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How to engineer a zero waste world: the story of the Bulgarian social entrepreneur Kostadin Nedev

Social entrepreneurs of Bulgaria - Kostadin Nedev
Image credit: Kostadin Nedev, creator of Youth Inventor
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An engineer from a young age, Kostadin Nedev got inspired in giving old electronics new life from his father. Then, in university, he and several colleagues used parts of an old cash register to create a simulator for a plane they used for educational training at the Military Academy. At that time, the Bulgarian air force university did not have a simulator for preparing its young student pilots.

That was his first project giving new life to old electronics. Several years later, already a professional fighter pilot, Kostadin, one of the social entrepreneurs of Bulgaria, created Youth Inventor – a STEM education platform that helps students learn the basics of programming and engineering. And all that before turning 30.

In 2020, the social entrepreneur Nedev was awarded an Impact Leadership Award by the Straubel Foundation, a global NGO, focused on supporting young people and their sustainable, educational, and scientific projects. The Youth Inventor founder was recognized for the social impact created through his platform. During the same year and in the midst of a pandemic, he expanded the operations of his venture, to offer free STEM tutorials to students from remote regions in Bulgaria.

Today, The Recursive meets with him to highlight his mission and vision for Gen Z’s future leaders. Read his advice for all young studentpreneurs who dream of creating their own entrepreneurial project.

The path of social entrepreneurs

Kostadin Nedev was born and raised in the Bulgarian town of Smolyan. During his youth, he volunteered for the Bulgarian Student’s Parliament, the local Red Cross Youth structure, and the UN Youth program. In 2016, he graduated from the Faculty of Aviation of the National Military University in Bulgaria and moved on to pursue an aviation leadership course at the United States Air Force. In 2021, he completed his Master’s degree at the “Paisii Hilendarski” University of Plovdiv, specializing in hardware and software systems.

The passion of the young engineer later turned into a mission.

In 2019, when he was 26, Kostadin Nedev started his social entrepreneurship venture – Youth Inventor. “I want to change the world by educating young people. Our future depends on resilient and thriving societies, and all this starts with our children,” he shared with The Recursive.

Empowering engineers of the future

With the goal to reduce CO2 emissions by decreasing new electronics consumption, Youth Inventor stimulates young people to repair broken technological equipment, thus extending the useful life of goods that they use on a daily basis. The educational program comprises several stages. At first, students familiarize themselves with the fundamentals of engineering and programming through the resources offered by the platform.

Social entrepreneurs of Bulgaria, screenshot from a Youth Inventor Turorial

How a YouTube tutorial of Youth Inventor looks, ©Youth Inventor

The hands-on part of the curriculum is connected to creating several projects with increasing engineering complexity: from modifying LED lights, to creating a computer, or a robot. 

Social entrepreneurs of Bulgaria, the Arduino robot of Youth Inventor

The Arduino robot of Youth Inventor which students have to build, ©Youth Inventor

One of the main goals of Young Innovator is to present the engineering sciences in an accessible and interesting way so that every beginner in the field can create their own physical project. The interactive modules of the program are available both virtually and physically – in the city of Plovdiv, where the startup offers a course in “Robotics and Renewable Energy Programming”, as well as in the Bulgarian towns of Smolyan and Devin. Nedev shares that expansion is one of the priorities of Youth Inventor for 2021. “Towards the end of the year, we are planning on scaling the program by offering a new opportunity to the young engineers and programmers that have completed our educational course. Expect to hear from us soon” he hinted.

Sustainability innovators of the future

“I went into entrepreneurship because I believe that every kid who dreams to be an innovator has to have an equal opportunity to do it,” Nedev shared. 

The Recursive: What’s the future you want to create through your venture?

Kostadin Nedev: A world full of creative young innovators with superpowers to change the world… ”because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” For example, Youth Inventor is my superpower. A project I have dedicated my life to, to support young innovators and leaders in their journey from primary school students to engineers and entrepreneurs of the future. Engineers that innovate not only for the innovation itself but invent with the thought of sustainability, invent to make our economy circular, invent to leave a long-lasting green transformation in our society. We encourage young people to repair and revive broken electronics and equipment in order not only to extend the lifetime of products we use, but to create brand new products out of them. I strongly believe that by 2050 Youth Inventor can deliver quality green education worldwide, so together we can engineer a new zero-waste world. 

What would you advise young entrepreneurs who fear failure?

Being a fighter pilot, an innovator, and a leader from the social entrepreneurs community is usually connected with lots of failures, especially in the early days. I wasn’t an exception. During my initial flying training, it was all about failing as many times as possible on the ground, so you don’t fail in the air and it is hard. It is hard when you have invested time and effort and fail in the end. I had many of these flying days. But I loved what I was doing and I didn’t quit. I was stepping in the jet again and again until it was a piece of cake flying it. I learned that first, you need to love what you do. Not just like, but true love, otherwise every rational person at some point will give up. Secondly – be patient. Great achievements don’t come easy. It takes a lot of hard work and time, but it is always beneficial in the end.

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Viktoria is an Innovation Reporter at The Recursive and a sophomore-standing student at the American University in Bulgaria. Combining her Business Administration studies while mapping the Southeastern European startup ecosystem is a positive-sum game for her as she has the chance to interact with the most active entrepreneurs in the region. Her favorite topics include venture capital structures, investments, as well as innovations in the scitech and fintech sectors.