SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — On January 13, 2022, President of the American University of Armenia (AUA) Dr. Karin Markides, Chair of the AUA Board of Trustees Dr. Lawrence H. Pitts, AUA Chief Communications Officer Narek Ghazaryan, and AUA Corporation Trustee and CFO of SADA systems Lusine Yegiazarian were hosted at University of California (UC) Berkeley SkyDeck. The group met with Caroline Winnett, executive director of UC Berkeley SkyDeck; George Panagiotakopoulos, global innovation and partnerships director at UC Berkeley SkyDeck; and Karen Gyulbudaghyan, founder of Strategic Value Ventures (SVV), and global ambassador, key advisor and member of the selection committee at UC Berkeley SkyDeck.
AUA, SVV and UC Berkeley SkyDeck have been working together for the past years to define a partnership that will enable AUA to facilitate an entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem with strong links to higher education in Armenia, the region and the world.
Spearheaded by Gyulbudaghyan, the conversations of establishing a regional innovation hub in Armenia began in 2019 at the WCIT conference. Following initial conversations, AUA, SVV and Berkeley SkyDeck have worked on identifying the right environment and key stakeholders to support this process. During this milestone meeting, AUA, SVV and Berkeley Skydeck pledged commitment to intensify discussions. AUA will explore the opportunity locally and invite key stakeholders who would partner and collaborate to dive into this undertaking. In collaboration with SVV, Berkeley Skydeck and AUA, a model will be defined that best fits the purpose.
The discussion began with the AUA president presenting recent updates from the university. She noted the efforts of the university in fighting the global pandemic and in dealing with the aftermath of the 2020 Artsakh War. She particularly noted the institutional endeavors for growing desirable resilience to overcome future challenges and foster new achievements. Among other accomplishments, the AUA president mentioned the recently completed international review of the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) of the University.
Winnett presented updates on SkyDeck’s most recent partnerships. The same model from SkyDeck’s partnership could be viewed as an international precedent or benchmark with many lessons learned for a successful partnership with Armenia.
Gyulbudaghyan introduced the concept of the AUA-SVV-Berkeley SkyDeck proposed partnership model that combines the best global practices with special opportunities present in Armenia and the larger region. More importantly, the proposed partnership has a solid foundation already. A unique collaboration between SVV and Berkeley SkyDeck has helped over a dozen Armenian tech startups, including Krisp and SuperAnnotate, and propelled the Armenian startup ecosystem in general.
With the recent launch of SVV’s Innovation Partner Program at Berkeley SkyDeck, now more diverse and mature companies like Ucraft, Hoory and Dr. Lex are eligible to accelerate their global expansion. Currently, more than 50 AUA alumni are associated with SkyDeck startups, most notably Artavazd Minasyan, the co-founder of Krisp, Gevorg Soghomonyan, the co-founder and CEO of AimHub and Ashot Vardanyan, the CPO at Ucraft.
The Armenian startup community is continuing to grow, and SVV provides a critical connection with the Berkeley SkyDeck ecosystem. By creating the regional innovation hub in Armenia with AUA as facilitator, the startup community will benefit tremendously from the cross-border infrastructure, global network and expertise brought into the region.