The Old Capital with New Opportunities
Digital transformation is reviving entrepreneurship in Veliko Tarnovo
When we talk about Veliko Tarnovo, we most often think of Tsarevets and Trapezitsa, of coffee on sand, of one of the most successful Bulgarian universities. Beyond the historical memory, there are new business opportunities, which the local entrepreneurs turn into global perspectives.
The industry in the Three Cities (Veliko Tarnovo, Gorna Oryahovitsa and Lyaskovets) is diverse. In the region, there are leading companies from the food, military, electronics, wood processing, textile, packaging, medical devices, mechanical engineering, construction, etc. industries. Around 80 companies from the IT sector for hardware and software solutions, as well as specialized companies working on client’s request, outsourcing companies and call centres are also developing here.
Veliko Tarnovo is lively and colourful. Here, you can encounter hi-tech entrepreneurship, but also more artistic endeavours. It predisposes to enlightenment. Some time ago, Veliko Tarnovo (and more specifically the Programmer’s Club) managed to gather all IT clubs in Bulgaria. This set the beginning of meetings with different organizations and led to the founding of BESCO – the organization that helps startup problems reach the institutions,” says Pavel Donchev, co-founder of eVeliko. It is one of several dozen companies in the world that provide software for integration and management of online content for banks, governments, universities and large corporations.
eVeliko is an example of a company that encourages traineeships and prefers to work with young people who don’t have a lot of experience in order to develop them. “For these 7 years, there has been only one person who came to us having experience in what he was about to do. Everyone else, including myself, had to learn. That is, we have become professionals thanks to this business,” Pavel says.
“Many young people come here because of the universities, and for some of them, the challenges that the industry and the tourism sector can offer, are not interesting.” Entrepreneurs are more or less connected to people from the same sector in Bulgaria and abroad. I am convinced that if there were more technology companies in the region, it would have been better for everyone: there would be more solvent clients in the restaurants all year round, the companies from the industry would be able to more easily digitalize their businesses,” says Milen Georgiev, Manager of Extrapack.
Both Milen and Pavel returned to Veliko Tarnovo to develop their business ventures. Pavel is a Telerik cadre, and when he returned to found his own company in his hometown in 2012, together with his colleague Ivan Turtev, most probably he didn’t receive a lot of understanding from his family.
“I wish there were more innovative businesses, competing on a global level,” Milen Georgiev says
Milen and his partners started the packaging business in Sofia when they were students, but they chose Veliko Tarnovo for their production base “because everything is easier at home.” He is well-known because of Extrapack but he also has a software company that has developed an open source system – bgERP, used for the management of business processes.
Despite the lack of a hub for entrepreneurs in the city, those who start an active business, look for funding or gather a team find one another. 10 years ago, Milen started the Sourcing.BG site and platform, where Extrapack shared experience with producers of advertising items. Now, the company is building a business centre to bring together IT companies and startups. An IT cluster was also created recently.
Both of my interlocutors are active members of the Programmer’s Club in Veliko Tarnovo – probably the most popular entrepreneurial community in the region. It organizes business events, courses for high-school and university students and helps traditional businesses go quickly through the process of digital transformation. For the local traditional business, this is a plus because some of the companies are national and international leaders.
“There is no script here which tells you where to go if you have an idea or need assistance. Things happen by word of mouth. People come together because of their common interests. This will gradually change because some of the names who help most often or get involved in a certain venture are starting to stand out. Milen Georgiev created a stable business from scratch. Neven Boyanov from Tinosaur is very active in the startup circles. Outside our sector, Galin Popov, founder of TAM (space for art and culture), provides a place for meetings,” Pavel says.
Milen shares that he doesn’t expect businesses to develop talents. The universities attract potential entrepreneurs and develop experts. “Lately, there has been a desire for cooperation between the educational institutions and the businesses. Visits to companies are organized for school and university students during which they become more aware of the real business.”
According to Pavel, there is an invisible barrier before the developing companies. “This barrier appears, more or less, at the time when the founder of the company has reached the number of clients, employees and turnover he cannot manage efficiently on his own. At that point, other skills are required that just a few people in Veliko Tarnovo possess, but still, there are some of them.”
eVeliko received the award for the best micro and small company in Bulgaria in 2018
At the University of Veliko Tarnovo, for several years now, there are Master’s programmes that prepare cadres for the outsourcing industry. They are a joint initiative with a large Bulgarian company in this sector. The Veliko Tarnovo’s Tinosaur startup has created a training system and kits for assembling robots and mini computers. It is used for university training, and the kits are sold successfully in North America and Europe.
Both of my interlocutors hope that the airport in Gorna Oryahovitsa will be restored. If it is used for civilian flights, many people will find a way into their future in the region; business connections will also be made easier. “The best we could do is help more people live a normal life and develop as specialists in their field. I know that Veliko Tarnovo cannot become the Silicon Pre-Balkan, but it can be a great place for living and doing business,” Pavel smiles. Milen adds that among the most serious challenges that the local business is facing is the changeable legislation. “In Ordinance 18 on the cash registers, it became clear that its authors had no expertise. The same thing happened 7 years ago, when the Ordinance on plastic bags came out. Currently, it is respected by almost no one, with few exceptions.” But he is convinced that digital transformation is the way to infuse new entrepreneurial blood into the economy of the boyar city. “I wish there were more innovative businesses, businesses based on knowledge, technology and competing on a global level,” Milen concludes.