In this series, The Recursive explores the educational hotspots for entrepreneurs in SEE. We trace the roots of some of the best-known startup founders, investors, and entrepreneurs from the ecosystem back to the educational institutions that nurtured and developed the knowledge and skills of the leaders who create innovative solutions and products in the region and abroad.
Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” (commonly referred to as “SU Sofia”) is the oldest higher education institution in Bulgaria. Founded in 1888, the higher institution now educates over 21,000 students. The university has been classified in the top 4 percent of world universities in the global QS World University Rankings and is the best choice for pursuing a degree in Computer Sciences and Informatics, Mathematics, and Biotechnology, according to the Bulgarian University Ranking System.
Here is our collection of 6 founders and serial entrepreneurs that started their journey in the world of tech at SU Sofia.
SU Sofia Alumni
Name: Raycho Raychev
Position: Founder and CEO
Market specialty: Space Tech
Degree at SU: Ph.D. Candidate, Space Administration and Management
The story in a nutshell: Raychev established EnduroSat in 2015 with the mission to democratize space access. The company, which specializes in the engineering, building, and operation of NanoSatеllites, has become globally known and has recorded an annual growth of 300% year to year. In 2020, the Bulgarian deep tech company announced two major partnerships with space tech companies – South African startup Hypernova and US-based Momentus, to fly an electric thruster on a Shared Satellite Mission in the fourth quarter of 2021, and to enclose EnduroSat’s SPARTAN CubeSat in Momentus’s Vigoride orbit transfer vehicle for the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch. EnduroSat was the main partner for Kuwait’s first satellite mission in June 2021. In August 2021, it became the third European company in the space tech field to close an agreement with the European Investment Bank for venture debt financing of up to €10М.
Name: Georgi Kadrev
Position: Co-founder and CEO
Market specialty: Imagga – automated image and video tagging
Kelvin Health: AI analysis of thermal images for detection of early-stage breast cancer
Degree completed at SU: Ph.D. Candidate, Computer Vision
Master’s degree in Technology Entrepreneurship & Innovation
Bachelor’s degree in Informatics (Computer Science)
The story in a nutshell: The entrepreneurial journey of Georgi Kadrev started in 2008. Inspired to start his own company, he set off to pursue his Master’s degree in Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation, while working on Imagga – a platform for cloud-based APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) for automated image and video tagging and categorization. The founder was later joined by his co-founders Chris Georgiev, Pavel Andreev, and Stavri Nikolov. The Imagga platform enables developers and businesses to build applications and solutions that understand images through automating the process of assigning keywords and domain-specific categories to images. Less than 2 years after coming into existence, the company won a $15K grant from an Intel Europe competition. In 2010, Imagga attracted its first foreign investment by Greek VC The Open Fund. The sum amounted to €35K and was used by the startup team to enhance their StockPodium solution that enabled better image aggregation for better analysis of stock photos. In 2013, the company received a €200K investment from LAUNCHub VC.
In 2020, Kadrev, Georgi Kostadinov, Head of Artificial Intelligence at Imagga, and a few more local entrepreneurs established Kelvin Health, an AI company whose algorithm is being trained to recognize and report for malformations in the breast tissue, identifying different stages of breast cancer. In March 2021, the project for early detection of breast cancer through AI analysis of thermal images developed by Kelvin Health in partnership with the local branch of global pharmaceutical company Novartis, and MORE-Darzalas Foundation, became one of the six winners at the Global Initiative of Novartis Oncology Challenge. The startup team and their partners are now on the stage of collecting data from thermal images of patients to enhance the recognition capabilities of the Kelvin Health algorithm. For this purpose, they have concluded several strategic partnerships with Bulgarian and foreign medical institutions that perform mammographic tests on women.
Name: Miroslav Miroslavov
Position: Co-founder and CEO
Market specialty: Coworking and flex spaces management
Degree completed at SU: Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science
The story in a nutshell: Miroslav Miroslavov co-founded OfficeRnD, a Bulgarian coworking management software startup, in 2015 to provide a flexible service to serviced office spaces and businesses and help them scale their operations. The startup currently serves more than 2000 working spaces in over 60 countries and has its employees on 3 different continents. The platform of OfficeRnD automates the coworking operations of shared offices. On the operational side, the software supports the sales process and the creation of the basic structure of new centers during times of expansion by allowing a quicker than the traditional setup of company profiles, management of billing plans, contract templates, and floorplans. On the other end of the rope, it enables people that have chosen to work in shared spaces to access all the services offered by the venue and keep track of their membership plan. In 2019, the company recorded a $3M financial round, led by Hungarian fund Flashpoint Venture Capital, and Bulgarian VC Launchub Ventures. Currently, it continues scaling its operations and client portfolio.
