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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.