The European Commission has published the European innovation scoreboard 2021 and the Regional innovation scoreboard 2021, which show that Europe’s innovation performance continues to improve across the EU. Bulgaria is not an exception, despite its slower pace.
The Regional Innovation Scoreboard provides a comparative assessment of the performance of innovation systems across 240 regions of 22 EU countries, and nine other countries outside the Union.
The Scoreboard shows that Sofia falls into a higher category than other regions in our country. Yugozapaden, the capital region, is the only Emerging Innovator+. Innovation performance relative to the EU in 2014 has increased for all regions, and most strongly for Yugozapaden. The other five regions of the country remain in the group of Emerging Innovator and Emerging Innovator -.
The Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2021 has four new indicators compared to the previous edition, namely: individuals who have above basic overall digital skills, innovation expenditures per person employed, employed ICT specialists, air emissions in industry. The innovation performance has increased for 225 regions out of the total of 240 regions in the scoreboard. The overall most innovative region in Europe is Stockholm in Sweden, followed by Etelä-Suomi in Finland, and Oberbayern in Germany.
The European Innovation Scoreboard on its part evaluates countries on 32 indicators included in a total of 12 groups. Among them are new doctorate graduates (STEM), international scientific publication participation, investments in research and development at the state level and by private companies, individuals who have above basic overall digital skills (% share), number of ICT specialists, number of SMEs introducing business process innovations, employment in knowledge-intensive activities, medium and high technology product exports, among others. Based on their scores, EU countries fall into four performance groups: Innovation leaders, Strong innovators, Moderate innovators and Emerging innovators.
Bulgaria is still lagging behind along with other countries from Southern and Eastern Europe – Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary. Our country is penultimate ahead of Romania, although our overall performance is improving by 7.2% compared to the average of 5.6% for this group.
Bulgaria’s strengths are in Intellectual assets, Environmental sustainability and Employment impacts, the scoreboard states. Normalised performance of the share of product innovators has increased with 134% and of the share of Business process innovators with 64%.
Sweden continues to be the EU Innovation Leader, followed by Finland, Denmark and Belgium.
The official press release of the Commission
The third fund of LAUNCHub Ventures has attracted a new EUR 15 million and already has a total portfolio of EUR 60 million, which it will invest in companies from the region in a more advanced stage of development. The funds were raised by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), part of the World Bank Group, by the European Investment Fund, and by private investors from Bulgaria and the region. Some of the investors own businesses in which LAUNCHub Ventures has already invested in previous rounds. The new fund has already made its first investments in Greek, Romanian, and Latvian startups. Last April it announced the the largest exit for its portfolio following a deal to acquire the FITE network of live broadcasts of sporting events. The fund has an initial investment of between EUR 500,000 and EUR 2 million. If you own a startup and are looking for an investment to encourage its growth, you can find more information on the LAUNCHub Ventures’ website at https://launchub.com/about
The BlackPeak Capital private equity fund is also opening a second fund, which will target capital of EUR 5 million to EUR 10 million in start-up companies and SMEs from Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia. On demand are companies in a more advanced phase of development, with revenue of over EUR 2 million, a potential for accelerating or enduring growth – organically or through acquisitions. In focus are IT companies, niche production, consumer goods, business services, and healthcare. The Fund will operate under the name Blackpeak Southeast Europe Growth Equity Fund and is entering an investment regime with a capital of EUR 68.5 million and an end target of EUR 120 million. Among the investors are the European Investment Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Financial Corporation (IFC), and others.
InvestHorizon has opened the submission for its accelerator program, aimed at start-ups and developed companies in the field of the so-called “deep technologies”. The program is extensive and offers product/service innovation testing, business model development, preparation for attracting investments and discussions with investors, contact network. The program is open to both mentors and investors. Find more details and an application form on InvestHorizon’s website – https://investhorizon.eu/
The Bulgarian Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion Agency (BSMEPA) is organizing the participation of Bulgarian companies in the GITEX Technology Week – the international tech exhibit for information and communication technologies,
The Discoverer supercomputer in Sofia Tech Park achieved and exceeded the planned computing power and performance during the tests in early June. Discoverer has shown a production power of 4,518 petaflops at 100% capacity, with a planned 4.44 petaflops, and the reported peak performance is 6,006.37 petaflops, with initially set 6 petaflops.
