Are you considering starting your business in the European Union? Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is a very affordable and attractive place to do that! Check out this Startup City Guide to find more about Sofia’s dynamic startup ecosystem.
Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It has a history of nearly 7000 years. Bulgaria’s capital is a crossroad between East and West. This reflects in its unique culture and architecture.
With the population of more than 1.2 million people, the city is a vibrant technology and outsourcing center with excellent opportunities for starting a new business.
According to Forbes, Sofia has been classified as one of the top 10 cities in the world, where you can launch your startup. The factors such as the relatively low income tax rates (10%) and one of the fastest internet speeds in the world assign the bulgarian capital at one of the leading positions in the global startup ecosystem. Sofia has also become a strong regional hub (attracting top entrepreneurs) as they’ve been able to access the EU investment funds.
The Bulgarian capital offers many cultural and entertaining events along with unique places for sports and recreation. It is probably the only European capital with such a big mountain so close to the city center. Vitosha mountain is situated only 10 km from Sofia. The mountain is good for skiing in the winter and trekking in the summer. Overall, like every big city, Sofia has something for every taste.
GPS Direction: Sofia
Launching a startup in Sofia has many advantages but also a few disadvantages which founders should consider.
Advantages of starting a startup in Sofia:
- Bulgaria has one of the most favorable tax regime in Europe. Corporate income tax rate is 10%, the lowest in the EU. Personal income tax is 10%, flat rate.
- Sofia has one of the most competitive costs of labor in EU largest cities.
- Many highly skilled IT professionals. Bulgaria holds the 3rd place in Europe and the 10th position worldwide regarding the absolute number of certified IT professionals ( the third place worldwide according to certificates per capita).
- The deep work ethic and community in Bulgarian culture as well as the openness of the people.
- Knowledge of foreign languages: 98% of the high school students learn a foreign language (usually English) and 73% learn German / French / Spanish / Russian as a second language.
- Bulgaria’s strategic geographic location serves as a bridge between the EU and rapidly growing markets of Russia, Turkey, the Middle East and CIS countries, placing the country in the center of transit between these regions.
- Sofia has one of the fastest internet connections in Europe.
- Cost of living is lower than in the EU capitals and other major cities.
- Sofia has one of the lowest crime rates among European major cities.
What startup founders have to consider:
- Small local market with low-income population.
- Ineffective management of the government funds.
- High level of bureaucracy at governmental and municipal institutions.
- Slow and ineffective judicial system.
- 20% Value-added tax (VAT).
Despite some drawbacks, Sofia is a great place to launch your new startup. It provides excellent business development opportunities at a reasonable price and, at the same time, is a unique spot for culture, recreation, leisure and sport.
Sofia’s startup ecosystem is rapidly growing and manages to solve its problems one by one. Therefore, it might not be far away when disadvantages will disappear and only advantages remain.
First Stop: Discover Sofia’s Startup Community
Sofia has relatively young, but dynamically growing startup community of entrepreneurs, designers, developers, marketers and many different talents, which exchange ideas, experience and various regular & annual events. If you wish to visit any of these events, want to meet Sofia’s startup community and make new connections, then see below:
Upcoming Events, Meetups And Other Occasions:
- ITeventZ provides information about IT conferences, workshops, seminars and internships.
- Founder Institute Curriculum Sofia organizes series of public and private events in Sofia to help aspiring entrepreneurs improve their ideas and startup skills.
- Sofia Startup Events is a Facebook group where everybody can find and publish information about the upcoming startup events in the city.
Regular Events And Meetups:
- Startup Grind Sofia hosts regular networking events with guest speakers from the IT sector.
- BETABREAKFAST is a weekly networking event with special guests – entrepreneurs in betahouse coworking space.
- (likemind) bul is a part of the international likemind; a series of networking events.
- TEDxBG, TEDxNBU, TEDxVitoshaBlvdED are just a part of many TEDx series events that take place in Sofia every year.
- Startup Safary Sofia is series of sessions and meetings on different locations in Sofia.
