From Hobby to Business: The Inspiring Journey of Syrian-Armenian Entrepreneur Maral Sheuhmelian
April 20, 2023
In November 2022, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Armenia, in partnership with the Government of Armenia, launched an innovative entrepreneurship development initiative that recognizes the immense potential of novice entrepreneurs in the country. Among the various projects, the Accelerator program was launched which specifically targets women and young entrepreneurs with already established businesses. Through this program, implemented by UNDP's ImpactAim Venture Accelerator and IRIS Business Incubator, participants gain access to essential skill-building, mentorship, and theoretical and practical knowledge related to business growth. The aim is to support these entrepreneurs in building the necessary skill sets and knowledge to take their businesses to the next level.
Maral Sheuhmelian, a craftsman and an entrepreneur of Syrian-Armenian descent, is one of the participants of the Accelerator program. After fleeing the Syrian war with her family in 2015 and settling in Armenia, Maral made it her mission to revive the lost art of Armenian embroidery, transforming her passion for handcrafting into a successful business.
"People typically retire at my age, but establishing my own business and starting a new chapter in my life has given me a renewed sense of purpose. It feels as though my life has taken on a whole new meaning,” says Maral.
Maral and her team of skilled artisans merge tapestry and Armenian embroidery techniques to create a variety of products ranging from tablecloths, jewelry, and necklaces to other charming souvenirs. Additionally, they craft a variety of practical items such as clothing, bags, shoes, toys, and decorative pieces. With her participation in numerous exhibitions, Maral’s handcrafted items have garnered widespread recognition and popularity, leading to new business opportunities in Armenia and beyond. Currently, Maral collaborates with museums across different regions of Armenia, as well as continues to partner with businesses abroad.
Reflecting on her journey, Maral shares, “Armenian culture has always held a special place in my heart, even from a young age. My mother and grandmother taught me the fundamental techniques of Armenian embroidery, which allowed me to create home decor and clothes for my children. I also participated in charitable exhibitions throughout my life.
When I began participating in exhibitions in Armenia, I was overwhelmed by the tremendous appreciation I received. This further fueled my passion to transform my hobby into a thriving business.”
Preserving Armenian embroidery traditions holds significant importance for Maral and and she actively promotes this endeavor by organizing courses for young adults. “It brings me immense joy and encouragement to witness the youth's interest in Armenian embroidery.”
Despite achieving remarkable success and generating substantial sales, Maral acknowledges that her business requires further development. “You can’t hold ten watermelons in one hand,” says Maral. While she has overcome various challenges related to modern business techniques, such as online sales and advertising, Maral admits that there is still more work to be done. “As the founding director, I manage most of the business operations myself and I often feel exhausted. At times, I feel so overwhelmed that I fear I might pass out,” she shares candidly. “I realize that I need to adopt a more comprehensive approach and enlist the help of relevant specialists to expand and elevate my business to the next level.”
Maral expresses that the business development courses offered through the Accelerator program have been immensely helpful. The courses, taught by seasoned professionals, have provided valuable insights, and working with mentors has been a thrilling experience. “The courses have enlightened me on the changes I need to make in the overall business structure, and I am hopeful that I can achieve my goals within the set timeline,” adds Maral.
Maral is an inspiring female entrepreneur who has successfully transformed her cherished hobby into a profitable business. She believes that anyone can develop even the smallest talent and ability over time and should not be afraid to start from scratch.
“When I started my business, I realized that it brings a positive change to people’s lives; during periods of high demand, I recruit new employees, offer training, and promote our traditional embroidery. I have learned that dedicating oneself entirely to their work yields the best results,” shares Maral.
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