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EPIC Mentor Spotlight: Magda Aghababyan

Magda Aghababyan (MBA ’95) is an AUA alumna who shares life between Sri Lanka and Armenia. Over the last two years, she has mentored EPIC startup teams, sharing her experience and journey as an entrepreneur. She has worked with people from diverse cultures and in multiple spheres, including business operations, analytics, and IT solutions, also building her own business, which she has successfully exited. Getting her professional start at IBM in New York, her current focus is the use of data science to benefit people. 

AUA EPIC has recently interviewed Mrs. Aghababyan about her thoughts and motivations.

You used to work at IBM for many years, a rather large company. Why did you decide to establish a startup?

A desire to change the perspective is what motivated me to create my own business. Finding a problem or an unmet need in the market, then taking up the responsibility to create a solution for it is a courageous act that achieves personal development for individuals involved and acts as a case for “shaping your own destiny” approach in life. Working for IBM felt like being a crew member of a huge ship, and while it was impressive, it did not allow me to see all the complexities of the business. Working for the startup felt like building a boat to serve people I knew: I was close to the customers, solving their immediate problems and exercising my knowledge across various aspects of the business.

 What was the most challenging moment in your business journey? How did you overcome it?

Our business proposition was around sustainable design for buildings. It was extremely challenging to convince clients to pay for the “right thing to do” when there was no financial benefit or the market was not placing value on it. The success would come when we managed to show the client the bigger picture of the impact of their operation on the environment, climate, and habitat. More and more people are starting to realize that business-as-usual is not sustainable, and change has to start from the design.

What do you most enjoy when working with startups? 

I enjoy creating solutions and changing them on the fly if they don’t meet the needs. Startups are agile and lightweight, with fewer silo-politics and more creativity. The sense of experimentation and immediate results are addictive, especially after working for a very large organization. 

How would you evaluate Armenian’s startup potential in the global realm?

While Armenian startups have a potential, already demonstrated by some, we lack people and exposure to global thinking and markets. I think startups need to fully integrate the concept of “think globally, act locally” into their daily operations. Studying the latest global know-how must be an everyday activity. Understanding customers in various geographies must be a weekly activity. Building solutions that will address global challenges must be the aim.

Not only did you study at AUA, but you also worked at our University for a number of years. What impact did AUA have on you?

AUA caused a tectonic shift in my life, opening up the world for me to experience and giving me the confidence to venture out, walk into any team, and proudly represent my country. Especially in the 90s, there were misconceptions in the West about people from the Soviet Union and our abilities. For me, studying and working at AUA was an excellent training ground before diving into the competitive world of American businesses.

What is your motivation for being an EPIC mentor?

Giving back to AUA in memory of Dr. Agbabyan and the team who tirelessly worked to create this unique educational institution and brighten up the future for the newly established Republic of Armenia youth. EPIC is a learning sandbox for anybody who wants to create, take risks and grow. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it and support courageous people who take up the entrepreneurship challenge with my knowledge, experience, and connections. 

What advice would you give to newbie entrepreneurs?

Be next to your customer, learn every day and experiment tirelessly, build and re-build solutions until your customers are filled with smiles because you made their day, design holistically and responsibly with the well-being of your grandchildren in mind.

What more can we do in the Armenian startup ecosystem to empower our teams for global success?

Create funding models which will allow taking risks and experimenting without falling into personal debt, create more industry-tied “sandboxes” for startups to tinker with real-world problems, bring diverse people from abroad to help local teams to think globally, create avenues for exchange for local teams to see the global benchmarks and to share their achievements.