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Inside the Innovation Ecosystem in Burgas: Top Startups, Hackathons, and Tech Communities

Wide aerial drone view over the sea garden in Burgas, Bulgaria.
Image credit: Canva
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Only have 1 minute? Here are 3 takeaways from the piece:

  • The startup ecosystem in Burgas is still in its early stages. It’s a nascent ecosystem, marked by the recent emergence of IT-related events and conferences, but it’s yet to host a major breakthrough or standout players in the industry.
  • However, there are plenty of initiatives aimed to support the local startup community in Burgas, including a municipal program, non-profit organizations, recurring hackathon events, open tech communities, and more.
  • A few notable co-working spaces and community meeting places in Burgas include Business Incubator Burgas, Tria Space, BurgasLab, and Beach Hub Kavatsi.

 

Nestled along the picturesque coastline of the Black Sea, Burgas is a Bulgarian city that has gradually begun to cultivate its own tech ecosystem. While often overshadowed by the capital city of Sofia, as well as the maritime capital of Bulgaria – Varna, Burgas has built a reputation as a hub for innovation, thanks to the recent emergence of IT-related events and conferences.

In the past couple of years, Burgas has taken significant steps towards becoming a smart city by leveraging its well-established digital infrastructure composed of connected sensors and smart devices spread across the urban landscape.

Burgas aspires to be a leading smart city in Europe and has already made significant headway through the launch of its flagship digital project – smartburgas.eu. This platform features an intuitive interface that provides users with real-time data on various city metrics such as air quality, traffic flow, waste management, and even live video footage from public spaces and significant urban areas.

Projects like this indicate that Burgas has more to offer besides its maritime charm. The business climate there is friendly and the city is steadily making strides in fostering its startup and IT ecosystem.

True, StartupBlink (the world’s most comprehensive startup ecosystem map and research center) hasn’t mapped startups from Burgas in their database, and according to their website, Burgas’s startup ecosystem is in its early development stage. However, the startup ecosystem in Burgas is far from static.

Over the past few years, a series of promising developments have sparked the region’s dynamism: the entrance of new IT companies in the local market has enriched the business environment, led to the opening of new offices, and spurred participation in entrepreneurial ventures.

What’s more, in Burgas, the emphasis on technology and innovation in education is evident, with every high school in the city offering programming as a specialization. The Vocational School of Computer Programming and Innovations has even dedicated its entire curriculum to tech and innovation. Additionally, since 2016, the city has been organizing biannual hackathons, providing an experimental playground for the numerous IT students in the area.

Continue reading to discover a mapping of the city’s key startups, technology companies, initiatives aimed to support early-stage ventures, and influential voices in the startup community.

This article represents a snapshot of Burgas’s tech and startup ecosystem as it stands now, during the early stages of its development. As the ecosystem continues to grow and evolve, we will periodically update this article to reflect new developments and opportunities. We welcome and appreciate the contribution of readers who would like to share relevant information or updates. Please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected].

Burgas startup spotlight: innovations to watch

SensIT City

SensIT City is a Burgas-based startup that won the Innovation Capital 2020 demo days. The company has created a solution known as CITY PARKING PLUS. This platform streamlines and automates the entire process of managing urban and paid parking, providing a more convenient experience for both administrators and users.

From controlling parking fee collection to penalizing parking violations, SensIT City is making strides in improving short-term paid parking within urban environments. Furthermore, the company offers a solution for on-street parking.

ENOVA H20

ENOVA H20 is a Burgas-based IoT company fighting water pollution. They are deploying innovative biosensors that deliver real-time quantification and identification of organic water pollution sources. ENOVA H20 was chosen to present Bulgaria at the 2020 global finals of impact entrepreneurship competition Chivas Venture.

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When it comes to the efficiency of their technology, the entire process takes anywhere from 1 to 60 seconds depending on the measurement range. This not only ensures more accurate pollution tracking but also enhances control over wastewater treatments, reducing the CO2 footprint for each measurement.

HelpCenter.io

A brainchild of Burgas-based entrepreneur Ivan Penchev, HelpCenter.io is a startup entirely developed and bootstrapped in the city. The platform helps companies generate their own knowledge base pages, enhancing customer self-service efficiency. They leverage generative AI, potentially reducing repetitive customer support requests by up to 50% and boosting customer satisfaction without the need for significant investment in customer support.

Initiatives aimed to support the local startup community in Burgas

Municipal program for supporting startups

This year, the Municipality of Burgas has initiated a supportive program tailored to nurture and advance the startup ecosystem in Burgas. This initiative is open to all individuals and legal entities registered under the Commercial Law within the last three years, which also fit the definition of a micro or small-scale business. The mandate is for teams to have a minimum of two members and to include students from Burgas who are at least 16 years old.

Projects are expected to introduce viable and pragmatic solutions that blend economic, social, and ecological considerations into urban themes. They must address specific urban challenges and ensure the provision of free services to the residents of Burgas.

