This year, during their annual international tour, a group of Swiss entrepreneurs and business leaders from the Swiss Economic Forum community visited Bulgaria and Romania to explore how the two Eastern European economies have been developing recently.
“Despite major challenges in the areas, such as infrastructure, corruption, and emigration, both countries have a high level of identification with Europe, stable budgets, growing entrepreneurial forces, a highly potent IT sector and a civil society with the will to cut off old customs, “ summarized his impression Dominik Isler, the former CEO of SEF, who was leading the delegation, in a LinkedIn article.
A sustainable business ecosystem & will to take action
Leaders of established Swiss companies with long traditions, business angels, lawyers, consultants – the group of the Powerpreneurs, as the participants in the tour are called, featured a variety of personalities and experiences. Some of the guests, like Jürg Schwarzenbach, the founder of Bern-based investment company Marcaro, were visiting for the first time. “I was very impressed by Sofia, the city pulsates,” he shares his first impressions.
Others like Philipp Sutter, one of the partners at almost 40 years old IT company Zühlke Group that launched a development center in Sofia in 2018, already knew what the region has to offer, but got a confirmation: “I was positively impressed by the culture and the entrepreneurial spirit of the people. The people we met are ready to shape the future of Bulgaria. The visit delivered a clear confirmation: We are at the right place with our Zühlke office,” he told us after the event. “We could observe a growing and healthy start-up ecosystem, increasingly supported by returnees. Also, I sensed an increased entrepreneurial spirit amongst the younger generation with the evident will to take the destiny in its own hands and not wait for authorities or politicians ‘to create jobs and wealth’,” confirms Andreas Hürlimann, Chairman of the Board at LEM Holding, a Swiss electronics manufacturer that opened up a production site in Bulgaria in 2013, and has been investing and growing steadily ever since, currently employing 260 people.
Meetings with politicians, policymakers, companies, and business associations – that’s what the SEF group’s agenda usually looks like. In Sofia, Trending Topics facilitated for them an additional experience – visit at the talent and startup incubator Campus X and a meeting with key players of the innovation ecosystem in Bulgaria. “On the occasion of our visit to Campus X and Telerik Academy, I was very pleased to observe that a sustainable business ecosystem with focus on growth is emerging in Bulgaria,” told us Isler, who at the very beginning of the meeting asked all the Powerpreneur participants to take of their ties for a while.
As a follow-up of this visit, Isler wrote a short sum-up of the experience and highlighted his key takeaways. In the first place, Isler experienced Bulgarians and Romanians as “proudly European”, stating that the “EU has a great radiance for these countries and brings about many very positive developments in the institutions, in the ecosystem of the economy, and in the legal system.” For the already former CEO of SEF the visit and the environment that welcomed him in both countries were also a confirmation that Switzerland’s support of CHF 250 million, that was signed in 2010, counts.
Valuable opportunities to invest and collaborate, but also challenges
Naming the region “East from the West and West from the East”, Isler concludes that both Bulgaria and Romania offer valuable opportunities for investments and collaboration. Yet, according to him, there are challenges that need to be overcome on an institutional level: the states need to develop the regions and infrastructure, to gear institutions to the needs of the economy, to make sustainable investments in education.