The results make it very likely that the petascale computer in Sofia will be included in the world ranking for supercomputer performance “Top 500”. Presence in the ranking of the most powerful machines on an international scale will place our country among the high-tech countries in the world and will turn it into a digital center for Southeast Europe, Sofia Tech Park commented. The documents required for inclusion in the ranking have already been submitted. The final list is expected to be published in late June.
Inside an operational mode, Discoverer will be used to develop new drug molecules, to test the components’ properties in designing them for buildings and cars through digital prototypes, to predict natural disasters, and more. The computing power of the supercomputer will find applications in many scientific fields such as personalized medicine, bioengineering, bioinformatics, pharmacy, quantum chemistry, and biochemistry, combating climate change, and others. The consortium is already talking to private companies that are interested in Discoverer because of the machine’s ability to process large amounts of data in a very short time – for projects in the field of artificial intelligence, financial technology, market forecasting, and more.
Discoverer will perform European tasks utilizing 35% of its capacity, and the remaining 65% will be for projects in Bulgaria, the Business Development Manager at Petascale Supercomputer – Bulgaria Simeon Stoyanov said in an interview with the BNR. In his words, the computer must perform a mix of scientific and applied tasks, both for the public and the private sector, so that the project can start to be self-sustaining and upgrade as soon as possible without relying entirely on the state or European funding. One of the directions for the development of the petascale computer in our country is the addition of a module for the simulation of a quantum computer.
Discoverer is part of the EuroHPC JU European network of high-performance machines together with 4 other powerful machines located in Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Portugal, and Slovenia. The project is funded by the budgets of the Bulgarian state and EuroHPC JU and is managed
The co-Innovation hub Resonator has just launched the Resonator City Connect Program for solutions that address the urban challenges in Sofia. The initiative is under the patronage of Innovative Sofia – the Digitalization, Innovation and Economic Development Unit of Sofia Municipality. Projects that еnhance city performance and citizen wellbeing by cleaner, smarter and safer environment can be submitted by June, 30, 2021.
People, Infrastructure, Movement, Environment and Sustainable Urban Development are the four priority areas in which companies can apply with demo projects that need testing and upgrading. There are specific sub-topics to each priority area to which the solutions can be addressed. For example, People include topics such as vacant houses and buildings, conditions and functioning of the housing stock, health, economy and more. The focus is on ideas that have the potential not only to be tested and implemented in the context of Sofia, but also has potential to be deployed internationally.
Partners in the initiative are also Sofiaplan, the Bulgarian Association of Robotics and Automation – PARA, as well as many leading companies, including Microsoft, Athlon, Silicon Labs, Arrow Electronics and more than ten other companies and organisations. All of them will support selected projects with specific assistance such as providing laboratory equipment and test environment, cloud architecture credits, engineering support, consultancy
UX and UI design, Digital Twin platform and more. The Sofia Municipality will provide access to open data, tools for evaluation and validation of projects and the opportunity to pilot for Sofia one or more selected projects.
Resonator is the first co-innovation hub in Bulgaria, which brings together people with different professions and experience to cooperate, providing them with physical and virtual space with technological innovations, assistance and expertise. The goal is for them to work together to create new products, joint projects and business opportunities, to share interests and to experiment in many directions.
The participation of the Sofia Municipality in the project is in accordance with the mission of the city administration to be a project owner or institutional partner in accelerators, living labs, etc., as well as with the implementation of the Strategy for Digital Transformation of Sofia. Part of the document are a number of indicative activities for the practical implementation of the Strategy, among which is the so-called ‘Sandbox for Innovative Solutions’ for pilot projects and testing innovative technological solutions proposed by the Sofia-based technology companies
Everything about the Resonator
The European Commission has proposed a framework for a European Digital Identity wallet which will be available to all EU citizens and residents, as well as to the businesses in the EU to prove their identity and grant access to services in the Member States.
