Dare to Scale Aims to Support Early-Stage Companies in Scaling Their Operations Faster

Irina Encheva, Director Entrepreneur Selection & Growth at Endeavor Bulgaria © Endeavor Bulgaria
Irina Encheva, Director Entrepreneur Selection & Growth at Endeavor Bulgaria © Endeavor Bulgaria

After the successful pilot project in 2019, the Bulgarian office of the global entrepreneurial network Endeavor, launches the second edition of its growth program Dare to Scale. This year the program will emphasize also on coping with crisis and identifying opportunities for growth in difficult market conditions. The application window is open until June 21st. Dare to Scale is industry agnostic and open for entrepreneurs from all sectors. For instance, the first cohort featured food, interior design, and fashion innovators, alongside the traditional participants from the tech space. The conditions for pre-selection are the company to be based in Bulgaria, 2019 annual sales between €100K and €10M, and up to 150 full-time employees. Global scalability potential is a criterion and the Endeavor team hopes that the 2020 cohort will again feature ventures from across the country. The program doesn’t feature direct funding and is not equity-based. Participation for the incubated companies costs a small fee of €1,000.

+++ Apply for Dare to Scale +++

We talked to Irina Encheva,  who is leading the Entrepreneur Selection & Growth team at Endeavor Bulgaria, to better understand the goals of the program, the way it contributes to founders’ further development and Endeavor’s longterm vision for the entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem in the country. Prior to joining Endeavor, Irina built expertise in sales forecasting, business process optimization, product launch, and acquisitions’ integration mostly in the automotive and telecom sectors. Irina holds an MBA degree from IESE Business School, Spain, and a Bachelor’s degree in International and Global Studies from Brandeis University, USA.

What is the goal of Dare to Scale and what are the KPIs?

Irina Encheva: Dare to Scale aims to support Bulgarian companies in scaling their operations faster and, in this way have a lasting impact on the business environment here. There are many great organizations and programs in Bulgaria that support startups and mature companies. Dare to Scale addresses the gap in between, namely early-growth stage companies that are in a pivotal moment of their evolution to becoming a big player.

What we look for in the program participants is above all ambition. This means ambition to grow their company internationally, ambition to always keep an open mind to new ideas and ways of doing things, and ambition to be a role model as a leader. The class selection takes into account both business and personal criteria. We look for innovative businesses with a proven business model, led by inspiring and motivated entrepreneurs.

Is Dare to Scale a shortcut to becoming an Endeavor Entrepreneur?

Dare to Scale can indeed be a step to Endeavor’s core program that supports larger businesses, but as the entrepreneurs know very well, there are no shortcuts to success. From the over 400 companies that we’ve individually met for Endeavor’s core program, we identified a pattern of 5-6 pressing challenges that we kept seeing over and over again. In this way, Dare to Scale was a natural evolution of our non-systemic efforts to help companies that were not part of Endeavor, yet ones that we believe have the potential to be game-changers. Dare to Scale, in a deliberate and efficient manner addresses these challenges through a mix of individual mentorships, group workshops, and networking events.

What are the most important learnings from the pilot cohort and how does this impact the new program?

Last year’s pilot edition proved quite successful as measured by our internal goals for it, the participants’ feedback and the recognition we got through CESA’s award as Best Accelerator in Bulgaria for 2019. There will not be major changes to the 2020 structure and curriculum as the initial formula proved effective. 

+++ Case Studies: This is what role Dare to Scale played for DHN Soft, DEV.BG and Prospecto +++

Does the new season have any specifics and focus (also given the new reality context)?

This spring, our team witnessed firsthand the importance of building a sustainable and resilient business that can withstand shocks – some of the companies we work with were prepared with a response to a crisis and initiated internal tools and processes to deal with it; others were blindsided and did not have a built-in mechanism to deal with the stressor. Therefore, our team adjusted Dare to Scale’s 2020 edition to focus on how to build a strong foundation that ensures business sustainability and resilience. The program’s mentors will also address ways to identify and monetize growth opportunities in times of dynamic market conditions.

What are your expectations for this edition of the program?

We hope this year’s program will be just as useful to the participants in building their businesses and evolving as leaders like the 2019 edition. We expect to see a multiplying effect of best practices exchange between Dare to Scale’s stakeholders – participants, mentors, and program’s partners that will further drive of each to grow, learn, and share.

What have you observed when it comes to innovation and businesses with scalability potential in different cities? Which sectors are strong where and what do you think are the challenged entrepreneurs outside Sofia face (and Dare to Scale can help)?

The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bulgaria, although maturing is still quite young. There is a big discrepancy between the support infrastructure available to entrepreneurs in Sofia and the rest of the country. Although there are examples of very successful tech companies based in other cities, such as Varna’s Titan Gate – a company in our core program, led by Endeavor Entrepreneur and Board Member Pressian Karakostov, they are still few. It is still early to observe any particular specialization in cities. We are eager to see more candidates from across the country who are interested to join the Dare to Scale program as they can become the cornerstone for developing better support webs locally. 

Our ambition goes beyond the borders of Bulgaria and this year we are looking to attract participants from neighboring countries like Macedonia and Serbia, thus making our small contribution to building a regional ecosystem that can attract more venture capital interest and provide further growth opportunities for entrepreneurs.   

+++ Apply for Dare to Scale now +++

Can you share examples of reasons companies were rejected last year? 

The biggest reason was that we had the capacity for only 10 companies and the interest for the program was much bigger. As we communicated to a few other shortlisted companies in 2019– they met the criteria and scored high on the selection process, it is just that there was space only for the top-scoring 10. This does not mean that all others do not qualify. At least 5 other companies that we saw could’ve been part of the cohort. As for the not shortlisted ones, a common reason that our interviewers highlighted was that some founders did not have a clear idea of where they want their business to go. If you don’t know where you want to get in say 3-5 years in terms of product/service, market presence, revenue and employee size, you cannot know how to measure the path to get there. We did not want to include in Dare to Scale entrepreneurs who are still unclear on that front, as this often means they have not pinpointed what exactly they want to get out of the program. Another reason for rejection was the lack of ambition to grow the business. Dare to Scale seeks to support entrepreneurs who dream big and seek to become a major player in their industry.

What companies do you hope to see applying this season? Innovations in what spheres do you think will have an important role in the development of the innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bulgaria in the next years?

Like last year, we are open to entrepreneurs in any field of business as very often the growth potential is not in a particular product or a service but in the business model. We are keen to see ventures with high value-add that transcend borders and can have global relevance. Bulgaria is a small market to scale operations in and therefore high-impact entrepreneurs are the ones who dream big and relentlessly work towards internationalization.  

Endeavor Bulgaria is one of the 40 affiliates of the global non-profit organization Endeavor, that was created in 1997 to support high-impact entrepreneurs in developing economies. The local chapter was established almost five years ago to provide Bulgarian entrepreneurs with access to international markets, talent, know-how, and capital through the global network of the organization. So far, 26 Bulgarian entrepreneurs from 16 companies have successfully passed the selection process and have become part of the global network. The Dare to Scale program is in a way preparation for entrepreneurs at an earlier stage of development to later be eligible for applying for the Endeavor Global network.

*Explore in-depth the structure and the topics that Dare to Scale 2020 will feature. 

This may also interest you:

  No Time to Die: Overcoming a Crisis Mindset – Fireside Chat with Hristo Hristov and Momchil Vassilev from Endeavor Bulgaria

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