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How and why Bulgarian social impact startup JAMBA expanded to Austria

Jamba co-founders iva tsolova and joana koleva
Image credit: JAMBA co-founders Joana Koleva on the left and Iva Tsolova on the right ©JAMBA

An increasing number of young tech companies from all ends of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) are looking at Austria as the perfect starting point for international expansion.

One example comes from Bulgaria –  JAMBA. Its team helps people with various disabilities to learn key soft and professional skills in the ICT and AI sectors. The organization is playing a key role in career growth and the discovery of the right job as it connects employers and people with diverse abilities. 

The international path of JAMBA: How it all started

JAMBA started its journey from Bulgaria, then expanded to Hungary, and later chose Austria as the next destination in its development efforts. Iva Tsolova, JAMBA’s co-founder and manager of business development, explains why she picked Austria and how the Austrian Business Agency (ABA) helped her set up a business in Vienna. 

She launched JAMBA with her co-founder Joana Koleva in 2017. Two years later, they had the opportunity to recreate the project in Hungary. At the time, Iva was living in Germany but then moved to Austria for family reasons. She says she knew from friends that Vienna is very vibrant, offers plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs, and provides many programs to support newcomers.

Over her first 8 months in the country, Iva was able to meet the local social entrepreneurship ecosystem and get in touch with many people who would later join her at JAMBA – colleagues like Selma, Laura, Selin, and Joachim, who share very similar visions and beliefs. This emotional connection motivated Iva and the others to develop and grow the project together in Austria.

The biggest challenges of expanding to Austria

The development of JAMBA in Austria started in April 2020 – right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest challenges for the team was to reach and communicate with its target audiences (individuals with disabilities/ serious diseases, employers) online. The problem was in the lack of face-to-face conversations as this was previously critical in building a trusting community. However, this situation pushed Iva and the rest to get creative and look for alternative forms of communication.

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What’s more, Austria is quite different from Hungary and Bulgaria – in terms of cultures but also when it comes to economic and social development. In the other countries, JAMBA was a pioneer, the first such solution on the market, whereas in Austria, there were already existing services, some of which were even supported by the government. 

After completing exhaustive market research, JAMBA discovered a good segment with enormous long-term potential – the ICT and AI sectors. Therefore, the team decided to pivot and prepare talent for the digital careers of the future. 

How the Austrian Business Agency (ABA) supported JAMBA in its expansion

In the early days of JAMBA’s development in Austria, Iva and her team managed to meet with Birgit Reiter-Braunwieser and Peter Löschl – two of the representatives of the Austrian Business Agency (ABA). They provided support, ideas, and guidance, covering topics like market entry strategy, opportunities for funding, and finding customers and partners.

There are several other examples of fruitful collaborations with Austrian organizations. For instance, soon after JAMBA applied, the company received support from the Austrian Research Promotion Agency.

JAMBA also partnered with the Vienna Business Agency and joined the latest edition of the ViennaUP Conference. During the event, the team presented JAMBA’s activities and was showcased as a successfully replicated project in Austria.

They are also currently running a project named FemPreneurship Academy, supported by the Vienna Business Agency and the U.S. Embassy in Austria. The six-week-long program aims to support women with disabilities and mothers of children with disabilities with the tools, knowledge, and mentorship network to turn an entrepreneurial idea into reality.

The talent scene in Austria

Iva finds Vienna super diverse and cosmopolitan. When she first moved to the country, she was very impressed by the notion that there was very little German language to be heard around the city and its events. This diversity is driven by the fact that people from literally every part of the world are based in the Austrian capital. 

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This diversity can be found in the JAMBA team as well and everyone brings expertise in different fields. The core team consists mainly of foreign (to Austria) talent – the Americas, Bulgaria, Croatia, Turkey, Germany. 

JAMBA has a team of volunteers also coming from very diverse backgrounds – individuals with and without disabilities; Austrian locals but also internationals from the Czech Republic, Colombia, Bulgaria, Germany, and other countries.

A similar situation can be observed with the talent JAMBA works with. Besides those locals with disabilities or chronic illnesses, there’s often talent with a migrant background.

Austria often has the reputation for being a gateway between CEE and Western Europe. Is that also your experience? Do you plan to expand further into Western Europe, using Austria as a platform for expansion?

For JAMBA, Austria has definitely lived up to its reputation to be a bridge between CEE and Western Europe. Now, the social enterprise has even more ambitious goals and wants to scale to more countries – Germany, Switzerland, Romania, Croatia and Turkey.

You may also read: 

Why fast-growing startups use Austria as a platform for expansion across Europe

Work in Austria: The starting point for international talent heading to Austria

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