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EPIC Mentors: Crucial for Success

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YEREVAN, Armenia — Mentorship is central to the incubation program at the  Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) of the American University of Armenia (AUA).  The incubation program connects people with particular skills and knowledge to assist the EPIC teams as mentors supporting and guiding them to move their startup forward. Over the last few batches, EPIC has expanded the number of mentors engaging individuals with knowledge and expertise in various fields to work with the residents of the incubation program. 

After the selection process of EPIC incubator residents, startup teams identify their mentoring needs. Sometimes teams seek support in technical areas or in a particular industry, other times they just need to interact with someone who has experience in starting a business. This information is cross-checked against EPIC’s rich mentoring roster to identify the right match. Both startups and mentors are provided with information on the mentorship program requirements and expectations, after which EPIC organizes the mentor-matching event, where mentors and mentees meet to identify potential matches. Mentors are assigned following the event. 

Mentorship at EPIC promotes collaboration between startup teams and industry professionals willing to share their expertise, knowledge, and experience. Most EPIC incubator teams have multiple mentors who meet mentee teams once every two weeks throughout the duration of the incubation — consistently counseling them and offering constructive guidance, support, and connections.  

“Mentors play an important role in the development and the future success of every startup by sharing their experience, knowledge, and network. That is why for us, it is one of the highest priorities to find good mentor matches for our startup teams,” shares Arpine Manukyan, operations manager at EPIC. 

Overall, approximately sixty local and international mentors cooperate with EPIC. The number and quality of mentors have risen since 2018, when the program was launched. Among the mentors, there are university professors, ecosystem professionals from consulting firms, banking, law, marketing, and product management, and mentors from overseas. “We have mentors from not only Armenia but from the U.S., Europe, Ukraine, and Southeast Asia for this spring batch. We also have several AUA faculty and alumni serving as mentors,” adds Manukyan.

“It was very helpful to have one-on-one meetings with people who have such an amazing background and experience,” asserted Feliqs Hayrapetyan and Liana Harutyunyan from the EATerator startup. The team underscored the contributions by experienced AUA instructors assisting their startup, specifically acknowledging the support by Assistant Professor Lena Seissian and Professor Theofanis Varvoglis of the Manoogian Simone College of Business and Economics.

Dork Alahydoian, senior digital product and media executive based in NY, and Mher Avetyan (MBA ’95), founder and CEO of Studycor, productively worked with Gevorg Babayan, the founder of LikeLocal. What Gevorg valued the most was his mentors’ aptitude in “giving hope” and helping him overcome many challenges. He explains how the unique disposition and expertise of his mentors helped him deal with specific niche markets and pitch decks. 

For two years, EPIC has successfully organized remote mentoring by accomplished business people and entrepreneurs from the Diaspora. “We are proud to say that many mentor-mentee relationships have continued even after the end of the incubation program,” mentions Manukyan. Cultivating personal values and advancing startup teams’ business objectives by way of providing solid and relevant advice has further buttressed EPIC’s supportive environment and the success of participating startups.

Meet Some of the Successful EPIC Mentors 

Magda Aghababyan (MBA’95) is an AUA alumna, who shares life between Sri Lanka and Armenia. She has worked with people from diverse cultures and in multiple spheres, including business operations, analytics, and IT solutions, also building her own business, which she has successfully exited. Getting her start at IBM in New York, Aghababyan’s current focus is in the use of data science to benefit people. 

Pavel Prokushenkov has over 25 years of experience in entrepreneurship, lecturing, and coaching. He earned his Masters in Aviation Engineering and Social Psychology and currently is working on his PhD in Management with a focus on human values. As an entrepreneur, Prokushenkov was involved in international projects in real estate, fashion, and consulting. He is a lecturer in enterprise strategy at Université Claude Bernard in Lyon, and in business planning at the Estonian Business School in Tallinn. He supports entrepreneurs around the world as mentor and coach.

Nareg Soghomonian’s startup journey began in 2009 after departing Apple with the deployment of his first startup Entrance Studios, a digital marketing agency. Entrance Studios helped him further strengthen his skills specializing in the development of early-stage startup companies. Through Entrance Studios, Soghomonian collaborated with nearly 20 different types of early to mid-level startup companies and nonprofits. His journey in the Armenian IT sector began in 2012 upon his first work-related visit — in this trip he had a chance to better understand the tech landscape of Armenia, as well as mentor and advise startup companies. To date, Soghomonian has co-founded, mentored, and advised Armenian startup companies in and outside Armenia. His areas of expertise include user interface design, research and development, team development, developing pitch decks and coaching founders on how to pitch to investors. In 2019, Soghomonian officially repatriated to Armenia where he co-leads business development for the software development company Preezma.

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.

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