Welcome to our new series, diving deeper into the La French Tech community and getting to better understand French President Emmanuel Macron’s visionary target of turning France into a “startup nation” and Europe into a flourishing partnership playground. By 2030, the French government aims to focus its efforts in Europe, so the continent can support 10 tech giants worth €100B each.
This series will take us through different countries known for prosperous fields where tech innovation can flourish. We began our journey in Bucharest, Romania, and now continue with the La French Tech chapter in Sofia, Bulgaria, before we dive into Krakow, Poland, and Belgrade, Serbia.
Just as the other global branches of La French Tech, the Sofia chapter is a non-profit foundation that brings together founders and representatives of startup ecosystems between France and Bulgaria. To present to you the most accurate overview of the local ecosystem and the significance of La French Tech, we talked with the President of the Bulgarian chapter, Adrien Bacchi. Adrien Bacchi is a French entrepreneur who chose to develop his gaming services studio ChibiPhoenix in Bulgaria more than 13 years ago. With a background in marketing and sales, Adrien Bacchi finds his true passion in gaming and developing creative products.
And now we will further explore what are the advantages of developing a business in Sofia, Bulgaria, how has La French Tech Bulgaria grown, and in what ways it has helped French founders thrive in the local ecosystem.
Bulgaria has earned a reputation as a country with top tech talent and developed digital infrastructure as well as with an innovation ecosystem with specialization in high-value-added sectors. The IT sector has outperformed GDP growth since 2010, and in 2020 computer programming, consulting, and information services accounted for 5.6% of GDP, up from 1.8% in 2011. According to the fDi European Cities and Regions of the Future 2020-21 report, Sofia ranks 3rd in Europe for cost-effectiveness and foreign direct investments strategy.
The country has a developed startup support ecosystem for founders at both early and growth stages and provides support to entrepreneurs who are looking to establish their businesses. Organizations such as Bulgaria Innovation Hub and Endeavor Bulgaria develop growth and expansion programs that aim to equip founders to become more globally competitive. In addition, there are accelerator programs for earlier-stage startups such as Visa Innovation Program and Elevator Lab, for fintech companies, and the SOinventure Program for health tech companies.
What makes the Sofia ecosystem a particularly suitable place for foreign tech founders is the availability of coworking spaces. More than 30 such spaces have been established in Bulgaria since 2012 when the first shared space betahaus opened in Sofia. Some of the other most influential coworking spaces in town include Campus X, Puzl CowOrKing, and Networking Premium Coworking Spaces.
In addition, there are many public and private associations and business clusters which aim to improve the economic development of their members such as The Bulgarian Startup Association (BESCO), The Bulgarian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (BVCA), and the Bulgarian Fintech Association (BFA). InvestBulgaria Agency (IBA) is a government organization that aims to attract investment to Bulgaria and ensure that foreign investors and business owners receive support on their journey to start a new venture in Bulgaria.
La French Tech is an initiative launched by the French government back in 2014, in Paris, intending to turn Europe into a unicorn community that can compete with other big startup communities around the world such the Silicon Valley. The initiative is already joined by 150 key European tech players. The goal of the program in 2022 is to build a roadmap to scale the tech ecosystem, develop prosperous economies, achieve social cohesion, and reach climate transition targets.
“We officially started to work on the formal creation of the association La French Tech Sofia in 2016, with the support of French institutions like the French Institute of Culture, the French Embassy in Bulgaria, and the French Chamber of Commerce. But unofficially we started making an initiative to build the French-speaking community in Sofia in 2011,” Adrien Bacchi comments.
So far, besides the creation of a solid community of French speakers, and developing partnerships with all French institutions in Bulgaria, the achievements of La French Tech Sofia include the creation of several recurring events:
Currently, the La French Tech community in Sofia consists of around 30 members, out of which around 10 are very active. What united them is the fact that they are French, or have an affinity towards France, their tendency to be open-minded, generous, and willing to contribute to both the French and the Bulgarian community.
Our host for the Sofia chapter shared that he chose to grow his business in Sofia back in 2008 when he was encouraged by a French friend who had been developing his video games business in Sofia since 2004.
Now the team of ChibiPhoenix is close to 200 with 60 of our employees in Sofia and the rest over the world. In the next couple of years, ChibiPhoenix will aim to grow and consolidate. One year from now, the company plans to grow its Sofia team to 200 people, and reach nearly 800 employees internationally.
Adrien connected us with another member of La French Tech Sofia Community, Loic Le Pichoux, co-founder and Chief Engagement Officer at KLEAR, a P2P lending platform. He also shed some light on what brought him to Sofia and how La French Tech has supported him on the journey.
KLEAR was founded in 2015 by people who were working together in Sofia for a leading consumer credit company in Bulgaria. It appeared logical to assemble a team with the best professionals and to start operating on the Bulgarian market, which was KLEAR’s domestic market. In addition, the second reason why the KLEAR team chose Sofia as a location to develop their business is that the city offers a very good option for startups who want to bootstrap. As Loic points out, there are great people, good quality of life, and a very reasonable cost of operating and living.
To find out what has been the role of the La French Tech community in the founder journey of Adrien and Loic, we wanted to know more about how the organization has supported them.
“La French Tech is like a Club of entrepreneurs where we exchange high-level discussions. When you’re an entrepreneur, you quickly feel lonely because most people don’t understand your challenges and can’t support you. I found support and growth in the French Tech Sofia when meeting people like Wilfried Durand. Recently, Wilfried and I met with “French Tech Toulon” directors and directors of major universities in Toulon with whom we want to build strong relationships. We both believe in creating a tech bridge between the East and West through French Tech.”
“First, it’s the invaluable opportunity to exchange regularly with peers, with like-minded people from the entrepreneurial world: Adrien, Wilfried, Victor, and many others…Second, it provides an opportunity for PR and for acquiring customers. And lastly, it helps to be able to reach out to authorities and potential investors or business partners.”
We also asked them about their go-to places in town for socializing and meeting with like-minded people. For starters, Loic recommends the monthly casual meetups of French Tech Sofia. They were paused during the pandemic but they will most probably start again and interested founders can stay updated about upcoming events by following the French Tech Sofia Facebook page. Loic also recommends hanging in coworking spaces. Even though there are many of them, as we previously mentioned, he highlights the ones that he knows well – Puzl CowOrKing and betahaus.
“Even though I haven’t been very socially active due to Covid in the past two years, I used to be a social networking party animal. Now my life revolves between our office, South Park, Mall Paradise, the gym, and home…,” shares Adrien Bacci.