- SiStory regular events with guest speakers, organized by the pre-accelerator Start it Smart.
- Drupal Meetup – a monthly Drupal meetup.
Yearly Or Major Events, Festivals, Conferences:
- DigitalK conference has audience across the world. The conference is one of the most important digital technology events in Southeast Europe, in terms of diversity and speaker profiles. It hosts a premier speaker lineup of global business leaders, entrepreneurs, founders, investors and digital marketing professionals.
- DIGIT.FESTIVAL Sofia is the first international and one of the most influential digital and tech event for the markets of Central and Eastern Europe.
- Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event that brings together designers, developers, entrepreneurs, and experts from all domains.
- Startup NEXT Conference is annual forum for entrepreneurship in Bulgaria. It’s a two-day event where entrepreneurs, investors, students and young enthusiasts can meet, talk, get inspired and exchange ideas.
- UPVenture Week is a week-long startup festival with many startup events, that take place all over the city.
- Seedstars Sofia is an event, part of the international startup competition Seedstars World.
- CEEDS is influential digital & tech event with regional and global speakers and networking events.
- Telematics Startup is a unique event connecting startups with investors and companies that are successful in the telematics industry in Europe and globally. The aim is to introduce new products/solutions in telematics for fleet and vehicle management, get to know about investing trends and provide networking opportunities for investment and partnerships.
- DrupalCamp Sofia is a conference organized by Drupal Bulgaria and the Drupal Camp Team to unite and improve the Drupal Development Community in Bulgaria and CEE.
- Innovation Explorer Day is the second Innovation Explorer Forum which will take place in Sofia on 25 February, 2016. The main focus will be on global innovation architects, co-creation process and future trends.
- Start Up foundation provides volunteering possibilities at startup events and other foundation activities.
Second Stop: Park At A Coworking Space
The prices of the office spaces in Sofia are still much cheaper than the office spaces in the other EU capitals and other big cities. Many affordable, comfortable and quality offices for rent can be found in Sofia.
When it comes to the founding a new startup company, the co-working spaces have their own magic and charm. If you want to take full advantage from the benefits and work on your new startup, surrounded by other aspiring entrepreneurs, and creative and technical talents, Sofia provides a few unique and full of positive energy co-working spaces.
Coworking Spaces In Sofia:
- Betahaus is a coworking space,on a short walk to Sofia center. It hosts a powerful community of professionals, startups and events.
- SOHO is a coworking space in the center of Sofia, a few steps away from government, cultural and public buildings in the city. It combines comfortable workplace with a programme of cultural events and a community of creative professionals and entrepreneurs.
- Init lab is a coworking space close to the city center and on a short walk from the main train and bus stations in the city. There are rooms for coworking, meetings, events and a sound recording studio.
- Cosmos is a co-working based in the centre of Sofia. The co-working is situated in a house that is a cultural monument.This space is open for freelancers, startups and entrepreneurs and is pleased to host you as a co-worker, event organizer or just a visitor at the bar.
- Coworking ABC has a lot to offer: High-speed wireless internet; Printer/scanner/ photocopier; Direct networking; Conference hall; Open space – 141 sq m with 10 working places; Kitchen nook;Car park; Restaurant; Open planted terrace for your moments of rest.
- Technology Center Sofia offers different opportunities for coworkers, including hourly rent. The center works with Bulgarian and foreign companies in diverse projects.
- Coworking space by puzl is the best environment in Sofia for growth, meetups, productivity and events. Centred around the needs of each individual, this coworking space offers kitchen, dining, relaxation space, office and meeting rooms as well as games room, pair programming etc.
The rent for office spaces in Sofia is quite low. Thus, most entrepreneurs and startup companies can afford to rent office space on their own. Although we don’t have a coworking space tradition, there is a growing trend.
Third Stop: Tank Your Finances
Due to of the small domestic market and low probabilities for a quick return on investments, Sofia is still unexplored, but attractive for the investors and venture capital funds. However, if you are still thinking where to find finances to start your business here, there are several opportunities that you should keep in mind.
