If you take a map and look for Bulgaria, you’ll find it right between Greece and Romania, in Southeastern Europe. The chances some people haven’t heard about it are good but in case they have, it was probably in the context of the UK wanting to restrict Bulgarians entering the country. (If so, we can only thank the UK).
Our native land is small, but there are big things happening out here, with the capital Sofia as its startup centre of entrepreneurship. When it comes to starting a business, every country is special in itself, and Bulgaria is no exception. Here are the 6 things that you should know if you are planning to start up here:
1. The startup community is fresh, new and fast-growing – Yes, the startup community is relatively newly formed, having in mind that the two accelerator funds in Bulgaria – LAUNCHub and Eleven started operating a year and a few months ago. Before them there were Start It Smart and the StartUP Foundation – both are organisations encouraging and educating young entrepreneurs. We can see their progress very clearly, and there are quite a few things on the agenda by the end of the year:
- We have a “pre-accelerator” programme coming up (supporting entrepreneurs from idea to entering an accelerator);
- A new VC fund will soon start operating;
- A 20-million match fund for Bulgarian startups was announced by the European Investment Fund (EIF);
- The technology park Sofia Tech Park is starting construction works soon.
2. Product/service validation heaven – So you have an idea, and you have a team? Come and test your product/service in Bulgaria! Why? Because if you manage to sell it to people having an average income of 473 euros/month (acc. to statistics for 2012), it is quite certain that you will have success outside of the country, too. Most of the Bulgarians barely manage to cover their living expenses and if they are ready to spend money and be your customers this means your product/service has value and is reasonably priced.
3. Living in Bulgaria is cheap – Just have in mind that renting a one-room apartment in the centre of Sofia costs approximately 200 euros per month and your unlimited public transport pass – 25 euros per month. Food is often rated expensive by locals, but if you are coming from Western Europe, you will find it way cheaper. So 500 euros per month is a really sufficient budget for a single person living a normal life in Sofia
4. The Internet and the flat tax rate are killin’ it! – When talking about business in Bulgaria we should definitely mention the 10%-flat tax rate and the fast speed of the Internet connection, ranking Bulgaria eighth in the world (says Bloomberg) right after Switzerland.
5. Take a break, amigo! – We know that taking a time-out is one of the main secrets of being productive, and Sofia offers you the opportunity to relax. If at some point you are fed up with coding, developing marketing strategies and validating business model hypotheses, just slow down and go to the Vitosha mountain (2200 metres high) located on the outskirts of Sofia for a ski or snowboard session in the winter. And if the mountains don’t suit you, you can always drop by at the resorts on the Black Sea for a weekend. Note: It’ll only take you about three hours by car – yes, we do have a brand new highway!
In short, Bulgaria offers every entrepreneur a chance to relax when it is needed.
6. Bulgarians are openhearted – Yes, we are always open and ready to help. We enjoy meeting foreigners and according to them, Bulgarians are really hospitable. (We trust them). At first, the grannies on the streets may look at you a little strangely while you talk in your unknown to them language, but they get used to that.
To wrap it up, Bulgaria is not the Silicon Valley, investors do not “throw” their money in the air and we do not have billion-dollar exits. What we do have, though, are a fast Internet connection, a growing ecosystem and well, big hearts…
Nikola Yanev is founder of Entrepreneur.bg – a Bulgarian online magazine for entrepreneurship. He just finished school and is off to university (although he is not really into that). Nik is a member of the entrepreneurship club StartItSmart. He loves startup companies, traveling, big events and connecting with great people.