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Bulgaria Innovation Hub is looking to help more high potential startups expand to the US

the founders of Bulgaria Innovation Hub, the program designed to help Bulgarian startups expand to the US
Image credit: Bulgaria Innovation Hub, The BIH founders and Silicon Valley venture capital pioneer Franklin "Pitch" Johnson Jr., from left to right: Vassil Terziev, Ivan Dimov, Franklin "Pitch" Johnson Jr., Pavlina Yanakieva, and Bogomil Balkansky
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"We find the accelerator program at BIH extremely valuable to portfolio companies looking to expand into the US. BIH has been able to assemble an impressive list of first-class experts in various fields that provide mentorship to founders in a highly interactive and friendly environment. Entrepreneurs learn how to set up a legal structure in the US, fund-raise, build efficient sales and marketing teams, set strategic goals, and possibly exit. They build strong relationships with the mentors and among each other that carry on after the program and provide a continuous and strong support system."
Elina Halatcheva
Elina Halatcheva
Managing Partner at BrightCap Ventures

Bulgaria Innovation Hub, a diaspora-driven organization, which aims to accelerate the growth of high potential Bulgarian startups and help them expand in the US, opened the application process for the fourth edition of its go-to-market program. Candidates can apply until August 31 to get the chance to participate in the program, which will take place virtually from September 27 until October 15, 2021. The purpose of BIH’s accelerator is to equip Bulgarian technological startups with the go-to-market expertise needed for expanding abroad and provide them with knowledge about the US business environment and culture. Startup teams will also gain access to a network of US investors and relevant partners, advisors, and potential customers.

Based in Silicon Valley, Bulgaria Innovation Hub was established in 2019 by Vassil Terziev, Bogomil Balkansky, Pavlina Yanakieva, and Ivan Dimov. The goal of the organization is to leverage the know-how, network, and experience of the Bulgarian diaspora and utilize the expertise of its network of mentors, partners, and investors, thus bridging the gap between the Bulgarian and US entrepreneurial ecosystems. So far, 28 Bulgarian technology startups have participated in BIH’s equity-free program. The alumni companies of the accelerator have subsequently created more than 120 job positions and gained over 1400 customers while raising a total of over $10M.

The program

For the period of 3 weeks, startup founders will participate in over 27 workshops, led by well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, including Todd Rulon-Miller, former VP of Netscape, Jerry Chen, Partner at Greylock, one of the oldest VCs in the USA, Bogomil Balkansky Partner at Sequoia Capital – a VC known for its support for technological giants Apple and Google, and Sim Simeonov, serial entrepreneur and investor who has successfully exited six of the seven companies he has launched as a founder or founding investor.

The program will cover go-to-market fundamentals, such as business planning and forecasting, sales and marketing growth strategies, fundraising, product management, business etiquette, and the US legal framework. Startup founders will be taught how to pitch in front of investors and customers, in addition to best practices and partnerships approach. The program culminates with the founders presenting their companies in front of top-tier Silicon Valley investors.

"I support Bulgaria Innovation Hub (BIH) because I became acquainted with Bulgaria in 1990 when I visited the country with the United Nations Development Program, with its leader, Bill Draper. This led to other visits to advise the government on entrepreneurship and to make some Bulgarian friends. When I first heard about BIH through Pavlina Yanakieva, many years later, I thought it was a good idea, a continuation of the work I began in 1990 and good for both countries."
Franklin Pitcher Johnson Jr.
Franklin "Pitch" Johnson, Jr.
Silicon Valley venture capital pioneer, serial entrepreneur, and investor

The tech-centered accelerator

High potential technology startups must complete the online application form by August 31, and provide information about their product, industry, go-to-market strategy, revenue, and market presence. 

Candidates should be early-stage companies with an innovative product, or solution and an annual revenue between $1M and $10M. They should have some market traction in Bulgaria, Europe, or other markets and initial pre-seed or seed funding from local Bulgarian VCs, angel, or other investors. The BIH go-to-market accelerator supports startup teams with a global ambition for scale and impact, and the desire to give back to their local startup communities by sharing knowledge and best practices. The fee to participate in the equity-free program is $5,000 per company.  This provides access to a world-class GTM (go-to-market) accelerator, access to BIH’s mentor and investor network, customer and partner introductions, as well as benefits package worth over $90,000, including $10,000 in free technology credits from global leaders such as Amazon AWS, Segment, Gtmhub, and others.