European Digital Identity will help achieve the targets and milestones set out by the Commision in the Digital Compass 2030 – a tool that sets out the EU’s digital targets for the next decade. Its priorities include providing all key public services online, providing citizens with access to electronic medical records, and more. The European Digital Identity framework further supports the EU’s transformation into a digital single market, according to the official statement.
Opening a bank account, applying for a loan, renting a car, filing tax returns, buying a new SIM card, enrolling in a university are part of the examples given by the Commission for the use cases. It also states that citizens will be able to prove their identity when necessary to access online services, share digital documents or simply prove a specific personal attribute, such as age, without having to use private identification methods or unnecessarily share personal data
Why is European Digital Identity necessary
The Commission finds the European digital identity necessary to address the shortcomings of existing identification services. Currently the EU uses the so-called “eIDAS Regulation” for cross-border electronic identification and trusted electronic transaction services in the European single market. However, there is no requirement for Member States to develop a national digital ID and to make it interoperable with the ones of other Member States. According to the EC, this leads to high discrepancies between countries and deprivation from the benefits of the single market.
Other arguments include the lack of flexibility in the various cases of use of current electronic identifiers and the existing limitations and complexity for online providers to connect to the system. The Commission also points to the need for a single European approach, as practices at national level will lead to fragmentation and prevent interoperability and cross-border acceptance. It is also noted that the pandemic has intensified the digitalisation of services, which in turn has increased the demand from consumers and businesses for online identification and authentication tools.
What the framework offers
Amendment of the eIDAS Regulation: introduction of European digital identity to improve its effectiveness and extend its benefits to the private
According to data from the National Statistical Institute, the average monthly salary in Sofia has exceeded BGN 2,000 and is 77% higher than the rest of the country. As of December 2020, the remuneration for the employees in the capital is BGN 2,031, compared to the national average of BGN 1,468.
The increase in salaries in Sofia last year was 10.2% (or BGN 188), and on average for the previous five (2016-2020) – over 66%. The second place in terms of income is for the residents of Vratsa due to the opening of manufacturing enterprises in the city, and in third place is Sofia region, as its enterprises attract staff living in the capital and therefore compete on terms and salary with the companies in the city.
According to the national statistics, the lowest average monthly salaries are in Vidin (BGN 952), Blagoevgrad (BGN 956), and Smolyan (BGN 989). In all other districts of the country, the salaries exceed 1000 BGN.
Despite the economic crisis, an increase is observed in all Bulgarian municipalities, except for Pernik. There was a decline of 5.2% last year. The average increase for 2020 in the country is 8.8%, with the most significant increase in the city of Kardzhali – by 17.8% per year, followed by Montana, Vidin, Kyustendil, and Shumen. The lowest growth of salaries is in Varna – only 2.6%. There is a significant difference in the increased wage rate between regions due to the concentration of investment in specific locations and the slow pace in others, including the drastic decline in tourism in cities where it is a primary economic sector.
In terms of occupations, the highest salaries are paid to employees in the IT industry – software engineers and IT managers and those employed in the pharmacy, insurance sector, and human resources specialists. Experts in finance, accounting audit, marketing, law, and web design are also well paid.
Bulgarian startups and SMEs will now have easy access to contacts, training programmes and capital from Germany and around the world through the newly signed partnership agreement between Deutsche Börse Venture Network and the Bulgarian Stock Exchange (BSE). The Deutsche Börse Venture Network was founded in 2015 and is to date an ecosystem of 460 risky investors in 32 countries, which has managed to raise a total of 4.6 billion euros of funding for nearly 200 of its members. BSE will assist Bulgarian companies to access the network through free consultations and evaluation of enterprises with potential to become members of the German network. More information about this opportunity is available here.
The Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry maintains a large online database of business opportunities and puts interested parties in touch. The announcements cover all sectors and companies from all countries in the world. Bulgarian entrepreneurs can search for business or academic partners to manufacture, distribute, co-develop and supply products, ideas and services. The list of current offers is here.
By June 6, applications are submitted to the EIC Accelerator, which will support innovations building on scientific discovery or technological breakthroughs (‘deep tech’). The initiative is under Horizon Europe 2021-2027. Companies and organisations in the above mentioned ares often need significant funding over a long timeframe before returns can be generated and the risks involved are too high (the so called ‘patient capital’). The programme is open to support the later stages of technology developments as well as scaleups. The technology must have been tested and validated in a laboratory or other relevant environment to a stage of high technological readiness for deployment. For further information, please visit the EIC Accelerator’s page here.
