Meet EPIC’s Mentors: Critical for Startup Success6 min read
YEREVAN, Armenia — In today’s dynamic Armenian startup ecosystem, the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) at the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a beacon for ambitious innovators and creators. EPIC’s flagship 15-week Incubation Program, which guides early idea-stage startups to validate their ideas, has already supported more than 120 startups and over 300 individual entrepreneurs.
Mentorship is an essential component of any incubation program. Mentors assist startup teams with exploring strategies, tackling problems, and discovering markets while connecting them with networks and offering constructive criticism and helpful tips. EPIC carefully matches mentors with teams according to their interests, experience, and industry domain. “Mentorship is one of the most critical components of the EPIC Incubator Program. It is essential to the success of our Program and the success of our startup teams. Study after study has shown that mentorship can make an enormous difference in setting the entrepreneur up for success. Whether it is the wisdom from years of experience, the sharing of contacts and networks, or the specific knowledge that mentors can provide, the interaction between mentor and entrepreneur ultimately can give the startup team advantages that they never knew they needed. Building a culture of mentorship is vital to the health and resilience of our innovation ecosystem,” stated Nejdeh Hovanessian, assistant director of EPIC.
The objective of EPIC’s mentorship program is to increase the probability of a lifelong mentoring relationship. To this end, it needs a strong and durable foundation, which begins with a carefully designed match between mentor and startup team.
Startups in the 13th batch of EPIC’s Incubation Program enjoyed the chance to work with both local and international mentors, most of whom hail from the U.S. Local mentors possess a deep understanding of the local business landscape, including market dynamics, regulations, and cultural nuances. They offer tailored insights to help startups tackle specific challenges and seize opportunities. Additionally, local mentors play an important role in facilitating networking opportunities and connecting startups with valuable resources within the community.
On the other hand, international mentors bring a broader perspective to the relationship. Drawing from their experience in diverse markets, they offer valuable insights into international expansion strategies, cross-cultural communication, and global trends. These mentors, often seasoned entrepreneurs or industry experts, provide invaluable guidance to startups looking to navigate the complexities of the global marketplace.
Complementing the expertise of local and international mentors are domain mentors, who specialize in specific industries, technologies, or fields relevant to the startup’s focus area or niche. Their deep domain knowledge enables them to offer targeted advice and support, helping startups address industry-specific challenges and capitalize on emerging opportunities.
By leveraging the collective wisdom of local, international, and domain mentors, startups receive holistic support and mentorship throughout their journey. This comprehensive guidance not only accelerates their growth, but also enhances their chances of long-term success in today’s competitive business landscape.
Meet the EPIC Mentors
Minas Apelian, who recently retired from his role as vice president of internal and external venturing at the French multinational Saint Gobain, brings a wealth of corporate experience to the EPIC Incubation Program. Reflecting on his involvement, Apelian shares, “It’s amazing to see how quickly they are advancing their concepts and their openness to challenge both themselves and their business ideas.”
Chris Kibarian, the CEO of Lightcast, a proven business builder and global P&L leader, joins EPIC as a mentor with a stellar track record in business transformation and growth acceleration. Chris has accelerated growth at progressively larger and increasingly complex organizations. He recently led Randstad Digital Ventures ($500 million) and previously led the Intellectual Property and Science division of Thomson Reuters (now Clarivate Analytics), a $1-billion global business with 4,000 employees across 26 countries. He is known for speed and execution in challenging situations: building out early-stage companies (IFTTT) with successful exits (YouCaring); quick turnarounds (RiseSmart, Elite); growing large, global enterprises (Clarivate); and large-scale restructuring (Monster).
Razmik Abnous, a leading business software executive and serial entrepreneur, brings a wealth of experience to the Incubation Program, including familiarity with Armenian startups. As a former CTO for EMC Documentum and founding member of Documentum, his insights into enterprise content management and successful exits are invaluable. A co-founder and founding CTO for Vineti, Abnous is enthusiastic about collaborating with young entrepreneurs, stating, “AUA’s EPIC is a great initiative to expand Armenia’s entrepreneurial capacity.”
