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Daniel Tomov, founder of Eleven; Photo credit: Eleven
Focusing on the tightly knit nature of the startup community in Bulgaria, local accelerator Eleven introduced a twist in the graduation of its sixth batch, opening the Demo Day to not just investors, but the wide public as well. This resonated with the community as the room in betahaus | sofia was filled to the brim with 200 guests attending the Wednesday event. Inventures was one of them, witnessing a day full of inspiring speeches, competitive pitches and startup community that is ready for the next steps.
“Serendipity is a key factor in the success of a startup. Sometimes serendipity strikes without a warning, while at others there is a little design in the background. The Demo Day is the perfect chance for the latter,” Eleven Founder Daniel Tomov explained.
A community of go-getters
Salim Virani explaining his reasons to move to Bulgaria. Photo credit: ElevenWhile the demonstrations of the nine startups, hailing from five different countries, was the true focus of the evening, the open format and the eager audience formed the perfect backdrop for some important lessons. This is where Founder Centric Partner Salim Virani came in, opening the event with an uplifting speech about the reasons that made him move from London to Sofia six months ago. The food, lifestyle and convenience of Sofia Airport played a role, but Virani zeroed in on the camaraderie and responsiveness of the local startup community. Looking from the outside in, he picked most of the negatives Bulgarians often point out in their country and its people and proved that when it comes to the startups, they are out-dated, misunderstood or just plain wrong. While locals seem to believe that pessimism is almost a point of national pride, Virani sees quite the opposite. “In Sofia, there is a fascinating and specific type of creativity in trying out ideas. I see far fewer ‘me too’ startups here,” he said. “You need a great degree of hopefulness and courage to do that; it’s more than just coding skill.”
But perhaps the biggest advantage of the local community is its agility: “[The] speed of getting people together here is phenomenal, world-class, untouchable,” he said, explaining what sealed his decision to stay, “in every other place I’ve been to, you’d have to wait weeks or months for a useful event in response to your request. Sure, other places have higher-profile experts and more successful entrepreneurs, but you’ll wait months to even get a glimpse of them. That speed could be the make or break aspect for a startup.”
Solidarity in action
The interest to the open Demo Day surpassed the number of chairs on hand. Photo credit: ElevenReconfirming Virani’s words, each startup that appeared afterwards was met and sent off by thundering applause, with the other startups in the line being the loudest supporters. Perhaps liberated by the open format, many of the presenters drew laughs, while some were outright explicit in their pitching. Nicknamed the Moneyball of the publishing industry, Serbian Content360 was the first startup to present. Still in closed beta, their platform helps online publishers evaluate, benchmark and rank content and authors' performance across platforms and languages.
Bulgaria-based Qlibri were next, presenting their solution for small businesses and individuals who need an instant mobile site and a mobile app. Kratos Technology, a company whose co-founders are from Morocco and Bulgaria, then presented cloud-based e-government solutions, which enable faster, cheaper and easier online services between municipalities and citizens. They were followed by Italian Adormo, a company with an impressive 13-year history which has pivoted to keep up with the changing home rentals culture and now manages listings across a number of online portals such as Airbnb and Booking.com while improving visibility in exchange for a 15 per cent flat fee. Enhancv, another Bulgarian entry, demonstrated their platform for jobseekers, which improves the CV of its clients. The solution, which went live two hours before the event, has already been proven with a 90 per cent call-back rate for interviews and a whooping 83 per cent of clients hired at the positions targeted with their enhanced resume.
Miloš Milisavljević presenting Strawberry Tree at the Eleven Demo Day in Sofia. Photo credit: ElevenThe only hardware startup to present, Serbian Strawberry Energy, talked about Strawberry Tree, a smart public solar charger for mobile devices, and drew probably the most thunderous applause of the evening. They were followed by Bulgarian Tickit, a platform that sells online transport tickets and informs people how to travel in Europe from A to B through public transport. “Germany scored 7 goals to Brazil in half the time it takes you to buy a bus ticket in Bulgaria,” Dobromir Ivanov, founder of the platform said, underlining that with his platform this now takes mere minutes.
Another Bulgarian startup, Metrilo, a data-driven eCommerce store, raised many an eyebrow due to founder Murry Ivanoff’s curious presenting style relying on the overuse of expletives. The evening was to be wrapped up with a presentation that had piqued the interest of people reading the line-up early on – Kown, an investor club aligned with lean startups, which wants to empower investors to get higher returns by placing many small bets and double- backing on the winners.
Blazing a trail
I believe that by opening the demo day to the public, we empower the community itself. To dare and leave their comfort zone,” Eleven’s Daniel Tomov said after the event. “As Salim said, when the community is so responsive, the only thing you need to do to succeed, is ASK. Entrepreneurship is not reserved to a limited crowd of chosen ones. Anyone can take the leap and we are here to help some part of the journey.”
There were times when the hands of the clock didn’t move fast enough until the arranged play date at the swings outside, instead of digitally counting down the minutes until the Candy Crush lives refill. Seeing the stark gap between two generations’ idea of fun, two dads decided to build a bridge, illuminate it and spruce it up with augmented reality. Misty-eyed with nostalgia, inventures.eu met with founder Hristo Aleksiev in Sofia to learn more about Playground Energy, one of the few local hardware startups, which aims to “harvest the kinetic energy from playgrounds and give it back to children.”
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