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Innovation Academy: the educational competition set to scale youth entrepreneurship in Bulgaria

Innovation Academy: the educational competition set to scale youth entrepreneurship in Bulgaria,
Image credit: Innovation Starter
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How can young entrepreneurs build their skills and knowledge in order to be able to develop and scale the ideas of tomorrow? Getting the grasp of entrepreneurial strategies and accelerating trends has always been among the first steps every innovator has to take, yet challenges, connected to the lack of networks and experience, are often major bumps in the road for today’s youth. One of the most common strategies determined students pursue is balancing between their academic preparation and extracurricular activities and projects. Usually, this leaves them with two parallel realities in which they have to set objectives, maintain excellent performance and, ultimately, achieve results. What would happen if the academic and entrepreneurial sector united to provide innovators with both theoretical base and practical experience?

With a goal to facilitate the connection between the private and public sector in Bulgaria, for an eighth consecutive year, Innovation Starter is holding its nationwide competition “Innovation Academy: Bulgaria Innovation Hackathon”. This year the initiative is uniting more than 14 Bulgarian universities and training centers, including Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, Technical University of Sofia, the American University in Bulgaria, and New Bulgarian University. The pinnacle event of the program will take place on 04.06.2021 and 05.06.2021. In the form of a hackathon, the Academy will provide Bulgarian students with the opportunity to develop, scale, and present their innovative ideas, with the best of them receiving funding from the European Investment Bank.

“I would love to see many students participate in the Bulgaria Innovation Hackathon because they will get an opportunity to collaborate as a part of a team, come up with an optimal solution to a problem, and ultimately unleash their entrepreneurial spirit. Students will learn, improve, and grow while having fun,” shared Elena Radeva, Instructor of Management and Entrepreneurship at the American University in Bulgaria who will be among the mentors at the hackathon. Registration for the event is open until May 15, 2021, with a requirement for the participants to create teams between 2 and 5 people.

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Makers of the change

Innovation Academy is the biggest public-private educational partnership in the country, supported by the Representation of the European Commission in Bulgaria, the European Investment Bank, America for Bulgaria Foundation, Sofia Investment Agency, Sofiyska Voda, operated by French corporation Veolia, and Aurubis Bulgaria. The event has also been embraced by a number of Bulgarian entrepreneurial hubs, including the Bulgarian Startup Association (BESCO), the Professional Association of Robotics and Automation (PARA), StartupBG, Telerik Academy, and Fintech Bulgaria. 

So far, over 4000 participants from more than 370 teams have participated in the project Innovation Starter note that 15% of the entrepreneurial teams fulfilling their ideas after participating in the program, including EduBots, CheatBurger, HealthIt, and CityIT.

Educating step by step

The event will take place through three modules: mentoring, idea development, and prototyping. During the hackathon, participants will be joined and supported by a wide range of entrepreneurial experts, representatives of major academic institutions, and NGOs. Among the lecturers and members of the jury are Hristo Stoyanov, Regional Manager of the European Investment Fund (EIF) for Bulgaria, Stoyan Velev, Senior Manager Development, and Innovation at SAP Labs Bulgaria, Ned Dervenkov, Executive Director of BESCO, Peter Sharkov, General Manager of Telerik Academy School. 

After completion of the program, the winners will receive the opportunity for one-year mentoring and participation in the Innovation Starter Accelerator program, as well as a visit to the European institutions in Brussels, provided by the European Commission in Bulgaria.


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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.