“We have an environment which allows the startups ecosystem grow”
Simeon Prusiyski – Vice-President of the Startup Foundation and CEO of Startup Masters.
First, maybe you can tell us a little bit what are your main activities that you are busy with right now?
There are two main things and I will start with my business a little bit: one is the Bulgarian Startup Foundation for a year or so, we’ve changed the way of doing the things there and we’ve tried to improve the actual value that we add for the startup community in Bulgaria by educating the startups, educating the population on what a startup is, how to do a startup, what are the obstacles that every entrepreneur founds and what are the needs to tackle. The other things is I’ve started my own company about 2 and a half years ago which is a typical example of SMEs in Bulgaria, it´s a small company, we are 16 people in the team, we are mainly in the digital marketing and development field, we do have a different approach in doing things but probably we will get to this later.
How is the startup initiative funded. You said that you have a foundation, where are the money coming from?
First of all , I would like to say it´s not only one foundation, we have a couple of organizations in Bulgaria that try to work with the startup ecosystem. The funding mainly comes from the big enterprises, let’s say Microsoft, HP, our local Bulgarian hosting companies, Bulgarian telecoms so the funding is mainly from the big companies.
Is there a wave of founders or startups in the last few years or some significant development which you can report?
Unfortunately, I am not working with the actual number but at least, what I am noticing is that more and more people try to start, the community is growing the number of venture funds, the number of angel investors, the number of co-working spaces is being growing and because of this the overall number of startups is growing.
An issue that startups in Bulgaria have at the moment is that most of the founders are not ready for what’s coming so they have an idea, they do organize certain startup steps, so they validate it they build a team around but most of them fail because they don’t stick with it and they are not ready for the culture that every new company has. In my opinion this is one the main issues, one of the main obstacles in Bulgaria, we have a lot of tech guys, we have a lot of IT, we produce a lot of IT data: developers both front and back end, designers, marketing people. I don’t think we produce enough founders, enough entrepreneurs and CEOs and high level managers.
But given two facts: if there is an IT talent, they can choose if they will go to the big players, this being much easier or as in the case of my state – Baden-Württemberg, the Government is complaining that we don’t have startups but we have an entry level salary of 5.000-6.000€/ month so then there is the question “why should you start your own company if you can have real good job at the big companies?” Is Bulgaria facing the same challenges?
Yes, this is in relation with the actual problem, that the big companies tend to absorb the talent that is produced- most of it, because of the same reason that you mentioned: the salary level in a big company is much higher than the minimum and average salary in Bulgaria so the big companies can afford to pay the top 5% salaries in Bulgaria, which is 3-4 times bigger but I think in the next couple of years we will produce more than the companies can assimilate actually which is a good thing because this will mean that more SMEs would be born and more people will try not to be a part in the machine but start something on their own which is the common entrepreneur dream. I think that Bulgaria does a good job and constantly trying to improve, the Government is also trying to help, they try to find ways to work with entrepreneurs but Bulgaria in my opinion is becoming more and more suitable for startups.
We have an environment which allows the startups ecosystem grow.
Second option is of course this opportunity to pack a suit and to emigrate to other countries where the startup environment is even better and even more inspiring. Is this also a challenge for the environment in Bulgaria?
Well, in my opinion, no. At least I don’t know a lot of people that did it. But of course the Berlin startups are incredible, also London or Portugal. We do see startups migrating but at least most of them, about 80% stay there. Most of them fail, this is a thing that startups do, but I don’t think that this is an issue. We have talents who are leaving Bulgaria to join bigger companies or going overseas to US, but for startups I don’t think this is the main issue, some of our most successful startups have gone to the USA or Germany but this a natural thing. I don’t see this as a huge obstacle for the startup system.
One question on the focus approach: Often in a country a general focus is missing, are there some competences build up around, some historical developments or sectors. Is there any sector where the startups in Bulgaria will focus on, I mean digitalization of agriculture or something similar?
I don’t think there is an actual focus, at least in past year I’ ve seen a lot of different startups. At least we have startups working with drones, we have startups in healthcare, agriculture, management, we had startups working with bees and improving the bees population, we had of course IT platforms. I don’t see a tendency in focusing on one special field, which I think is a good thing because I think the whole ecosystem is very diversified. However, we do have an issue : I think that we lack in focusing on the trending industries: healthcare, internet of things, artificial intelligence. We do have good startups there but I think that overall the IT needs a focus, needs a higher level education for the specific technologies.