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EPIC Stimulates Innovation by Hosting Ideathon for University Students

4 min read

YEREVAN, Armenia — On February 11-12, the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC), along with the Open Center for Innovation Advancement of the American University of Armenia (AUA), hosted a new two-day event, an ideathon called EPIC Jam. The event was organized to address the challenges of young people who want to embrace entrepreneurship but lack a startup idea or don’t have a team. During those two days, dozens of aspiring entrepreneurs, supported by coaches and mentors, gathered to explore creative and innovative solutions to prevailing problems, needs, and opportunities in Armenia and beyond. 

The participants were full of energy and enthusiasm throughout the weekend. At the start of the first day, individual participants were offered 13 challenges to pick from: problems or needs in Armenia that demanded solutions and were of particular interest to them: optimizing the provision of health insurance to individual customers; developing a third-party provider of management and maintenance services to apartment buildings; developing a platform of sources of financial aid for college students; wealth management services for Armenia’s rising middle class; an application for enabling the portability of medical records; and circular economy solutions to biological waste were among the ideas around which students clustered.  

Individual participants ended up forming eight teams around eight problems of their choice.  Once the teams were formed, the participants engaged in a few team building activities to become familiar with one another and build team rapport and cohesion. Day 1 was full of impassioned creativity and brainstorming to generate ideas for solving each respective problem. Each team had a coach to keep them focused and make progress. While the official program concluded at the end of the first day, the participants continued to discuss, debate, and troubleshoot the selected problems within their teams. 

On Day 2, the focus was on refining and formulating the ideas generated for solving the problems. Throughout both days, mentors were available to support problem-solving and opportunity assessment. The mentors quizzed the teams on various issues, such as problem-solution fit, market size, value proposition, and target customers.  

At the end of Day 2, following a workshop on presenting their ideas, teams pitched their startups to a jury panel. DasaRank, the winning team, proposed to create a startup that rates university professors and teachers in schools, similar to the widely used Rate My Professor, Rate My Teacher online platform. The team that won second place suggested creating an app for accessing and archiving users’ historical medical documents on the cloud, to be available to them at any time, from anywhere in the world. In third place was the ABG startup team, which proposed a biogas production facility to utilize organic waste in Armenia’s regions as fertilizer and to generate alternative energy. WiseInvest proposed to provide Armenia’s rising middle class and upper middle class with information and opportunities to invest in securities and other financial instruments worldwide. This would address the challenges of limited access to information and experience in financial and investment issues, which constrains the local population from investing in other than local real estate. 

Summing up the 2-day ideathon, Assistant Director of EPIC Nejdeh Hovhanissian said, “Although it was our first attempt to organize EPIC Jam, we were thrilled to see how excited the participants of the ideathon were during those two days. Also, it is compelling that half of the teams created during the event plan to continue their venture-building process through the EPIC Incubator.”

Nshan Yegyan (MBA ‘22), the coach of the winning team, observed: “My team’s accomplishments fill me with pride and joy. Their hard work, dedication, and passion paid off.  I am honored to have been a part of their journey. The competition was a great platform for young entrepreneurs to learn new things and express their ideas. I am grateful to EPIC for creating such a wonderful opportunity for students.” 

“My team worked hard for two days to develop solutions and pitch them to the audience,” ABG team’s coach Gassia Samuelian (MBA ‘22) remarked, adding,  “For me, the event’s highlight was coaching a small group of young women with an entrepreneurial mindset and ambition, who came together to propose solutions to a very complex problem in the realm of energy technology for the energy security of Armenia and Artsakh.” 

Overall, the participants went through team building, workshops, mentoring sessions, idea generation, business concept development, and pitching in two days.  They entered EPIC Jam as individuals without ideas and exited the ideathon on Day 2 with both a startup concept and a team. One participant shared, “As a creative person eager to learn, participating in EPIC Jam gave me the opportunity to learn a vast array of problem-solving innovative skills so that I can handle challenges rationally in real life.”  

At the end, some of the new teams applied for admission to the Spring 2023 batch of the EPIC Incubator, which will allow them to continue their journey toward establishing a startup venture.

EPIC Incubation is a 15-week program where idea-stage startups learn proven tools to validate startup ideas, identify customers (and competitors), test their ideas, get introduced to local and international markets, and enter the startup ecosystem. Since 2017, over 100 startups, with more than 260 entrepreneurs, have completed the program. The program has been designed specifically for those who have an innovative idea and intend to turn it into a business. It is open to anyone who has a startup idea.