Meet The First Cohort Of Bulgaria Innovation Hub In Silicon Valley

In many cases entrepreneurs are not prepared for the leap to the US market and waste time and resources. ©Unsplash
In many cases entrepreneurs are not prepared for the leap to the US market and waste time and resources. ©Unsplash

 Silicon Valley- a destination most of the founders from small markets are dreaming of since the early days of their venture.  It is clear why Bulgarian and not only founders go to the US: either to fundraise, because they need more cash than the available seed funding on the local market, or they want to enter the US market. Local VCs also travel often to explore investment opportunities, fundraise or look for follow-on investments for their portfolios.  

The Bulgaria Innovation Hub, an organization that aims to provide suitable services and needed contacts to such founders and investors, has been around and in design phase for around a year now. And at the end of October, it officially starts with the first cohort of selected companies. The first five startups that will go to the Valley in an attempt to scale their businesses and establish their brands in the US are LogSentinel, OfficeRnD, Coursedot, Frontline Dynamics, and Enhancv. 

Only the ones that really mean it

Several months ago, as we talked to Pavlina Yanakieva, the CEO of the Bulgaria Innovation Hub, we found out that for this first cohort the BIH team has identified around 20 companies that are ready for the next step to the US and could really benefit from the support services of the new hub. Five from them,  that are ready to commit for at least several weeks and hard work, were selected. 

The hub, by design, provides particular services and aims to institutionalize and put into process the established and not so effective ad hoc support approach. For startups, the new center provides office space, access to legal and tax advisors, intros to mentors, potential partners and clients, and VCs. The idea is that founders stay for several weeks, use the office spaces rented by the hub and plan accordingly, but also get prepared to speak to investors and clients.

After the pilot cohort, the hub will be open for applications.

What’s the traction of the first five

LogSentinel is an information security company that keeps critical data safe at scale. Their innovative solutions keep all logs, data, and documents protected by blockchain technology. Their AI algorithms detect malicious activities and alerts in real-time.  The system aggregates business activities and displays them on an intuitive dashboard, which gives clients full control over their data. The infosec startup has won numerous awards in Europe already such as the govtech startup of the year during Pioneers Festival in Vienna, and has done pilots with companies like Raiffeisenbank International.

OfficeRnD is a coworking management software system, used by almost all shared offices in Bulgaria. It’s been on the market for four years now, managing to reach 1000 locations globally, $100k of monthly recurring users, €1.5m of investments and win one of Oscars in the coworking world – the Coworky award for being the best tech to run space at the international Global Coworking Unconference Conference in the US earlier this year.

Coursedot is founded in 2015 online marketplace for IT training courses. The main objective of Coursedot is to connect trainers and training companies to businesses that need to get their specialists’ skills updated or polished. There are already around 3k IT trainers from over 90 countries on the platform. Coursedot is partnering with established players such as Microsoft and the US Unicorn Pluralsight, and is already becoming a recognizable brand in the IT training domain in Europe. So logically, the next step for the company is the US market.

Frontline Dynamics is one of the latest investments of the Bulgarian VC fund BrightCap Ventures. The company offers first of its kind fully digital, fully connected communication and service enablement platform for all air-cargo logistic participants: airlines, ground handling agents, freight forwarders and trucking companies. Their platform allows seamless, secure, and traceable sharing and storage of data, tracking of shipments, transmission of standardized orders, execution of payments, and instant communication between all parties involved in the air cargo logistics. 

Enhancv is a SaaS startup built around a web platform for creating modern resumes. The tool offers guidance through every step of the process, so a person can highlight achievements, attitude, and personality. In September 2018, the company announced its partnership with the US startup ZipRecruiter and has added a job board to its platform. Within three years and with an external investment of €325K the team grew to 15 members, 500k users and reached profitability.

100% private and paid initiative 

Having a representative office of this kind is nothing novel: Germany, France, the Nordics, the Czech Republic, etc. already have similar structures. The interesting detail is that unlike the other hubs that are backed by the local governments, the Bulgarian hub is a 100% private project, initiated by BEC and funded in the startup way.

The first two years of the project are aiming to validate the concept and eventually transform the center into a for-profit entity. The target is to raise $500K for the first two years of operations from the local VCs, who are also willing to benefit from the services BIH offers, and the team is still fundraising. For the companies that go through the tailored acceleration, the program will be paid from the second cohort on.

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