In Karlovo, a small town with around 30K residents and no direct connection to the innovation ecosystem in Bulgaria, four high-school students are turning the natural treasure of the region – the roses – into a high-value-added product. And they are selling it. “We wanted to show that the youth could turn the natural goods of our region into something new that has added value. Roses could be so much more than raw material,” says Viktoria Trifonova, one of the four co-founders of the student company Kaliopa.
Every year in Bulgaria dozens of student companies are started as part of Junior Achievement’s effort to foster entrepreneurship in the country. At the end of the year, the young founders can participate in the contest “Rising Stars”, demonstrate what they’ve achieved, and win a prize. In May 2020, 63 teams who have worked on their experimental student companies throughout the school year presented their products. Kaliopa, the Karlovo-based company that produces hand-made chocolate candies with rose jam, won the big award “Student Company of the Year”. In July, the youth project was recognized as the favorite company of the audience during the Junior Achievement Europe Company of the Year Competition.
“Probably the most important lesson that we’ve learned in the four years participating in the programs of Junior Achievement and building student companies is that you should never give up or stop looking for new opportunities in the environment you think you know very well,” tells us Petya Krachmarova, the second co-founder of Kaliopa.
Kalimizing: High-end chocolate candies with roses
Actually, when Kaliopa was first started four years ago the team was united by the idea to use roses in a new form. Back then, the students started growing and cultivating four decares of the traditional Rosa Damascena. In the first year, they were handcrafting dolls. Yet, soon they realized they could do more with the roses and started experimenting with soaps, jams, and different sweets.
Arriving into the fourth year of the program, the four co-founders Viktoria Trifonova, Petya Krachmarova, Eva Karaivanova, and Yana Tsvetkova, decided to craft chocolate sweets. And so Kalimizing was born. Kalimizing is the brand of Kaliopa’s vegan, gluten and sugar-free chocolate sweets with rose jam. “Each ingredient in Kalimizing is carefully thought through so that we can offer not only high-quality products but make them available to everyone regardless of their dietary,” explain Viktoria and Petya. The team, who is handcrafting everything at home (of course according to the food safety requirements), has even gone through a crash course with the famous chocolatier Pavel Pavlov to learn how to turn the product into a really high-quality one.
Under the guidance of their teacher Spaska Bistrashka, the young entrepreneurs developed a business and marketing plan, learned accounting, etc., and actually managed to start selling their product and making profits. Since Kaliopa was restarted at the beginning of the school year (the student companies are started and liquidated every year) with the new product and around €5 initial capital from each co-founder, the team has managed to process over 50 orders – some bigger and some smaller. Kalimizing is sold both online via Facebook and Instagram, and offline during different events, at least before the pandemic. Its customers are from all over Bulgaria. There have even been first purchases abroad – in Germany.
Although the student company has been liquidated already, the team of four is not planning to stop here. In 2020, the co-founders will be in the 12th grade, this means they will be in their last year in which they can be developing a student company as part of the Junior Achievement program for high-schools. But they will not stop there and continue in one of the organization’s programs for university students.
The entrepreneurial bug and the value of personal development
For the four young women, Junior Achievement has played a pivotal role. Viktoria and Petya, for instance, are studying biology and chemistry and were planning a totally different career path. “Our teacher, however, lightened the entrepreneurial spark in us,” says Viktoria. In the past years, the young co-founders learned not only the hard skills required to be an entrepreneur, but also some important lessons about being part of a team, leading a company, finding solutions, overcoming challenges, and not least – “finding the balance in everything we do”. “As much as we learned about doing business, we grew a lot as people and met great friends along the way. I think this is the most important part of this four-years-long experience,” says Petya.
After the recognition during the European contest, Viktoria, Petya, Eva, and Yana, are thinking about their next steps. The four have already filed for registration in the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency and are hoping that their small manufacturing will be approved. “We don’t want to reveal too much yet, but we want to make a real working business out of Kaliopa and Kalimizing,” says Viktoria.
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