STARTING IN BULGARIA

by Bozhidara Georgieva

The local startup environment is beneficial for development of new businesses with potential to change the world

Conjuring an innovative idea, believing in it and in yourself, finding a way to turn it into a reality and developing it into something bigger that changes the lives of thousands or millions of people – this is the dream of any entrepreneurial person regardless of where in the world they live. But to make the dream a reality are needed a number of factors. Some of them are the result of sheer luck, others stem from the personal qualities of the individual engaged in the startup, and a third group comes from the environment where the young and ambitious firm develops.

In the current years Bulgaria became a country where startups enjoy good chances of jumping from the stage of bold dreams and plans into one of their materialisation and success in real life. According to 2019 data, in the country existed 650 active startups and scaleups that engaged about 15,000 people. The main fields of their operations were high technologies and IT, the fintech, proptech and biotech industries, but also more traditional industries. One third of product companies and 1/5 of service-oriented ones offered world innovations. Opening of a business in Bulgaria is quick, the procedure lasts a couple of days and the initial capital requirement is as low as 2 leva. Corporate tax is only 10%.

Sofia is taking shape as the main centre of Bulgaria's startup boom. The country's capital has some obvious advantages – many young, active and highly educated people, and a concentration of investors, state institutions and shared work spaces. All of these create a beneficial environment for development of innovative and ambitious businesses.

However, Sofia's role should not be absolutised. The good news is that in other large cities in Bulgaria, such as Varna for example, also work active and initiative young people with ideas that have the potential to improve our lifestyle.

"The team behind Justice To Me as an idea and a project is a collaboration between innovation, experience, vivacity and strive for development," says Zhana Zahova, manager of Justice Тo Мe, a platform that facilitates customer complaints issue against bad-actor retailers and utility providers (Varna, 26A Brother Škorpil, phone: 0894 602 007, www.justiceto.me). "We are motivated to seek change for a better world and are led by the honest desire to avoid expensive court cases. If the saying that the world is what we make of it is true, and judging by the core values and good practices in our young project, we can say that Bulgaria has all the right components – quality people, accessible and quality knowledge and education. To realise a unique idea one does not need anymore even finances. One needs only the right people at the right time in the right place who share the same values."

"What cannot be realised to its full potential is the second stage after good connection and interaction between the above mentioned components," adds Zhana Zahova. "This is building trust towards young entrepreneurs that can be achieved with clear rules for good and bad practices as a warranty for quality and security. We probably need to realise that we are all cogs in a larger system and that it is important to work in harmony. The success of the startup environment in Bulgaria relies precisely on whether all the key players are available and the extent to which they are willing to partner both within this ecosystem and within external ones. Finally, I would like to say that everything is possible if you believe."

Indeed, the conditions for startups in Bulgaria can and should improve further in order to increase the sector's potential. There is more to be done in regard to state policies for attracting foreign investors to Bulgarian startups. Local entrepreneurs should also brave the challenge of funding their ideas' initial phase of development and to learn how to sell their ideas to investors and on the international markets. This is easier said than done and proper education and training are needed in this respect.

 

The most unexpected challenge that the field – as many others, faced, was the Covid-19 pandemic. On the one hand it inevitably affected investment. Shared work spaces, which are among the best in Central and Eastern Europe, also suffered from the social isolation measures. On the other hand the extreme conditions will play the role of a stimulus that will generate new ideas with potential to make our life better. This is why Bulgaria's startup environment will hardly lose its potential. On the contrary, by all means visionary investors should keep an eye on it in the coming years. Because the next big idea that will change the world can easily stem from Bulgaria. 

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