Anna Tantushyan (BAB’ 20): Journey from Intern to Director of Operations4 min read
Anna Tantushyan (BAB ’20) is the Director of Operations in Armenia at SmartGateVC, a Silicon Valley pre-seed and seed venture capital fund investing in deep tech. Its focus areas are AI infrastructure, AI-enabled SaaS (Software as a Service), IoT (Internet of Things), and biotech across California, Massachusetts, New York City, and Eastern Europe. SmartGateVC invests in companies in their early stages and helps them expand to the US market. Anna started her career at SmartGateVC as an intern and quickly rose to her current position leading operations in Armenia. During our interview, she shared with us milestones along her journey from Lori to AUA to the world of deep tech and AI.
From Lori to AUA
“After graduating high school, I had difficulty deciding where to apply because I didn’t like the educational system of the majority of universities in Armenia, and I wanted something different,” recalls Anna. “I was searching for an institution that would give me more practical tools along with knowledge, rather than just sitting through lectures.” Born and raised in the Lori region of Armenia, there was a moment when the American University of Armenia (AUA) felt so out of reach for Anna that, at first, she didn’t even look into it. But her grandmother played a significant role in her decision to apply, understanding what her granddaughter was searching for. When Anna started looking for more information on the AUA website and reached out to some friends who were students at AUA, she realized that she wanted to study there and nowhere else. “And now, as an AUA alumna, I can tell it was meant for me,” she says.
Recounting her student years here, Anna remembers facing very different experiences each year. “I like to describe the first year of my AUA life as ‘living at the library,’” jokes Anna, elaborating that she and her friends used to stay at the library every day after classes until late. “In my second year at AUA, I was ‘living in the labs.’ From the third year, I had already started working full time alongside my studies, so I didn’t spend much time on campus. Still, it was a great part of my life.” Anna emphasizes that the educational system at AUA prepares students for everything that comes after graduation, including professional challenges.
AUA’s Impact on her Career Path
When Anna came to AUA, she wasn’t sure about the career path she wanted to pursue — whether to aspire to a career in business or go into law, as she had a great interest in the latter. At some point, she even wanted to explore a career in nutritional sciences. She notes that having the opportunity to take elective courses outside her major to discover the extent of her interest in those subjects shaped her in many different ways.
Speaking about the professors and lecturers she had the opportunity to meet at AUA, Anna mentions that every single one of them influenced her in some way.
One of the professors she names is AUA College of Business and Economics (CBE) Lecturer and Industry Liaison Karen Sarkavagyan, because he inspired her and other students to read and analyze news articles almost daily. Anna credits him with her habit of reading the news and her ability to take everything she reads with a grain of salt, to go deeper and analyze what she reads. Another professor who influenced Anna was Zaruhi Furunjyan, who taught management principles. “At some point, she was the role model of a successful working woman, who balanced her time between work and family.”
CBE Associate Professor Dr. Agassy Manoukian is another lecturer who influenced Anna and her career choices. “I believe I grew a passion for operations in his course,” remarks Anna. Assistant Professor and Master of Science in Economics Program Chair Dr. Gurgen Aslanyan, Anna recounts, helped her see the economic reasoning behind everything happening around her. Finally, Anna mentions Professor Dr. Arshak Balayan. “I always say that if you study at AUA, you should meet with Arshak Balayan at least once. From him, I learned much about philosophy, ethics, and looking at things from different perspectives and viewpoints.” He also significantly impacted her style of writing and expressing her thoughts, which helped her later on.
From Intern to Operations Director
“Technology and innovation have always been highly interesting to me, as I feel that they are our future. At first, they seemed challenging, which is what initially attracted me to this field,” says Anna, reflecting on what led her to the world of deep tech.
She started working at SmartGateVC as an intern during her third year at AUA, serving as a program assistant for one of the fund’s acceleration programs, Armenia Startup Academy. Anna helped the team run the acceleration program and promote startup growth. Eventually, she became the program manager of that same project. “Step by step, I started getting involved in more activities, overall operations, and investment processes of the fund and managing our operations in Armenia. I was ready to grow, take on challenges, and solve problems. I developed many of these competencies and the necessary mindset at AUA, while other skills I acquired working at SmartGateVC. In other companies, one may experience a similar growth path over many years, but at SmartGateVC, there is a team that helps you grow, prosper, and reach your goals within a shorter period,” remarks Anna.
Advice to Future BAB Students
From her own experience, Anna realized that many young people don’t understand or value the advantages of building a network. “Honestly, it took me a while to understand the importance of the connections I had forged at AUA with the people with whom I interacted daily,” she notes. “AUA gives you the valuable chance to build networks with professors and classmates, who are always happy to help whichever way they can. You can become a very resourceful person as a result. So, my advice to BAB students is to start building their network, understand its importance from the beginning, and connect with as many people as they can throughout their journey at AUA.” She also advises students to get a head start on securing internships which will help them acquire employment in their field more easily after graduation. “Use this chance to make mistakes, fix them, learn from them, and grow,” says Anna.