"How Lilit Makaryan's 'Toop' Redefines Sustainable Entrepreneurship in Armenia"

May 3, 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 programme was launched which specifically targets women and young entrepreneurs with already established businesses. Through this programme, 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.

Lilit Makaryan, a young entrepreneur from Gyumri is one of the participants of the Accelerator programme. For over two years, together with her sister, Lilit has been using a unique recycling technique to produce recycled paper from five types of waste. They use this paper to create postcards, bookmarks and special certificates. Lilit's business motto, "we all deserve a second chance," is focused on promoting recycling in her community in Gyumri and inspiring others to live a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle. 

Lilit was introduced to a paper recycling technique in China years ago, but she never imagined it would one day become a business idea for her and that she would start her own business in Armenia.

“I think there is a stereotype that women entrepreneurs can only succeed if someone helps them. Following the same logic, I used to believe that I couldn't start a business on my own, but when Covid-19 hit Armenia and I found myself at home with my children, I started attending business development courses and exploring entrepreneurship. Soon I found a women entrepreneur’s capacity building programme and applied to it with the very first business idea that was paper recycling initiative. I got in and started to develop my business and paper recycling technique simultaneously,” says Lilit. 

Lilit proudly highlights that her basic school knowledge about natural science was sufficient for her to master the recycling techniques. She also credits her father for his ingenuity in building a special press from an old Soviet washing machine that she now utilizes in her paper production process. 

“For over a year, I conducted various experiments with different types of waste, including food and textiles, in order to explore their potential for recycled paper production. While I had a basic understanding of the paper-making process, my goal was to alter the texture and introduce new colors and flexibility. Through trial and error, I discovered how each type of waste influences the composition of the paper. For instance, I now know that food waste should not be added if the paper is intended for printing, as it can cause issues with the printing process."

Lilit's business, "Toop", has achieved success despite her initial concerns about sales. The unique composition of her recycled paper has attracted interest from customers, some of whom have even ordered postcards just to get a sample and explore its properties. While the eco-friendly mindset has yet to take root in Armenia, Lilit has managed to build partnerships and expand her business beyond the country's borders. 

Lilit shares that she has a particular approach when it comes to brainstorming business ideas. "For me, the first step is always to come up with a name that reflects the concept and values of the business. When I decided to start my paper recycling initiative, I knew I wanted a name that evokes nature and sustainability. In my hometown of Gyumri, Armenia, we use the word 'toop' to describe vegetation and greenery. When I spelled it in English, I noticed that the letters T, P, and O represent tree, paper, and ozone, respectively. And that's how 'Toop' came to be."

The entrepreneur has degrees in journalism and psychology and is a licensed youth worker but notes that she faces challenges while delving into the world of entrepreneurship and finances. She admits that Accelerator programme is quite resourceful and helps her a lot to think about developing her business. 

“At one point I felt that I am stuck and cannot move forward so I decided to apply to this programme. My business was developing, sales go well but I needed to understand my next step. These classes within the Accelerator programme offered by IRIS Business Incubator are amazing and quite resourceful, and I especially appreciate our consultancy with mentors. I very motivated now and want to further develop my business. Besides that, I am working on new products, and I need a strong business strategy,” says Lilit.

Lilit has high business ambitions, and her dream is to establish a big paper and textile recycling manufacture in Shirak region and contribute to the popularization of eco-friendly lifestyle and protection of our environment.

“I am sure that although with small numbers, my business already has an impact in the community. We are the only registered recycling company in Shirak region and although we are very small, we do offer solutions to problems. Besides that, we organize free paper recycling masterclasses for children and introduce them to recycling techniques, talk about the importance of environmentalism. I recently created a virtual environmental hero – Toop, a brave girl, who educates children and fights for the protection of our environment.” 

Lilit reassures that one shall not be afraid to start a business. “If you can turn waste into business, then you can create business from anything. I failed many times; I failed many ideas but those were my best life lessons. We all deserve a second chance.”