Yet another programme under Horizon Europe 2021-2027 is currently open to support early stage companies. This is EIC Pathfinder, open for applications until May 19th. Ambitious ideas for radically new technology and projects at low technological readiness for deployment are eligible. The proposals should meet the following characteristics: a radically new technology that has the potential to have a transformative positive effect on the economy and society, based on a radically new approach or scientific and technological breakthrough, as well as demonstration of a high-risk/high-gain research approach and methodology, with clear objectives. Detailed information is published on the website of the European Commission here.
If you are interested in more initiatives
Nearly 10,000 electronic services have been requested through the e-administrative services portal of the State e-government agency portal (DAEU) since the beginning of the year. The most frequently requested services are “Registration of jobseekers” at the Employment Agency, “Exemption of persons from vignette fees when using national roads” at the Social Assistance Agency, and “Granting of monthly targeted assistance in case of emergency or declared emergency epidemiological situation.”
The use of the System for Secure Electronic Delivery (SSE) of DAEU has also been increasing. In 2020, the system was available over 3 million times. The sending and receiving of electronic documents are done through a qualified electronic signature and timestamp of DAEU. The system also provides an e-registered e-mail, which is the electronic equivalent of the registered e-mail service, with a return receipt. Currently nearly 140 000 customers have been registered – individuals, administrative bodies, persons with public functions, and companies. The Agency reports that the average number of messages sent through the CES last year increased from 500 to nearly 2,000 per day.
The addition of electronic services to the egov.bg Portal continues. Since the end of last year, citizens and businesses have requested 12 new e-services provided by the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning of Sofia Municipality. Among them are issuing a permit to elaborate on detailed development plans, issuing sketches for real estate, issuing a construction permit, etc. Since the beginning of the year, 14 declarations under the Local Taxes and Fees Act related to ownership of vehicles, real estate, garbage collection and garbage collection, taxi transportation, etc., have also been available and can be submitted electronically.
Currently, 439 electronic administrative services are available through the DAEU Portal for centralized application. Most of them are for the central administration – 213. Another 170 services are for municipal administrations, 32 for specialized territorial, and 21 for the district.
United Bulgarian Bank now provides loans under relaxed terms guaranteed by the Fund of Funds (FoF) through the financial instrument “Loss-capped portfolio guarantee to overcome the effects of the COVID-19 crisis”, financed by Operational Programme Innovation and Competitiveness (OPIC) 2014-2020. The programme offers a guarantee of up to 80 % of the amount of each loan, as well as relaxed terms. Companies can benefit from the product to cover current debt obligations or as a working capital. Details can be found on the website of the bank here.
Loans under relaxed terms to SMEs are also available under the COSME+ Programme through Fintrade Finance intermediary. Startups and SMEs with social impact projects that need working capital or investment resource to develop and expand their business are priority. Details and application terms are listed here.
Enterprise Europe Network at the International Economic Relations Unit (IERC) of the Bulgarian Industrial Association in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg organise bilateral meetings during the World Expo 2020 in Dubai in 2022. Companies in the areas: sustainable development, circular economy, ICT, transport and logistics, innovation, industry 4.0, automotive and electronic mobility, life sciences and biotechnologies, eco-technology and eco-construction, environment and renewable energy, MICE and tourism, are invited to join. The bilateral meetings will take place from 24 to 26 January 2022. IERC provides assistance to Bulgarian companies that are interested in the event. Find out more on IERC’s website here.
Smart Manufacturing Matchmaking 2021 is a free to attend brokerage event for companies, research centers and representatives of public administrations engaged in smart production, industry 4, trends in institutional and urban innovation. The meetings will take place online in two sessions. The first will be held between 13 and 14 May, and the second – between November 17-19, 2021. Registered participants for the first session will have access to the autumn session. Requests for participation are accepted by 11 May 2021. Information and registration link can be found here.