- Sofia Tech Park is a tech park, located in the capital with €50m earmarked for development, though it is still in its early stages. It is a government funded project, that has a mission to host innovative technology-based startups and spin-off companies and to ensure that incubated enterprises have access to an environment which supports the formation and development of innovation-led businesses, through access to modern office space and a range of business and innovative support services to accelerate their development.
- Start It Smart | Pre-Accelerator is an intensive 10-week training and mentorship program for first-time entrepreneurs. It provides all necessary knowledge and skills to make a startup ready for early product launch, joining an accelerator, or finding initial investment
- LAUNCHub operates under the Entrepreneurship Acceleration and Seed financial instrument of the JEREMIE initiative of the EIF and EC, and has a partnership with Seedcamp and Mozilla WebFWD.
- Eleven is an accelerator and venture fund for early-stage startups, which provides mentorship, wide range of support, and critical initial capital to entrepreneurs and their ideas.
Grants And Subventions:
- Operational Programme “Innovations and Competitiveness” is an EU – European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funded programme whose main objective is to achieve a dynamic and competitive economy through the development of innovations, entrepreneurship, growth capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), energy and resource efficiency of enterprises.
Crowd Investing Platforms:
- Tramplin.bg is a Bulgarian crowdfunding platform for social goods projects.
- Za Bulgaria is a Bulgarian social entrepreneurship crowdfunding platform.
- Kickstarter Here you can find some bulgarian projects that have successfully raised financing from Kickstarter.
- Indiegogo Here you can find some bulgarian projects that have successfully raised financing from Indiegogo.
- Bulgarian Association of Business Angels is an organization whose main function is to provide a platform for connection and interaction between entrepreneurs and business angels.
Venture Capital Investors:
- NEVEQ is Sofia-based venture capital fund, investing in seed and growth stage technology companies from Central and Eastern Europe.
Fourth Stop: Seek Further Advice
If you are looking for further information and tips, you may take a look at InvestBulgaria Agency (IBA). IBA is a government organization, established to attract investment to Bulgaria, to assist project set-up and to ensure successful project development resulting in new jobs, exports and know-how transfer for the Bulgarian economy. The organization helps potential and existing investors explore the investment opportunities in Bulgaria.
You may also check out The Council of Innovation and Technology Development at the Bulgaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, whose mission is to allow individuals and legal entities to submit ideas, development, prototypes, products and more, to establish contacts, to help companies and individuals in seeking services contributing to the solution of certain problems related to their activities, and to help them find funding from investors and crowdfunding.
Chambers Of Commerce & Organizations:
- Bulgarian Industrial Association – a nationally recognized non-governmental organization of employers which participates with its representatives in the operation of all national consultative councils, supervisory and managing bodies of state public institutions.
- Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (BICA) – a nationally represented industry organization.
- British – Bulgarian Business Association (BBBA) – an organization whose mission is to promote business relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Bulgaria and to increase trade and investment activity between the two countries.
- American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria (AmCham) – an organization with the mission to promote economic relations between Bulgaria and the United States of America with regard to trade, industry, agriculture, finance, transportation, technology, professional activities and other related activities.
- Deutsch-Bulgarische Industrie-und Handelskammer – German-Bulgarian Industry and Commerce Chamber.
- БРТПП – Bulgarian – Russian Commerce and Industry Chamber.
- CCI France Bulgarie – French – Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry
In conclusion, Sofia is a wonderful city, where you can launch your new startup business, taking full advantage of one of the lowest taxes in the EU, a highly skilled workforce, affordable prices of office spaces and labor. Not only taxes, but comparatively living isn’t expensive in Bulgaria. Without having to worry about how to pay the rent and bills, the focus remains on work. According to a global survey the average internet connection speed in Bulgaria is 24.25 Mbps, ranking it thirteenth in the world.
You have a unique opportunity to become a part of dynamic and aspiring startup community.
While enjoying the peaceful life, delicious food and beautiful nature in Sofia you can successfully launch your startup business here.
Interested? Welcome to Sofia!
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