Regarding his education at Sofia University, Miroslavov shares that he thrived in a highly competitive environment. “Everyone was highly motivated to succeed”, Miro says. “This is the main reason why some schools and universities have more successful students – they create the need to compete.”
Name: Diana Aladzhova
Position: Partner at Silverline Capital, Founder at CFO Insights
Market specialty: Venture Capital, Financial management (CFO Insights)
Degree completed at SU: Bachelor’s degree in Economics
The story in a nutshell: Multidisciplinary engaged, Diana Aladzhova is a financial specialist, whose expertise enabled her to be part both of the startup community and the local VC ecosystem. At the beginning of her career, when she was an investment manager at Bulgarian fund Empower Capital, she was responsible for business and investment analysis and structuring of private equity investments for companies in the healthcare, food processing, educational and other sectors. After Empower Capital, in 2018, she and her sister Polina Berg founded a social startup, called Box To Remember, that offered a range of handcrafted gifts made by people with disabilities.
While she still manages Box To Remember, Aladzhova continued her entrepreneurial journey by establishing CFO Insights – a cloud-based provider of CFO services. The company acts as a financial advisor of businesses, as its integrated platform provides startup companies, SMEs, and corporations with advice on how to structure and optimize their financial strategy. CFO Insights has also evolved to become part of a network of legal, accounting, and investment entities, thus coming one step closer to bridging the gap between founders and the institutions they need to make their companies compliant with the law.
Since January 2021, Aladzhova is partner at Silverline Capital, a local VC that invests in Bulgaria-based established companies with revenue of more than €3M. There, she manages and participates in the investment process of deals in the range between €2.5M and €10M in the fields of healthcare, education, retail, manufacturing, e-commerce, and tech.
Name: Miroslav Dzhokanov
Position: Co- founder and CEO
Market specialty: Еdtech
Degree completed at SU: Master’s degree in IT Service Management
Bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering
The story in a nutshell: In 2015, Dzhokanov and one of his other three co-founders, Lyubomir Vanyov (CTO) came up with the idea of creating a solution that would reduce the amount of paperwork teachers have to administer at schools. Just around one year later, in 2016, one of the best known Bulgarian edtech startups, Shkolo, became a reality. Now, the platform of the startup services over 1800 Bulgarian schools and has evolved to become an integrated platform for communication between students, teachers, and parents. Through the platform, teachers can administer a digital class register and provide access to learning materials, as well as give feedback to both students and parents in order for them to stay on track about the educational curriculum in the classroom. Shkolo also allows schools to manage their school assets and receive online payments from parents. Shkolo is compliant with the Ministry of Education and Science’s strategic plan for implementing a digital grading system in public schools and was among the first ones to be adapted by schools during the first wave of the pandemic. In the past year, Shkolo has roughly doubled its team to continue offering its service to its 1.2 million user base. In the upcoming months, the startup team will be participating in Endeavor Bulgaria’s Dare to Scale growth program as part of their plan to enhance their solution and expand the scope of operations of the startup.
Name: Ivan Nikolaev
Company: ZenArt VR
Position: Founder and Managing Director
Market specialty: Finance, Project Management, Product Development
Degree completed at SU: PhD in Regional Development, Master’s degree in Regional Security, and Bachelor’s degree in Regional Development and Politics
The story in a nutshell: While managing the Bulgarian branch of a company called Esports.com (currently owned by Pro7), Nikolaev met his present partners. They came up with an idea of tourism in virtual reality – a product not known on the market yet at that time. The idea was for people to be able to visit different places on earth and in the universe from their homes. After they started the company a lot of interest was gained and ZenArt got recognition from the embassy of Denmark in Bulgaria winning the Creative Business Cup in 2019. ZenArt has also won the Excellence in Innovations – company of the year award, presented by the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, and is an Epic Mega Grants recipient. They work with leading international companies such as Huawei and recently started working with some of the biggest contractors in the world like the US Army, Hollywood, etc. Their first significant investment became reality this year as Morningside hill backed them with about €1m.