Challenges and aspirations of the Bulgarian startups

Over 55% of the candidates for previous editions of the BIH accelerator program share that fundraising and finding pilot customers in the US are some of the biggest challenges their startups face. Around 47% of the applicants stated that scaling their sales and marketing activities is a big challenge for their teams. The most common challenge, listed by more than 58% of founders, was finding business partners in the US. 

When asked what would be most helpful to them in conquering the US market, the majority of the startup teams listed receiving consistent feedback from advisors on their business development plans, establishing contacts in their respective market niches, and receiving help in navigating the legal and business environment in the US. 

Data breakdown

Aggregated applicant data from the previous 3 cohorts of the BIH program shows that 23.3% of the companies belong to the Financial Services sector. These include startups, specializing in the development of banking technologies and fintech solutions. Companies, operating in the area of artificial intelligence and machine learning comprise 8.1% of the total number of applicants. Over 8% of the applicants were healthtech and wellness companies.

Vertical focus of Bulgarian startups in BIH programs

Around 70% of the applicants for the BIH accelerator have developed a business-to-business (B2B) go-to-market strategy. The second most common strategy is business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C), through which startups sell their product or service in partnership with another company to an end customer. Approximately 8.5% of the applicants listed a direct business-to-consumer (B2C) model for their company. More than 21% of the startups combined several business models.

Go to market strategies of Bulgarian startups part of BIH programs

The majority of companies (over 60%) shared that their business model is subscription-based. Around 14% of the startups noted that they charge both for a subscription and a license, while 12% relied solely on licensing.

Business model BIH

Adding value to the US entrepreneurial ecosystem

In addition to the accelerator program, Bulgaria Innovation Hub drives awareness and actively promotes Bulgaria as a technology innovation hub to the Silicon Valley VC community. Pavlina Yanakieva, CEO and Executive Director of the diaspora-driven organization, shared with The Recursive their long term strategy to scale the effort to other global locations and help develop the future unicorns of Bulgaria in the next 5-7 years.  

The portfolio of Bulgaria Innovation Hub includes leading Bulgarian technological companies, such as space startup EnduroSat, who partnered with Kuwait for the country’s first-ever satellite mission, autonomous cargo drone company Dronamics, one of the pioneers in unmanned aerial operations on the European scene, and Kelvin Health, an AI thermal imaging startup that is currently developing an internationally recognized solution for recognizing early-stage breast cancer.

Community feedback about BIH’s contributions

BIH acts as a local partner to startups that not only supports them through mentorship but provides them with the opportunity to proactively learn about Silicon Valley business dynamics and gives them network access to overcome the high entry barriers of the US entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“One of the main features of the BIH program was the ability to participate actively in it. From discussing your current company struggles with various successful tech entrepreneurs to presenting and improving your customer demo or investor pitches with the help of US VCs such as Jerry Chen and Bogomil Balkansky. The program helped us shape our business, sales, hiring, and marketing plans thanks to the great workshops led by professionals and industry experts. Each workshop at BIH provided an eye-opening insight on its own. One of the things which was commonly shared among all workshops was that there is a place for Bulgarian and Eastern European startups in the Silicon Valley as the EE region has an indefinite pool of top tech talents and deep tech potential comparable to the one seen in the SV region.”
Georgi Kostadinov, Kelvin Health
Georgi Kostadinov
Co-founder and CTO at Kelvin Health
“For Amygda, the BIH accelerator was one of the most broadening experiences. The mentors on the program are in the thick of it and have advice that is practical and ambition-driving. One of our mentors spent 4 hours with us, helping us improve our narrative and improving our benchmark. They single-handedly made us more ambitious and we now have a network of people who are helpful every step of the way as we grow. You will meet some other startups and founders, with whom we learnt from and made good friends. Totally amazing experience.”
Faizan Patankar, Amygda CEO and Founder
Faizan Patankar
CEO and Founder, Amygda
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Bulgaria Innovation Hub runs an US go-to-market accelerator program, led by successful Silicon Valley experts. It provides Bulgarian entrepreneurs with access to local investors, partners, and customers.