Camp Haiastan Made Me an Entrepreneur

Elizabeth Tikoyan at Camp Haiastan, 2010

Camp Haiastan has been the meeting grounds for countless marriages, lifelong friendships and memories. Looking back, never in a million years did I think camp would pave my path to becoming an entrepreneur.

Upon my return from camp in 2010, I resumed back to normal high school life. However, there was nothing normal about my high school experience. When all of my friends were going to proms, sporting events and college visits, I was going to doctors, specialists and hospitals.  As my high school years progressed, my health regressed. I missed over 250 days of school. My memory was waning. I was unable to walk and unable to be out of bed for more than 30 minutes a day. My speech was slurred, and the entire right side of my body became paralyzed. My debilitating health meant I could not go anywhere without a mobile aid; I was far from a normal life. 

I went to over 20 doctors, all of whom misdiagnosed me with Multiple Sclerosis, Celiac Disease, Leukemia, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Depression. However, after three years, I was finally correctly diagnosed with Lyme Disease, an infection caused by a tick bite, which typically presents a bullseye rash. By the time I was diagnosed, I was left with a permanent disability. 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Chronic Lyme disease. So when all of my friends went off to college, I stayed back to seek treatment. My friends updated me about their classes, internships and social lives, but I had nothing in common with them anymore as my life was put on hold. Since I was going to iv treatments on a weekly basis, I had to drop out of college. I was lonely and misunderstood. 

Disheartened but determined, I set out to change the status quo. After a hard fought battle, I was able to reach remission where I started to rebuild my life. I went to Northern Virginia Community College and then transferred to the University of Virginia. It was during this time I was bit by a different bug—the entrepreneurial bug. 

I read an article about the lack of innovation happening in the disability and chronic illness space, and an idea struck.

What was the worst part about my illness? Loneliness. None of my friends could understand this life-changing illness. And since many patients in these treatment centers were twice my age, I was unable to relate to anyone on a personal level. I wanted to know how Lyme was going to impact me long term, from work to having a family. But no one in my immediate circle could provide the answers I needed. 

Elizabeth Tikoyan pitching at Innovators Cup

That’s when Riley was born. Riley is a social network for people with disabilities and medical conditions. Patients and caretakers can meet each other on a one-on-one basis through a mobile application. People undergoing the same battles can build a profile with information about their condition, passions and interests. The social media platform will then curate unique matches that would allow you to meet people going through the same journey. 

It was named in memory of a 13 year old I met while volunteering in the pediatric department of a Washington, DC hospital. Riley passed away while waiting for her turn on a transplant list. She always dreamed of becoming a Hollywood star. 

At our core, we are on a mission to empower. Our community supports each other by making connections and sharing our stories. 

This fall, Riley is launching the app for people Lyme Disease, Endometriosis, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Depression and Anxiety. With a growing membership list, Riley also has a robust international ambassador program with influencers reaching 500,000 people across five continents. Riley’s team of changemakers is based out of the University of Virginia this summer, but the company will be moving closer to Washington, DC this fall.

Elizabeth Tikoyan

Elizabeth Tikoyan

Elizabeth Tikoyan is a social entrepreneur innovating in the disability and chronic illness space. She is the founder of Riley, a social network for the disabled, the ill and their caretakers that works to facilitate one-to-one connections between individuals with similar illnesses. She has also worked closely with medical professionals at the National Institutes of Health and volunteered in the pediatric department at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital.
Elizabeth Tikoyan
Elizabeth Tikoyan

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