‘Be yourself, and always move forward’: Meri’s advice to young women in business

Armenia
‘Be yourself, and always move forward’: Meri’s advice to young women in business

Young Armenian entrepreneur Meri Vardanyan from Sevan, spent six months in the Spanish city of Cesantes with the EU-funded Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs Exchange Programme, hosted by a female entrepreneur from Spain. Based on her experience, Meri said that the most essential thing the programme gave her was the ability to communicate appropriately with people.

“I always knew what I was striving for, what I was going to achieve, what profession I was going to have,” says Meri, the young founder of the Sevan IT Plus start-up.

Meri, who is now 27, remembers that when she was still at school, computer technology was only just developing. Very few people at the time had a computer, but she was fascinated, and ended up helping her neighbours set them up, even though she was still only in the 7th grade: “I’ve always loved physics, mathematics, and technology. And that’s how I became an engineer, then a programmer.”

Meri Vardanyan studied at Sevan State College and continued at Gavar State University in the PhysMath and Computer Engineering Department. In 2016, Meri resumed her studies in Bulgaria through the ERASMUS+ programme. After returning from her studies, Meri decided to establish her own business in her hometown. Her parents had built a two-story house near their apartment, but repairs still needed to be done. Meri remembers: “I was looking and saying, this building can’t just stand here; we have to do more with it. And that’s when I came up with the idea of opening a programming teaching centre in Sevan. We started with my friend: we developed our business together. We did it entirely with our funds. When my parents heard about the idea, they told me not to worry. They supported me in every way: my mother said it would definitely work, and my father told me nothing was impossible.”

The centre was initially a great success, with students flocking to sign up, mainly from Sevan and neighbouring settlements. But by 2020, the number of students had begun to fall back, due in part to the economic situation in Sevan, as not many families could afford 15,000 AMD per month for their children to learn programming when they had an average income of 40-60,000 AMD. It was at that point that she received an offer from the Jinishian Memorial Foundation, a local contact point, to participate in the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs (EYE) exchange programme. “It was a perfect opportunity, and it came at the right time because if it had been when my business was booming, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.” At the same time, she was keen to boost her marketing skills, which she felt were the weak point in her business.

Meri applied for the programme, found a host entrepreneur in North-western Spain, in Cesantes, and this is how her new journey began. Her host entrepreneur was Maria Jose Mayor Sanchez, an experienced sales manager who had been running her own hostel for seven years. Meri’s desire to grow professionally while working on her host’s business, and Maria’s willingness to share her business knowledge and network made this exchange a success. Meri warmly remembers the six months they spent together: “We became friends; she gave me the skills to work properly with business from the point of view of marketing. The most important thing she taught me was how to communicate with people correctly.” Meri learned how to approach potential clients, build partnerships, and negotiate more confidently. “It was my contact with her that developed many skills for me. I also created two software tools to process data more effectively, keep track of customer data and automate some of the daily activities for her business.”

In order for Meri to understand and assess the company’s needs and then develop the most appropriate and well-functioning solution, the host entrepreneur used her network to organise meetings and study tours with other industry partners to introduce Meri to the company’s marketing strategy and involve her in the entire process of building customer relationships. Meri also had the opportunity to meet with other IT specialists, exchange ideas and receive valuable feedback․

The exchange became an amazing resource for Meri in her personal and professional development. She not only developed as a business owner by learning how to conduct market research, design and implement a successful marketing strategy and work with clients, but also as a programmer by taking responsibility for the entire software development process at her host company.

Returning after half a year, Meri realised that her business could not continue developing by simply teaching in Sevan. “I decided to rise to another level and not limit myself to teaching. And I decided to switch to online teaching, the cost of which would be different and would vary depending on the language they will learn programming.”

Meri now cooperates with a programming school in Yerevan, providing her with students and space. She has a stable income. She teaches more than 50 students.

The young entrepreneur said her students now pay a way more for online classes than in Sevan. But she also stressed: “It does not stop me in any way from the idea that my Sevan IT Plus will continue to operate in Sevan. I aim to become strong and financially stable enough to invest in Sevan IT Plus. Now, I am collecting freelance projects with my former Sevan students, the income from which is collected to develop Sevan IT Plus. I need to have a little more time and be more financially stable to take the time and start this business.”

Looking back on what she has achieved, Meri highlights her parents’ support: “You need to be strong and have considerable willpower. But as a girl, a lot depends on your parents. Many families in our community raise their daughters to get married at 18; especially in Gavar, girls mostly came to university to earn a diploma and find a husband. My parents raised me differently: they told me to have a goal and achieve it by myself, and you don’t have to have someone in your life to take care of you. If you find your love, it’s beautiful, but if not, it’s not the end of the world nor the purpose of this life. The support of my parents has been tremendous, both in the establishment of my business and in every matter.”

Meri said that after she visited Spain, she reconsidered many questions in life, especially after the 2020 war. It never crossed her mind not to return to Armenia, but she is okay with spending several months abroad. “I cannot separate from Armenia. When I go out of the country, I miss it a lot. The image of Ararat has an important role for me. At least once a week, I have to go up to the Cascade and look at Ararat.”

At the end of our conversation, we asked Meri what advice she would give young girls, how to achieve their goals, and how to prove themselves in the field of entrepreneurship. She answered: “The first advice I would give to girls is that the primary purpose of this life is not to get married. Of course, finding your other half and getting married is important, but if you haven’t found it yet, you don’t have to consider yourself unhappy. Even after marriage, you should understand that you are an individual and not depend on anyone. You must think you can move forward, create everything for yourself, and start your career. We need persistence to do what we love and to act without looking at obstacles, always moving forward. Obstacles should give us strength. Indeed, it will often happen that you think you can’t go any further, but it is essential to have people next to you who will give you strength and tell you it will work out.”

Meri Vardanyan received support from the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs Exchange Programme, which facilitated her exchange with the host company in Spain. Armenia is currently no longer eligible for the programme, but you can find other EU-supported opportunities for Armenian women in business here.

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