Pirates never start a voyage on a Friday, and this last one being the 13th and a full moon, made it even more ominous. The organisers from betahaus | sofia and LAUNCHub, however, seem to grin the danger away and pulled off one of their most successful events, combining global startup competition betapitch with the leading invite-only conference for early stage startups and investors – The European Pirate Summit (EPS) to award not one, but three Bulgarian startups access to not one, but three big pitching events.
Before an audience of about 80 and a jury of seven, ten startup teams from Bulgaria competed at, you guessed it, the third edition of the betapitch Sofia event held at local hub betahaus. Initially announced as eight, but increased due to the number of quality applicants, the startups battled for the chance to present at Betapitch global in Berlin and the European Pirate Summit in Cologne, not knowing that an impromptu invitation to the People in Beta festival in Berlin was also up for grabs. Even without the last-minute additions, the prizes were enticing enough – apart from invitations to the key events, contestants were vying for a new logo, courtesy of Logowski, mentorship by Salim Virani of Leancamp and Founder Centric fame, 1TB of storage from pCloud, three months of free team desk space at betahaus and mentorship from Obecto.
Viblast receiving their grand prize on stage. Photo credit: betahaus I sofiaThe grand prize – free tickets to betapitch Global and EPS and European Pirate Camp, was awarded to Sofia-based HD streaming company Viblast, who have lately been rocking the local startup scene left and right. Jury member Robin Eric Haak of the Axel Springer Plug and Play accelerator was so impressed with the team, he offered them direct access to his fund’s final selection as one of the impromptu awards. One winner was simply not enough and Wrist were invited to showcase their cashless payment bracelets at the People in Beta festival. To match the number of happy winners with the candles on the betapitch Sofia cake, Arthesis, a team using 3D printing to create custom covers for people with leg prostheses, collected all the remaining prizes, plus a second ticket to The European Pirate Summit, courtesy of jury member Till Ohrmann.
Just like the competing companies, the jury members also increased at the last minute, with Aurel Pasztorfrom Day One Capital in Budapest joining because of his company’s interest in growing their investments in the region. He was joined by LAUNCHub Partner Stephane Gantchev, Telerik Product Line Manager Hristo Borisov, Seedrs COO Carlos Silva, Madeleine Gummer von Mohl, co-founder of betahaus | berlin and the aforementioned Robin Haak and Till Ohrmann.
“I am very satisfied by the quality and the level of the startups, presenting at the ‘Betapitch meets Pirates on Shore’ event,” Stephane Gantchev said after the awards ceremony. “The teams presenting were stronger than what I have seen in other events in the region. This proves Sofia is slowly becoming a regional startup hub, a booming ecosystem, where LAUNCHub is playing a major role.”
Although the event brought together pirates and nomads, the focus was all hi-tech. Contestants’ focus ranged from fun and games, as in Jumpido’s new approach to education and Tryad Games’ next level in multiplayer games for mobile devices, all the way to comfort in the home, provided by Jalousier’s smart device for window blinds, and outside, as offered by Stepsss and their smart sole for runners.
The social aspect was not overlooked with Tripio offering a platform where travellers can share content and Wrist helping people party seamlessly with their cashless payment bracelet. B2B was another focus represented in winners Viblast’s HD streaming platform and last-minute entry Wiziva’s website creation and installation packages.
Last but not least, Arthesis floated the idea of turning unsightly prostheses into a work of art and Lexicum introduced a cross-platform vocabulary-building tool for those struggling with foreign languages.
The Arthesis team pitching their product to a riveted audience. Photo credit: betahaus I sofiaThe Legacy
Just three years into the event, betahaus | sofia co-founder and CEO Alexander Mihaylov sees a great progress. “When we started planning betahaus in Sofia, the word startup was almost unheard of,” he said, “now, three years later our startups have started conquering the international stage with investments by world-known funds and accelerators, such as Tim Draper, Seedcamp, Techstars, Y Combinator and others.”
Betapitch in particular has been a great springboard for local companies. It was, after all, a Bulgarian company (StatAce) that won last year’s betapitch finals in Berlin (see our story here), and another local startup – farmhopping, also presented at the event before joining the Seedcamp family (read our sto).
On the other hand, the partnership with The European Pirate Summit has also increased the local stage’s visibility. In 2013, Sofia was just part of an experiment – the first ever side ‘warm-up’ event Pirates on Shore – which turned out to be a great success. This year the Pirates on Shore has become a big European tour, casting anchor in more than 15 top European cities and Sofia, though lacking a major body of water, remains a preferred port.
With such events taking place, “the environment for developing young entrepreneurship here has never been more attractive,” Alexander Mihaylov said.