Armen Khrimian, a seasoned product leader at DISQO, brings invaluable expertise to the EPIC Incubation Program. With a solid background in developing enterprise-grade SaaS products, including his notable contributions to the TeamViewer Web Monitoring product, Khrimian’s mentorship ensures startups benefit from strategic insights and real-world experience. Reflecting on Khrimian’s impact, Hrach Avagyan of Tokenvest, a startup that provides a community-driven decentralized crowdfunding platform using blockchain and DAO technologies for funding campaigns, acknowledges his pivotal role, stating, “Armen’s input is immense. As an experienced leader in product management and UX research, he helped us identify existing problems and detailed market segments. With structured conversations, Armen propelled us toward product-market fit, and we eagerly anticipate continuing our collaboration beyond the Incubation Program.”
Robert Gevargiz, a U.K.-registered chartered engineer and experienced entrepreneur, takes on the role of a mentor, posing challenging questions to guide EPIC entrepreneurs in launching and sustaining their businesses. With a rich background in the aerospace, energy, health, and manufacturing sectors, Gevargiz emphasizes market thinking to quickly discern a startup’s potential for success. Reflecting on his role, he states: “I am a newcomer to the start-up support scheme. As a mentor, I see my job as asking challenging questions. This is to directly focus on issues that will ultimately make or break an entrepreneur’s dream of launching a business and surviving the three critical post-launch years.”
Zaruhi Butavyan, a finance specialist with extensive experience in the development finance, energy, and banking sectors, is excited to contribute to the Program. She is a senior budget consultant at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Bringing over 20 years of international experience from the U.K., Eastern Europe, and Caucasus, Butavyan enjoys the dynamic exchange of ideas and experiences with startup teams. Reflecting on her participation, she shares, “It is truly rewarding to see new ideas taking shape from open discussions and brainstorming.”
Dork Alahydoian, vice president of product management, revenue, and growth at CNN, has around two decades of leadership experience across product management, growth marketing, and subscription strategy, including several years building the digital subscription business at the New York Times (NYT). He led the Subscription Product team (developed subscription products and subscription capabilities), led the Customer Engagement and Retention team (executed customer engagement and retention programs), and led the Business Development team for seven years at NYT. Alahydoian is not a newcomer to EPIC, as he already has been involved as a mentor in previous iterations of the Incubation Program. He has garnered praise for his effective collaboration with the team he is currently mentoring in the Program.
Davit Mikayelyan, an EPIC Incubation Program alumnus, is an International Compliance Project Manager at Digitain and certified project management professional with over 15 years of experience, including over a decade of experience at the Central Bank of Armenia as a senior auditor. Proficient in analyzing business opportunities and developing lean canvas models for startups, Mikayelyan brings a unique blend of skills to assist in product vision and strategy development and has mentored EPIC Incubation startups several times.
Magda Aghababyan, a former business analyst at IBM, is a highly versatile entrepreneur with a strategic mindset and a good friend of EPIC. She previously mentored teams not only from EPIC’s Incubation Program, but also from EPIC’s Jam Ideathon. She is a valuable addition to the mentorship team, having experienced an exit with her startup a few years ago. Skilled in data analysis and innovation, Aghababyan brings a global perspective to startup initiatives. As director of Co-Energi (Pvt) Ltd, she focused on assisting commercial and industrial customers achieve a reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gases.
Hrant Davtyan, a former faculty member at the Manoogian Simone College of Business and Economics at AUA, is the founder of Pinsight. He initiated his entrepreneurial venture during the pandemic, with a mission to empower decision-makers through swift, insight-driven choices. With a Ph.D. in data science and economics, he founded and scaled a data science consulting agency overseeing over 40 projects in two years. Davtyan’s impact encompasses guiding over ten startups in AI product creation, teaching data science and business to over 1,000 offline students, and educating more than 6,000 online students in data science and analytics. With advisory roles in over 100 AI and data science projects and products, including collaborations with the United Nations and government agencies, Davtyan is a dynamic force at the intersection of data science, education, and entrepreneurship.
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.