The Bulgarian maritime capital of Bulgaria, the beautiful city of Varna, has not only great seafood and views but is also the second most innovative place in the country. The StartupBlink’s 2022 Global Ecosystem Report, which evaluates the tech performance of startup ecosystems around the world, ranks Varna – the so-called maritime capital of Bulgaria, as the 45th most innovative city in Eastern Europe and the 2nd in Bulgaria, after Sofia.
Varna is becoming famous for its potential to foster innovation, raise engineering and business talent, and attract bigger tech companies from the capital and across the region. The city is also home to six universities, among which the Technical University in Varna and The University of Economics – Varna, and has an IT-specialized high school – the High School of Computer Modeling and Computer Systems. This explains why, according to Seedblink, Varna is a sweet spot for the development of Software, E-commerce, Retail, Marketing, and Sales startups.
Varna has its own Regional Agency for Entrepreneurship and Innovations – Varna (RAPIV), which acts as an NGO and carries out various initiatives that stimulate the growth of the local economy through innovation and entrepreneurship. The ICT Cluster Varna is also actively trying to create a collaborative IT and business ecosystem in the city and develop synergies between the public and private sectors.
At the end of October 2022, the city saw the launch of the second European Deep Innovation Port in Europe as part of the New Innovation Agenda of the EU – the Varna Deep Tech Innovation Port at the University of Economics -Varna. The main goal of the initiative is to turn Varna into an attractive center for the creation and implementation of deep technological innovation and create synergies between different stakeholders – academia, business, startups, youth organizations, and local administration.
Where the startup community hangs out
Local techies, freelancers, and digital nomad hangout spots include Switch coworking which was founded by Anton Papazov and Hristomir Hristov in 2019 and the pioneer coworking space in the city Innovator which holds weekly Quiz and Board games nights. Innovator has enjoyed the company of over 300 tech enthusiasts, designers, entrepreneurs, and creators. Other shared workplace spots include Beehive which was founded back in 2014, and VarnaLab – the space where tech and science people meet to exchange ideas and work together. Besides the physical setting, Varna also has a community with a prominent entrepreneurial spirit. A couple of startup and innovation-related events and initiatives are held in the city to showcase and inspire local tech talents and founders. One of these events is the annual Startup Weekend Varna which gathers groups of developers, business managers, and marketing gurus and allows them to work on a startup idea for 54 hours before pitching it in front of investors. The organizer of Startup Weekend Varna, Galin Zhelyazkov, is one of the most vocal ambassadors of the Varna startup ecosystem. ABLE Activator, the Bulgarian entrepreneurship program, also comes to Varna each year to hold the ABLE Weekend Activator Varna.
For blockchain enthusiasts, CryptoVarna, the independent organization promoting and advocating blockchain technologies and decentralized services, holds regular meetups and workshops, participates in international conferences, and showcases local companies to the world.
Now, let’s have a look at the startups that sprung from the city or are currently growing there, and the ambassadors and entrepreneurs of the Varna startup ecosystem..
Startups in Varna – a mix of e-mobility, healthtech, and gaming
The IoT agritech startup brings technology into traditional winemaking and develops software for the analysis and monitoring of vineyards by combining IoT sensors and AI smart assistance. Started by a team of young software engineers with a passion and interest in winemaking, among which the CEO Blagoi Anastasov, Bevine was part of Junior Achievement’s Beyond Accelerator.
CoLumbo is a software startup that provides analysis of lumbar spine images obtained with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Founded by Nedelcho Georgiev and Nikolay Todorov, the startup closed a €2.1M seed round from Eleven Ventures and BrightCap Ventures in February 2022. The product for computer-aided lumbar spine MRI reading is developed by the software development company Smart Soft Healthcare.
PubGalaxy is a monetization platform for independent website publishers that was founded in 2014 by Pressian Karakostov and Ivaylo Ivanov. The company helps mid-sized and large independent publishers grow their impressions and optimize their monetization by increasing the revenues they gain from banners. In 2021, PubGalaxy got acquired by the Dutch media and entertainment tech company, Azerion.
Kinetik is a manufacturer of limited custom-designed electric vehicles, including two-seat sports cars and go-karts. Founded by Teodosiy Teodosiev, the company uses 3D printing and parametric modeling. After an accident that burned the company’s headquarters at the beginning of 2021, the company started a crowdfunding campaign to restart its operations.
Econic One is an e-mobility company formerly known as Eljoy that specializes in designing and producing smart electric bicycles for urban mobility. Founded by Galin Bonev, the startup combines proprietary hardware and software and has a smart-bike application for consumers and a fleet management software platform for business customers. The company recently raised a €6M round from VC funds.
Quanterall is an R&D Lab for software and hardware that specializes in the development of custom Enterprise software, Blockchain solutions, and IoT infrastructure. The tech team consists of 70+ engineers for hardware, firmware, front-end, back-end, mobile and web development. The company was founded by Anton Andonov in 2003 and has offices in Varna and Sofia, Bulgaria.
Casualino JSC is a game development studio, founded by Radostin Petrov. Casualino started its activity in 2014 as a subsidiary of Zariba Group. The company grew to become the highest valued gaming Bulgarian company and was acquired by the French 52 Entertainment in September 2022.
Primeholding is a software solution provider that helps clients solve complex technical problems throughout the full cycle of product development. The company also specializes in quality assurance automation, professional services, customer support, and DevOps. The company is also an alumnus of the Bulgaria Innovation Hub accelerator.
NulaBG provides online banking and accounting services for small businesses. The platform is integrated with the National Revenue Agency and offers business owners a free online invoicing solution, and end-to-end encryption, and bank-level security which ensures that all of the documents are safely stored in the cloud. The company was part of the Vitosha Accelerate 2021 cohort.
Varna startup ecosystem players and ambassadors
Born and raised in Varna, Pressian is the co-founder of PubGalay, a Board Member of the Bulgarian Startup Association (BESCO) and Endeavor Bulgaria, and a supporter of many ecosystem-building organizations such as Bulgaria Innovation Hub and The Recursive.
Volev is a Varna-born computer science specialist and founder of Enhancv, the SaaS web platform for creating modern resumes. As an ecosystem supporter, Volen is also a mentor at the Founder Institute.
Galin is a software engineer and entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience in the software and game industries. He is also a cryptography and blockchain expert, founder of the blockchain technology hub CryptoVarna, and founder of Pigletz -a collectible game with DeFi elements.
Hristomir is the CEO of the audiobooks app Fast Books, a Chief Deal Leader at CEO Angels Cub and Innovation Scout at Innovation Capital. He is also the co-founder of the local coworking space Switch.
Temelko is an Entrepreneur, Managing Partner at ExpandX Marketing & Web, as well as a partner in few business ventures. Temelko has extensive international business experience gained over the past 13 years.
Ruslan is the Varna-born founder and CEO of CheckoutX, the plug-and-play WooCommerce checkout solution. Ruslan managed to bootstrap his company to €10M and became the market leader for alternative checkouts on Shopify. He solo-founded the company and then scaled the team to 20 people.