There’s the shared belief that the capital city of Bulgaria, Sofia, is a “whole different country” when it comes to startups, venture capital, and innovation. While it is a fact that Sofia is recognized in the international rankings as a startup hub that has a disproportionate concentration of capital, startups, tech companies, and therefore also know-how, efforts to bring the vibe to smaller cities in the country became more and more evident recently. Burgas is one example of this trend.
After the roadshow of Innovation Capital, one of the new Bulgarian early-stage funds, where one company from Burgas was selected for acceleration, now Gabriella Slavova, a youth policymaker from the city, has decided to use the momentum and organize a one-day long startup fest to lighten the entrepreneurial spark in the youth. “With this event, we hope to attract the attention of the startup bubble, which is primarily in Sofia, to the opportunities for summer office and also to the youth in Burgas, which has tremendous potential to become a vital part of the innovation ecosystem,” says Slavova.
Career and personal advice from experienced entrepreneurs
“The First StarUp Youth Fest” as it is officially named will be on the 12th of August and will be hosted in the main municipal building of the city. The event is organized by Gabriella Slavova, who’s part of the municipality and is leading the youth policy agenda there, and invites young people and startuppers from all over the country to celebrate the Youth Day together, to develop our potential and opportunities and to discuss the difficulties of the dynamic modern environment. During the day there will be workshops on various topics important for the career and personal development of young people. How to find the through calling and make the first steps, pitching ideas, marketing, skills of the future – these are some of the topics during the Youth StartUp Gest. Among the speakers, we find Milena Stoycheva from Junior Achievement, Teodosi Teodosiev, the founder of Kinetik, the first e-sports car company in Bulgaria, and Milena Krumova from European Institute for Technologies, Education and Digitalisation, will lead.
Startups and NGOs that would like to participate as exhibitors for free should fill out a form. Participants have the opportunity to share more about their products and services and to present the career and personal development opportunities they currently offer.
“I really want to move the youth ecosystem in Burgas. There is space for growth and development, there’s infrastructure and there are opportunities, but people here need a massive energy boost because the negative attitude is still predominant. Also, the business needs to finally realize that the youth of the city is also their responsibility,” explains Gabriela Slavova. The organizer has been engaged in youth empowerment activities during her studies in Hague, and is working her dream job, she says. A Junior Achievement alumni, Gabriella has recently been through ABLE Activator, the acceleration program for personal and business development of the Association of the Bulgarian Leaders and Entrepreneurs (ABLE). The young woman has utilized her network of contacts and managed to motivate the municipality of Burgas, for which she’s working, to organize the event.
Burgas: a young ecosystem in development
Despite the lack of venture capital funds, a network of coworking spaces and established startup culture, there are seeds for an ecosystem in the sea city, says Nadia Terzieva, who led the local chapter of the pre-seed entrepreneurial organization Start It Smart for several years. “The group of people who are developing services and products, or have startup know-how is growing. The big and established IT companies that are opening up satellite offices in the city are also an important factor for they are concentrating tech talent in the city. Some of the software engineers currently working in companies here have come back from Sofia,” she explains. Among the companies are established BulgarianIT service brands such as Bulpros and Scale Focus that have been growing their offices in the city in the past several years.
Based on more visible startup projects coming from Burgas, it seems that there’s a certain focus on smart city solutions there. In July, during its roadshow across the country, the newly established early-stage fund Innovation Capital hosted a bootcamp and demo day in Burgas, and selected one smart city company SensIT. The young company has developed a network of smart sensors that provide a map of parking slots allowing drivers to cut on the time spent in looking for a place to park their cars. Another well-known startup from the city is ENOVA h20, the IoT company fighting water pollution that was chosen to present Bulgaria at the 2020 global finals of impact entrepreneurship competition Chivas Venture.
Although in its infancy, there are also other projects contributing to the development of the local ecosystem. On a municipal level, there is support and attempts for innovation. Slavova says that there is enough infrastructure – coworking spaces, modern schools, etc. Just recently the municipality launched SmartBurgas, an integrated urban platform that gives the residents of the city and the municipal administration real-time information about road conditions, city traffic, streets being repaired, parking spaces, sports spots, beach weather, air pollution, and water levels.
Another more general private initiative is the Digital4Burgas Foundation that was started by digital entrepreneurs with the idea to spread know-how. “What could further boost the development of the city are bootcamps and pre-acceleration programs, that would foster the entrepreneurial spirit of the local community,” concludes Terzieva. According to her, attracting the attention of investors and entrepreneurs from Sofia is one way of taking the local ecosystem to the next level. “To be able to develop an ecosystem this whole ecosystem needs to also work with the youth and inspire the young people to find their path in the city,” says Gabriella Slavova, and invites everyone who wants to either explore the opportunities in Burgas or people who’d love to learn from more experienced entrepreneurs to join the Youth StartUp Fest on 12th of August.