that we could always approach Nejdeh. He would give us the best advice and motivate us, and what’s important, he was straightforward and would tell us when our idea was not a good one,” mentions Lilit Melikyan from the EPIC Seed Fund award-winning startup Styliish.
Along with his primary responsibilities, Hovanessian has helped redesign the overall incubation program curriculum to make it more cohesive and practical. The new version of the curriculum was executed during the recent Spring and Fall 2020 batches. Hovanessian believes: “It did quite well notwithstanding the situational surprises imposed by the recent global pandemic and the Artsakh war. However, I believe that program revisions should be an ongoing process to keep our program as fresh and as relevant as possible.”
Hovanessian’s Role as a Catalyst
Hovanessian sees his primary role at EPIC as a startup catalyst who functions at two levels to realize EPIC’s mission.
The first is the strategic level, where he works with the center’s director to design and develop new initiatives within EPIC in line with the recently articulated strategic vision of AUA. The second one is the executive level, where together with the incubation program’s operational manager and the EPIC team he keeps the curriculum and content fitting and refreshed for highest impact.
“The role of the Entrepreneur-in-Residence is one of the pillars of EPIC, as Nejdeh brought his theoretical and practical expertise in Entrepreneurship to the program. His experience helped to develop a new program, which has proved to be highly effective. Also, he helps teams to overcome difficulties and frustration when facing challenges that routinely confront startups by providing valuable mentorship,” remarks Arpine Manukyan, the operations manager of EPIC.
Aside from these responsibilities, he is involved in teaching several topics included in the incubation program. Hovanessian adds, “I really love the teaching function. It is an ongoing learning process for me as well and a wonderful opportunity to explore with our teams new opportunities from different angles.”
Postscript: EPIC is happy to inform that Hovanessian has taken on an additional role at AUA. He was recently appointed as Assistant Director of the Open Center of Excellence for Innovation Advancement.
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.