SILICON VALLEY, Calif.,—A group of student startup entrepreneurs from the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center of the American University of Armenia recently returned from a ten-day tour of Silicon Valley. The students were able to experience the global center of technology, innovation, investment, and social media, meet with cutting-edge technology companies, network with other entrepreneurs, and participate in workshops and seminars with world leaders in sectors such as business and the tech ecosystem. This trip, made possible through funding by EPIC benefactor Sara Chitjian, was immensely enlightening and students returned with new ideas and inspiration for their projects and businesses.
During this tour, the group visited high-profile, cutting-edge companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, PayPal, and Nvidia, as well as fast-emerging companies like Doordash, Eat Club, EyeQue, Pinterest, and Parkstash. They also had meetings at Silicon Valley’s leading startup incubators, including University of California, Berkeley SkyDeck and Draper University. Company visits were complemented by lectures and presentations on personal and professional growth, developing an entrepreneurial mindset, and starting a business. The students were housed at San Jose State University and many of the business presentations also were hosted by the university.
The impact of the trek on AUA students was apparent. “The Silicon Valley trip was truly a life-changing experience,” said AUA 2019 graduate and Breedge co-founder Liana Hakobyan.
“The trek overall was an exceptional experience for all of us,” said Irina Tirosyan (CSE ‘19). “Attending lectures, meeting new startups, and learning more about top companies were especially helpful in shaping our entrepreneurial mindset and exposing us to innovation. Such opportunities come once in a lifetime.”
During a visit to PayPal, the students were introduced to PayPal’s Innovation Incubator and were introduced to the latest FinTech innovation. Participants visited Pinterest where the Senior Vice President of Engineering Jeremy King, who is also the former Chief Technology Officer of Walmart, shared the stages of his journey and how Pinterest came to be. A highlight of the trip included a visit to Google, where the students were introduced to their disruptive technologies, including self-driving cars, the inner workings of Google Search, and how Google uses machine learning in Google Cloud.
There were also visits to Stanford University and UC Berkeley. At Berkeley, the students discussed startup ecosystems and the potential within Armenia with Dr. AnnaLee Saxenian, the dean of the School of Information. The group also visited the Amazon fulfillment center, where they witnessed the robot-enabled automated workflow of the center. Perhaps most eye-opening was a discussion and demonstration at Nvidia, where the company’s stunning vision of the future for artificial intelligence, machine learning, gaming, and visual computing—as well as the sophistication displayed by their innovation and technology—reinforced their position as an industry leader.
Another highlight of the trek was networking with the vast Armenian Diaspora community within the Silicon Valley high technology and entrepreneurial scene. During company tours, the students were able to meet with numerous Armenian executives, technologists, and employees. HyeTech, an Armenian organization at the center of the San Francisco Bay Area technology community, hosted a reception for our student entrepreneurs to present their EPIC startups. The organization also facilitated discussion and networking at the Armenian-founded Vineti, Inc. office in San Francisco.
“At almost every company we visited, we heard the same advice: ‘think ten times,’ which meant setting targets that are ten times greater than what we believe is achievable. That way, we may not only get further than expected but might also come up with new solutions that we wouldn’t have thought of previously,” said Sona Sharoyan, founder of EPIC startup BeautyBook (BAB ‘19).
Raffi Sahakyan, a recent graduate of AUA’s College of Business and Economics, noted: “The Silicon Valley Industry Trek allowed me to investigate the corporate culture and work environment of companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Nvidia, and other industry leaders. During my four years of studies at AUA, we have read more than 100 case studies of these companies. Now, we can draw our conclusions on these cases. The experience gained during the trip has the full potential to be applied in the Armenian business reality.”
Throughout the trek, the students also heard lectures by San Jose State University professors on the differentiating aspects of Silicon Valley and insights on how to enter markets and accelerate the growth of companies. During topical presentations, the students were introduced to cutting edge developments in the fields of block chain, artificial intelligence, smart mobility, the internet of things, and sharing economy.
“I cannot wait to go to Armenia and implement and share what I’ve learned,” remarked Alisa Chalakhyan (CBE ‘19). “This trip serves as a great motivation and inspiration for me, as well as helps me see my career growth clearer. In many ways, it changed my life and my way of thinking. The experience and knowledge will greatly contribute to my personal and professional development.”
Besides business meetings, the students enriched their trip with leisure activities such as tourism. They spent a day in San Francisco visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and having dinner in the iconic Chinatown. A day was spent visiting Santa Cruz Beach as well as Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park where the group spent a few hours on an adventurous, team-building hike through the giant California redwoods.
The Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center is a platform of the American University of Armenia 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 work-space, programs and events, and a network of mentors, advisers, and investors. EPIC fosters the understanding and application of entrepreneurship in students and faculty at AUA to craft high-impact multidisciplinary ventures.