“The pilot season of ABLE Activator showed us that through this program we solve one of the pressing problems of the innovation ecosystem in Bulgaria – finding and attracting the right talent to join startup companies,” tells us Kremena Dervenkova, CEO of the Bulgarian Association of Leaders and Entrepreneurs (ABLE). Last year, the association, supported by America for Bulgaria Foundation, started a kind of acceleration program that aimed to help students and young professionals of up to 35 develop their leadership and entrepreneurial skills, but also networks. As a result, 11 of the 30 participants who went through the two-months-long process, have changed their career path joining startups, and two have started their own companies.
Following the success of the first program, ABLE is now opening the applications for the second edition that will start in February. The deadline is December 15 and applicants need to submit two essays of up to 500 words describing their purpose of participation, and an idea of theirs, that they want to develop in the future.
On the lookout for motivating environment
“In the aftermath, we came to the conclusion that most of the participants applied because they were looking for an environment of inspiring and capable people, that would help them realize their potential and ideas,” adds Dervenkova. The program itself consists of six modules – building leadership potential, ideating, creating value and validation of ideas, business model, marketing strategy, and demo day – aimed to showcase the process of developing and leading a venture. This gives the participants, who often come from the university or corporate environment, an idea of what does it mean to develop a business or organization from a scratch with limited resources, and helps them understand better the way the startup world works.
Meanwhile, the program features lectures by Bulgarian entrepreneurs and professionals and visits to the offices of local companies and startups. Among the goals is to also give access to different stakeholders of the innovation ecosystem – startups, corporates open towards innovation, and international organizations. Not least, the graduates of the acceleration program can become members of ABLE and thus receive constant support from the association, and be part of a young entrepreneurial community.
The first steps in entrepreneurship
“Probably the most valuable lesson I have learned is that it’s okay to fail. And that it’s even better to do it fast because this way you are ahead of everyone who hasn’t tried yet,” says Kristina Kristic, one of the participants.
Throughout the program, another participant managed to develop his idea and even start a company. He created an order fulfillment service for online stores, that is currently being developed. The safe environment to come up with ideas, get creative, discuss and fail, and also receive mentorship from people who’ve been through the process is one of the key aspects of Activator, tells us the organizers.
*Activator features tuition of €170 that covers costs of the retreats during the program.