EPIC Jam Ideathon: Fueling Innovation in Just 48 Hours5 min read
YEREVAN, Armenia — From January 20 to 21, for the third time, the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) at the American University of Armenia (AUA) hosted the EPIC Jam 2-day Ideathon. EPIC Jam is a dynamic 48-hour solution development hackathon designed to creatively generate solutions for issues that exist all around us. Participants select a business problem, form a dedicated team, and collaborate to suggest diverse solutions that can be transformed into potential startups. The proposed business venture is pitched to a jury, offering the participants a chance to win prizes. Regardless of academic background, participants benefit from personalized mentorship sessions, which help to enhance their idea generation, business model evaluation, and pitching skills. These sessions are supported by workshops and guided by dedicated coaches that are embedded within each team. Winners can then fast-track into the EPIC Incubation Program. Jam presents an opportunity for passionate innovators to begin the process of turning their ideas into successful startups in a fun, fast-paced, and rewarding environment.
This time, the Ideathon placed a special focus on issues surrounding sustainability and the energy tech industry. In order to encourage young entrepreneurs to focus on such problems, EPIC dedicated a special prize for the startups aimed at addressing these issues. The Sustainability and Energy Tech track was supported by the Energy Transitions for Climate Solutions Initiative, a joint endeavor between EPIC and the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment.
As EPIC’s Ideathon has already become quite popular among AUA students, EPIC could not accept all of the applicants and had to limit participation. Following a rigorous screening process, 40 out of 100 applicants were selected. Business, management, tech, design, marketing — the participants’ backgrounds were quite broad, facilitating the formation of teams consisting of 4-5 members with a balance of tech and business students.
First Day: Team Building and Idea Generation
EPIC Director Dr. Michael Kouchakdjian kickstarted the first day with his opening address, reminding participants that the entrepreneurial journey is full of challenges that require dedication, focus, and persistence. At the start of the event, engaging team-building activities fostered a collaborative and cooperative environment, which lasted throughout the entirety of EPIC Jam. These activities were carefully designed to break down initial barriers among individuals, encouraging open communication and building trust within the teams. By actively participating in these exercises, participants not only got to know each other on a personal level, but also discovered and harnessed the diverse strengths and talents each team member brought to the table.
As a result, when the teams transitioned from the team-building to the brainstorming session, which was led by Assistant Director of EPIC Nejdeh Hovanessian, they did so with a solid foundation of mutual acquaintance. This collaborative spirit significantly enhanced the effectiveness of the brainstorming session, allowing for the free flow of ideas and a more productive exploration of innovative solutions to the challenges at hand.
In addition to team-building activities, the newly formed teams also benefited from additional guidance by dedicated coaches. These coaches were peers of the participants who had entrepreneurial experience themselves. Throughout the weekend, coaches helped the teams remain focused on solving their problems and supported them with encouragement and enthusiasm.
Recognizing EPIC’s influence in developing entrepreneurship in Armenia, Joseph Besnilian, who already had coaching experience during a previous EPIC Jam, emphasized the program’s significance. He noted how EPIC Jam fosters participants’ problem-solving skills, providing them with a taste of the startup environment and enabling the translation of innovative ideas into real-world solutions.
After the teams developed their first-draft ideas, they attended mentorship sessions. Mentors in EPIC’s program are more than just advisors; they are invaluable partners who offer personalized guidance tailored to each team’s unique challenges as they work through evaluating their startup concepts. Drawing from their extensive experience, these mentors served as sounding boards, helping participants refine their concepts, navigate hurdles, and make informed decisions. The startups who were working on sustainability and energy tech problems were able to receive counsel from mentor Joan Barcelona, a visitor from the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Reflecting on his mentorship role, Erik Khachatryan, the CEO of Rooqet and president of the Association of Armenian Sales Professionals, shared, “I love being a mentor at EPIC Jam. I met some bright young people who strive to make the world a better place.”
As soon as the mentorship sessions concluded, the teams proceeded to conduct market and competitor research. Some teams put in extra effort by quickly finding two or three potential customers from their target markets and doing short interviews with them. For example, a team called RockitMom, whose solution was a digital platform providing microlearning services, community support, and babysitter services to assist women transitioning from maternity leave back into work life, managed to do short online interviews with moms from their communities.
Second Day: Finalizing Business Concepts and Pitching
The teams returned to AUA early on Sunday morning to join a workshop led by EPIC Community and Operations Manager Anna Khachatryan about pitching. The rest of the day was spent refining business concepts and preparing for the most exciting part of the Ideathon: the pitching session.
As the much-anticipated pitching session finally began, judges, including Dr.Kouchakdjian, Vahagn Sarksyan from Krisp, and Samson Avetian from eqwefy, looked forward to assessing the presentations.
Eight teams took the stage to deliver their initial pitches, presenting their startup ideas and outlining the problems they aimed to solve.
The Special Award for Sustainability and Energy Tech was awarded to the “Rebagify” team, which addressed the problem of plastic bag pollution in Armenia. Rebagify offered the creative solution of placing vending machines in front of grocery stores, in which people can deposit plastic bag waste, collect bonuses, and later use the latter in exchange for reusable, branded tote bags.
Third place went to LuminaSys, which tackled the energy waste problem caused by un-recycled indoor lighting, which contributes to environmental damage. As the team was composed of individuals with technical experience in the realm, LuminaSys presented a complex innovative technical solution that would use the otherwise wasted indoor light for data transmission purposes.
Homewfy took second place, proposing a mobile application that facilitates the organization and optimization of all the logistics connected with renting an apartment, thus bridging the needs of both landlords and tenants. Finally, the impressive pitch of the RockitMom team convinced the judges that they were worthy of the first-place prize.
The prizes for the winning team were a selection of the best industry books for entrepreneurs as well as gift cards.
The winning teams additionally received an exclusive invitation to participate in the Incubation Program selection pitching sessions, bypassing the initial application and interview stages. This opportunity gives them a significant advantage in the Incubation Program selection process, especially considering the high level of competition in the overall selection process.
Next Step: The Incubation Program
EPIC Jam serves as a stepping stone for participants to continue their entrepreneurial journey through the EPIC Incubation Program. This 15-week journey for idea-stage startups provides invaluable tools to validate ideas, explore the market, and integrate into the vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Applications for the EPIC Incubation Program are now open, with a deadline of February 4. Entrepreneurs from around Armenia of any academic background or age and regardless of affiliation with AUA or professional experience, are encouraged to apply.
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.