The Cyprus company Loulis Mills has turned the first shovel of soil for its new mill production plant in the Sofia-Bozhurishte Economic Zone. The investment amounts to BGN 18 million and will create nearly 50 new jobs. The building will include premises for raw materials storage, a building for loading bulk flour, and an office area. The investment is expected to encourage Bulgarian export of flour production.
Bulgarian telecom operator Neterra has also started building a new facility. The building for its second data center – “Sofia Data Center 2” (SDC-2) is already under construction next to the first building of the company near the metro station “Mladost 1” and Sofia Airport. The data center will cover 1,400 square meters on four levels and be equipped with the latest generation of energy-efficient air conditioning systems to ensure lower electricity costs of the systems and an optimized price for customers. SDC-2 will provide a rich portfolio of telecommunications services with round-the-clock support. Sofia-based Neterra is an independent telecom operator for standard and complex services and projects in Europe with over 20 years of experience. The company maintains a portfolio of integrated global communication solutions based on the latest technologies for optical, IP and satellite connectivity. These include VPN and data networks, Internet access, construction and maintenance of satellites and more.
For the last year, DHL Express Bulgaria has expanded the number of its employees in Sofia from 400 to 450 people due to the increased volumes of shipments for processing. In Bulgaria, the company recorded double-digit growth in international deliveries. In 2018, DHL built its large logistics center near Sofia Airport through an investment of EUR 10 million. Over 10,000 square meters house a high-tech sorting system with a capacity of 3,000 shipments per hour, production lines and equipment for reading barcodes, checking weight and size, X-ray scanning of shipments, and more.
The Sofia office of Milestone Systems is also increasing its team with more R&D experts. The Danish company is an international leader in the production of IP-based video surveillance software. Due to the growing demand for Milestone products, the sales team for the Bulgarian market, CEE and Russia has increased since last year. The current company also plans to expand the research and development department by about 20 people. Currently, more than 160 employees are part of Milestone Systems in Sofia. The R&D center in Sofia is the second
The fourth edition of the guide “Sofia – Business Destination 2021” is available on the website of the Sofia Investment Agency. Current general economic profile, data on taxes, fees, investment incentives, workforce, education, transport, industrial and office space are just some of the comprehensive information that you can find in the guide.
Special attention to the impact of the global pandemic of KOVID 19 on all aspects of life and business in the capital.
Mobility, e-commerce, smart city, AI, fintech, gaming, digital media, healthcare, proptech are some of the sectors in which Sofia-based companies attract the attention of investors. Since the beginning of the year, several local startups have raised capital from investment funds. Here are several success stories of the teams that chose the Bulgarian capital as a place to set up and develop their products and services with local and global application.
Amygda Labs, a predictive analytics platform for industrial assets, has received an investment from ВrightCap Ventures. With the attracted resource the company will establish a technological team in Sofia, further develop its product and manage the operations with clients from the European markets. Amygda Labs was founded two years ago by a Bulgarian and a British and started with software that forecasts the need for maintenance of aircraft engines. Due to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on international flights, the team decided to widen the software application to the monitoring of technical components in the space, railway and industrial sectors. The software uses AI and machine self-learning to monitor engines and predict potential anomalies and damage. The great potential of Amygda Labs is that it offers operational efficiency to customers during a pandemic, as well as the potential future application of risk assessment and tracking software for autonomous vehicles.
The Sofia-based digital insurance broker Boleron received an investment of a total of EUR 500,000. from two funds – “New Vision 3” (NV3) and “Eleven”. The startup company is developing a digital insurance platform that enables consumers to buy, receive and manage multiple insurance products in a frictionless and easy way and will use the funds to accelerate its expansion across the SEE region, as well as enable team expansion and product development.
NV3 also backed up the AI-powered digital twin platform MYX Robotics. The Sofia-based startup will use the funding to accelerate product development, support local and international business development, as well as grow the company’s team.
Proptech companyFantasticStay, a fast-growing technology startup for real estate and rental management, also received funding from NV3 fund. With an investment of 1.3m euros, the startup plans to expand its global operations and further develop its products and services.
Vitosha Venture Partners started the year with four supported companies, three of which are based in Sofia. These are Hobo – the first Bulgarian micro-mobility startup for shared travel using electric scooters; Eirene