The level of financial support will vary based on the development stage of the project ideas. In addition to offering tailored packages for startups, the program provides funds up to €2,500, covering up to 50% of the project’s total cost. Student-led teams are exempt from any self-funding requirements.

ICT Cluster Burgas

Pioneering the tech sector in Burgas and the broader Southeastern Bulgaria is the non-profit organization, ICT Cluster Burgas. Established in 2016 as a collaborative venture among ICT enterprises in Burgas, it plays a pivotal role in fortifying the ICT industry through fostering synergies across borders, industries, and clusters.

ICT Cluster Burgas boasts a membership of over 30 tech companies located in the southeastern region of the country. Its reach spans an array of tech enterprises, from fledgling startups and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) to multinational corporations.

Key to its mission is the bolstering of members’ technological capacities, nurturing inter-company relations in an ever-evolving tech industry, and supporting business expansion within Southeastern Bulgaria. As a non-profit entity, ICT Cluster Burgas collaborates with educational institutions, private sector entities, and government bodies to champion Burgas and its surrounding region as an ideal destination for tech sector growth. ICT Cluster Burgas is also a member of the European Cluster Collaboration Platform (ECCP), seeking avenues for collaboration with fellow European tech clusters.

Digital4Burgas

Digital4Burgas is a subsidiary of the Digital4 foundation, a group committed to promoting digital technologies and fostering the growth of Bulgaria’s digital industry. As a segment of the Internet Media Group, Digital4Burgas takes an active role in launching initiatives designed to bolster both business and education in the area.

Digital4Burgas events offer a platform for leading specialists, entrepreneurs, and digital enthusiasts to collaborate. These gatherings promote an exchange of knowledge, experiences, and ideas, fostering new business opportunities in the process.

Digital Sea

Digital Sea, an assembly of digital business professionals from Burgas, has initiated a tradition of regular networking meetings to bolster entrepreneurial success in the area and promote the startup ecosystem in Burgas.

Recurring hackathon events

A standout fixture in Burgas’s tech events calendar is the recurring Hackathon, held at the University “Prof. Dr. Asen Zlatarov”. Since its inception in 2016, spearheaded by Vice-Rector Prof. Sotir Sotirov, this event has played a critical role in delivering innovative solutions for the city.

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The Hackathon, which invites participation from local students and mentors alike, has centered around various timely themes, most recently cybersecurity in education. In this edition, competitors were tasked with devising ideas and solutions to ensure and test resilience against cyber threats in educational settings. It has become a collaborative endeavor, organized in conjunction with the Municipality of Burgas, underlining its status as an integral event within the local tech scene.

This initiative continues to grow, connecting the region’s brightest minds with leading software companies, while giving them an opportunity to contribute to their city’s digital future.

Burgas.dev

Burgas.dev stands as an open community for tech and development enthusiasts in the Burgas region. Comprising individuals with a wide range of backgrounds, skill levels, and professional experiences, this community is essentially by tech people, for tech people.

At the core of Burgas.dev are events that delve into an assortment of development-related topics. Whether it’s building software, tool selection, environment setup, process optimization, server management, hosting options, architecture choices, or guiding principles, the community shares a broad curiosity.

Burgas.dev events extend beyond just the technical track, offering a second topic track labeled “Being a Developer”. This distinctive platform delves into the lifestyle, career trajectories, hobbies, and business interests associated with being a developer, hence encapsulating a holistic approach to the tech world. This dual-track structure offers a balanced blend of technical knowledge and personal growth insights for the modern-day tech enthusiast.

Burgas Game Jam

This event is part of the international Global Game Jam series, aiming to foster creativity and experimentation in gaming. Burgas Game Jam operates in a hackathon format, wherein participants assemble to create games based on a central theme announced at the start of the event. The initiative encourages programmers, designers, and scriptwriters to collaborate, crafting a game from more than just lines of code. The event is free to join with prior online registration and is open to individuals of all ages, with certain stipulations for participants under 18 years old.

ABLE Weekend Activator

This entrepreneurial event, which has had its Burgas edition, encourages young people to turn innovative ideas into real businesses. In a span of two days, participants are offered theoretical and practical sessions to broaden their skills. The challenge is to develop a chosen business idea into a functioning prototype.

S³ TEAM

Rooted in Burgas, S³ Business Incubator strives to refine the current startup model by offering its infrastructure and tech solutions free of cost until the startup begins to earn real profits. As a business incubator, its paramount objective is to propel local startups to the global stage.

