In recent years, the startup ecosystem in Bulgaria is developing at a rapid pace and new innovative companies are emerging in various industries. Some of them have failed, but others from small startups have become international players with millions of dollars in market value and clients in Europe, the US and Asia.
In Economy Magazine we have presented many times the good examples among them. In the following lines, however, we will turn our attention to a more special group of entrepreneurs – those who have not only created their own businesses from scratch but have stimulated the development of entire new economic sectors. What they have in common is that they were the first in an area where no one else saw potential, and in some cases, dozens of other players appeared after them in the newly created industry.
Svetlin Nakov and the Programming Training
Today, there are several dozen small and large academies for developers in Bulgaria. However, when Svetlin Nakov established his National Academy for Software Development (NASD) in 2005, this phenomenon was completely unknown in this form. Prior to that, programmers were mostly trained in universities or in the self-study method. However, Nakov’s Academy pushed through a model where this happened in close connection with software companies that often pay for the training process, and sometimes the trainees pay nothing for their studies.
The reason is clear – the software industry in Bulgaria is experiencing an increasing need for skilled personnel and this trend will deepen in the future. Most companies in the sector are ready to create a new job for a developer at any time, if a suitable one emerges, and according to a study by the Bulgarian Association of Software Companies a few years ago, its members would increase their business by 1/3 if they had enough developers. Clients are present, but there is no qualified staff to complete all orders. So, it’s no surprise that software companies are ready to support any initiatives in this area.
After NASD, in 2010, Svetlin Nakov participated in the Telerik Academy for Software Engineers, together with the Telerik Company. Today, it has trained hundreds of young Bulgarian people who wanted to qualify in this field. The next stage in his business was the launch of the Software University (SoftUni) in the end of 2013, with which he closed the learning cycle, including opportunities for a full-fledged diploma.
Nakov has been awarded the John Atanasov Award of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria and many other prizes in various fields, he is the author of 15 books in the field of programming training and has lectured on hundreds of events. His successful projects have influenced the creation of an entire new sector with numerous training centres, organizations and academies that today prepare staff for the IT industry.
Aleksandar Grozdanov and the Escape Rooms
When, in the summer of 2014, Aleksandar and his like-minded partners opened the first escape room in Bulgaria, Dextrophobia, almost no one in Bulgaria had heard about such a thing. He learned about the strange rooms of mysteries while flying to Budapest – from an air plane magazine with information about the Hungarian capital.
If you still don’t know anything about them, escape rooms are locations where the client is closed inside for a certain period of time (for example, 1 hour) and has to find the way out on their own. This includes solving different mysteries and puzzles by using innovations and quick wits. Some escape rooms also have a well-developed story, which makes them complete art works of a new type.
Since Aleksandar Grozdanov created the first room in Bulgaria, other such projects have rapidly emerged, and today their number exceeds one hundred. Most of them are in Sofia (over 70), but there are also projects in Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas and other cities. There is a growing community of fans around them ready to go through every new room that is opened in Bulgaria. Tournaments are now being organized, as well as new entertainment formats, such as urban quests or the Cards2Go cards, again by Dextrophobia.
The rapid expansion of the sector is due to a large degree to a phenomenon typical for it – in escape rooms, the presence of competitors does not take away from the business of other players, but rather leads them to new clients. This is because after players have gone through one room, they are unlikely to go back, and most often look for new ones.
Raycho Raychev – Space Entrepreneur
You may not know, but space satellites are being produced in Bulgaria today, and one of them is already successfully flying into the Earth’s orbit. This is the CubeSat device EnduroSat One of the Bulgarian company EnduroSat, which was launched into orbit last year. Behind the success of the project is Raycho Raychev – the founder of the company and a passionate supporter of space exploration.
Raychev is more famous with the educational program Space Challenges that he created, whose tenth edition will take place this fall. This is not just the only Bulgarian space training initiative in Bulgaria, but also the largest one in the whole of Europe. Over the years, within the Space Challenges, Bulgarian cadets have had the opportunity to hear live from managers from the European Space Agency (ESA), the US Space Agency (NASA), as well as some of the largest companies in the industry.
Convinced of the potential of space exploration at a time when the sector is liberalizing, Raycho Raychev is creating a number of initiatives to put Bulgaria on the global map of this industry. Among them is the largest European online training platform https://spaceport.academy/, which provides free training in Bulgarian and English. Raychev is the co-founder of Association Tsiolkovsky and is the first Bulgarian to participate in the Singularity University program. He is also a representative of Bulgaria in the UN’s Space Generation Advisory Council.