By Kennedy Zak
With nine contestants pitching their startups to a number of venture capital investors at Glendale Tech Week’s Pitchfest event, Burbank resident Vahag Karayan, CEO of BrandLens, took home the prize package which amounted to $139,500 worth of business services on Sept. 14.
BrandLens is a user-generated content platform based in Burbank that lets organizations, brands and agencies crowdsource thousands of authentic videos from real customers and fans.
“Our technology enables brands to create campaigns and send links to their creators, influencers or customers with all kinds of instructions right on the camera,” Karayan told the Leader. He explained that on-camera instructions can prompt people to make certain gestures or say specific phrases in their videos to promote brands. “And so, anybody, even regular people, can create video content for any organization within 20 seconds by just following simple prompts.”
Karayan, who calls himself “the ultimate generalist” has worked in computer science, electrical engineering, marketing, sales and business development. When he heard about Pitchfest, he said applying was a “no brainer” and that he was thrilled BrandLens was selected.
Pitchfest judge Nareg DerManuelian, who runs corporate development, fundraising and acquisitions for Nium, a global payments platform, explained how BrandLens is centered around the evolving nature of advertising from primarily having content created by brands themselves to now “a massive impact of user-generated content.”
“BrandLens specifically made this platform and application where brands plug into them and the business will go work with other influencers to create content for the brands,” DerManuelian told the Leader. “And you can see how powerful that can be, given how important user-generated content is today.”
In addition to having a startup with economic value, Karayan thinks that “having the right confidence without arrogance” was key to his win at Pitchfest.
Armen Vartanian, the founder of Oceanview Capital Partners, Inc., has been a judge in these pitching events since the inaugural Glendale Tech Week in 2016. He spoke about the growth and maturity of Tech Week as a whole and related to the talent being showcased at Pitchfest, noting that this year’s event in particular set a “high bar” for competition.
As for selecting a winner for Pitchfest, Vartanian said he focuses on a startup’s team and opportunity.
“It’s whether or not the opportunity is investable and whether or not this is the right team for it,” he told the Leader. “BrandLens stood out not just for its relative simplicity — being able to understand what the opportunity is — but also the team behind it.”
The prize package for Pitchfest includes: $5,000 from Oceanview Capital Partners, Inc. in investment structuring services and negotiations; $5,000 of product and market fit coaching, playbooks and tools courtesy of Untapped Ventures; $120,000 in IBM Cloud credits to access services like AI, blockchain and data science; $3,500 in legal services from Full Circle Business Law; and $6,000 from BeyondAI to secure four two-hour mentoring sessions.
While Karayan is thrilled to utilize all the opportunities the prize package presents, he is especially looking forward to the Cloud credits. DerManuelian spoke to the value of the package in developing growth, as opposed to simple monetary value.
“[The prize package] is something that’s unique about Pitchfest, whereas other accelerators just give you money and maybe some advisory, this seems to be much more focused on getting the winner plugged into a community of leaders, advisers and entrepreneurs, who can help them grow the business,” DerManuelian said.
Karayan shared a current project BrandLens is working on with a popular global brand — who he is not yet at liberty to divulge — to digitally personalize sending gifts to loved ones. Customers will have the opportunity to embed a personalized video message that can be viewed by scanning a QR code printed on the product box.
BrandLens has also partnered with UCLA Anderson School of Management, P&G, the Human Rights Foundation, IDEA Lab Kids, Mr. Tortilla and more.
In addition to the Pitchfest event, Glendale Tech Week hosted a number of events and panels throughout the week covering topics such as negotiation skills, the impact of AI and machine learning, navigating finances and bootstrapping vs. attracting venture capital. These events attracted more than 2,000 attendees.
“I love how the city of Glendale is always looking to push innovation and technology,” Karayan said. “Other cities can learn from them.”
Visit brandlens.io to learn more.
First published in the September 23 print issue of the Burbank Leader.