Tech companies strengthening Burgas’ business climate

The landscape of Burgas’ tech sector has recently been invigorated by the entrance of several leading IT companies, which have set up new offices in the region, fostering entrepreneurial activities and revitalizing the business climate. Their arrival not only signifies recognition of the city’s potential but also provides a notable boost to the startup ecosystem in Burgas. Here are a few of these influential new arrivals:

  • Sutherland: Initiating its operations in Bulgaria in 2008, Sutherland has experienced significant expansion, now boasting a workforce of over 2,200 professionals. The digital transformation company is spread across three strategic locations – Sofia, Varna, and Burgas.
  • Scalefocus: A leading IT solutions service provider, Scalefocus’ fields of expertise span Healthcare, Fintech, Insurance, Energy & Utilities, IT, Logistics, E-Commerce & Retail, Manufacturing, among others.
  • DIGITALL (formerly BULPROS): A merger of two business and technology-focused consulting firms, each boasting over two decades of global market success and experience.
  • GenSoft: A high-tech software company focused on developing and marketing ERP solutions.
  • ICB (InterConsult Bulgaria): Provides software development and consultancy services.
    2 Plus Bulgaria: A successful system integrator, specializing in the design, delivery, and implementation of complex information systems.
  • A Data Pro: Established in Bulgaria in 1999, this company specializes in data collection and processing to generate high-quality analytics for reputation and risk management. A Data Pro has a significant presence in Bulgaria, with offices in Sofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo, Vratsa, and since May 2021, in Burgas, where it has swiftly become a dynamic participant in the local business community. The company chose Burgas as the city is focused on the development of innovative technologies and it has been attracting more and more investments in recent years.
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Networking in Burgas: a look at the city’s co-working spaces

Co-working spaces and community meeting places in Burgas play a key role in supporting the city’s growing startup scene. Here are some of the notable spaces where innovation meets collaboration:

Business Incubator Burgas

This project serves as a coworking space, coffee hub, event center, and office location rolled into one. It is intended to support individuals with innovative business ideas, start-ups with growth potential, and established SMEs.

Tria Space

This was the first co-working venue to open in Burgas, offering well-designed office spaces that cater to a broad range of needs. It’s home to a diverse community, including digital nomads, entrepreneurs, freelancers, corporate employees, and those involved in startups.

BurgasLab

Tucked away in an older building at the heart of the city, BurgasLab is a workspace favored by members of the local tech ecosystem and digital nomads alike. Besides serving as a communal workspace, BurgasLab is known for hosting the Burgas Game Jam, where game enthusiasts come together to brainstorm and create.

Beach Hub Kavatsi

While not located directly in Burgas, Beach Hub Kavatsi holds a unique charm for the local community as Bulgaria’s first co-working space on a beach. The spot is positioned in Kavatsi camping, just 2 km south of Sozopol, and provides a distinctive work environment. It offers 25 workstations, a meeting table, storage space, and printing services, complete with high-speed internet.

Influential voices in the Burgas startup community

Petko Georgiev

Petko Georgiev, the dynamic initiator and chairman of the ICT Cluster – Burgas, is an esteemed figure in the city’s tech industry. With nearly a decade of experience in IT, he is not just a young entrepreneur but a former municipal councilor and respected public figure. Georgiev’s progressive initiatives have set a new standard in the city’s technological advancement, fostering talent and nurturing the startup ecosystem.

Gabriella Slavova

Gabriella Slavova, a committed youth policymaker hailing from Burgas, has taken innovative strides in fostering the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. In 2020, she demonstrated her passion and leadership by orchestrating a one-day startup fest, an event aimed at empowering young innovators and fostering a vibrant startup culture in the city.

Nadia Terzieva

Nadia Terzieva has significantly contributed to the growth and dynamism of Burgas’ startup ecosystem. She led the local chapter of the pre-seed entrepreneurial organization Start It Smart for several years.

Dr. Huseyin Yemendzhiev

Dr. Huseyin Yemendzhiev, a prominent figure within the Burgas tech ecosystem, is both an esteemed educator and a successful entrepreneur. He serves as a lecturer and researcher at Burgas’ “Prof. Dr. Asen Zlatarov” University, where he draws on his academic background in biotechnology and microbiology, fortified by his doctoral degree from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. He is the co-founder of ENOVA H2O, a Bulgarian startup.

Pavlina Yanakieva

Borned in Burgas, Pavlina Yanakieva is the co-founder of Bulgaria Innovation Hubthe connecting bridge between Silicon Valley and the Bulgarian tech ecosystem.

Motivated by a desire to spur growth within Bulgaria’s startup community, Pavlina shifted her energies toward helping local startups accelerate their progress and secure funding from investors in the US. Her international expertise and local dedication have since contributed significantly to the advancement of the Bulgarian tech ecosystem.

Lubomir Varbanov

Lubomir Varbanov is the CTO at MoxyLabs & Foody.to. He is also a host and organizer of Burgas.dev.

Trifon Gatev

Trifon Gatev is the co-founder of MoxyLabs and he’s also among the organizers of Burgas.dev.

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https://therecursive.com/author/snezhana/

Snezhana is an Innovation Journalist at The Recursive. She uses the power of storytelling to put the spotlight on the emerging innovation ecosystems in Central and Eastern Europe. With a keen eye for the bleeding edge, she delves into the depths of deep tech, unearthing captivating stories that bridge the realms of science and human imagination.