The Second Academy Seminar of the Digital cities Challenge project took place on May 16-17 in Brussels. Sofia took part as a participating city, one of the first seven European cities selected for the Challenge. As a participating city, over the next year, Sofia will be receiving field advisory services by a dedicated expert, a local expert and a pool of thematic experts, as well as access to various online tools and face-to-face interaction with representatives of the digitally mature mentor cities.
Additional eight more Challenge cities joined the project as of February 2018, together with over 20 follower cities. Follower cities will have access to the methodology and the seminars but will not receive dedicated expert support.
The second Academy seminar concluded the Digital Vision and Ambition Phase of the project which included an online self-assessment from local Sofia-based stakeholders – over 30 representatives from IT companies, utilities, telecoms, academia and the Municipality participated in this phase. Based on the insights from the interviews with the stakeholders and after a series of discussions and workshops, we agreed on the formulation of a Vision and Ambition for Sofia and we drafted an assessment report of Sofia.
In May, in Brussels Sofia presented its Vision and Ambition for digitalization during a peer review session. A special thank you to Mr. Alexander Tzonev, CTO at Bulpros for representing the Sofia IT sector and for his active role in the discussions. A big thank you to all business, academia and Municipality representatives who guided the formulation of the Vision and ambition of Sofia through filling-in the self- assessment tool and participating in personal interviews and workshops. We would like to thank the city of Amsterdam and Nice for their constructive feedback, as well as our colleagues from Iași, Romania.
If you would like to learn more about the Phase one of the Digital Cities Challenge, the assessment of the digital maturity of Sofia via the self-assessment tool, please review the presentation of the Vision and Ambition of Sofia, that includes Sofia Mission for digitalization.
The next steps will include workshops in Sofia on 10 July 2018 and a second one in September for roadmap development and identification of preliminary investment priorities.
Coca-Cola has opened a regional development center for intelligent technology in Sofia. It will be the second largest in terms of operational scale and volume of services provided, as part of the company’s global IT infrastructure. The hub will provide highly effective business solutions for Coca-Cola to the global market. It creates 130 new jobs, and the company announced that it is already working to expand its operations and jobs at a later stage.
The special guests at the opening ceremony for the development center included Ivaylo Moskovski, minister of transport, information technology and communications, Yordanka Fandakova, mayor of Sofia, Lachezar Bogdanov, deputy minister of economy, Eric Rubin, US ambassador in Bulgaria and Vladimir Danailov, CEO of Sofia Investment Agency.
I am happy that our city has been trusted by this powerful company namely in the field of development. I believe that investments in the IT sector are crucial to the development of our city for opening of high-quality new jobs. This is a chance for Sofia and its citizens, Fandakova said at the opening ceremony. She stressed that investing in this sector gives a chance to retain young people and provides opportunities for those studying or working abroad to come back to Bulgaria.
The most important factor is the people, but infrastructure is also crucial, the mayor of Sofia Municipality said. She reminded that the area around the new Coca-Cola development center has developed rapidly in recent years. We continue the works on Sofia ring road. Road Infrastructure Agency announced a procedure for the new 6 km stretch, which will be built from Mladost residential district to Trakia motorway. I hope that we will be able to extend the subway as well, Fandakova added.
On May 9, 2018, as part of the European Commission’s Digital Cities Challenge Project, Sofia Investment Agency organized a Vision and Ambition Workshop, part of the project’s schedule.
The workshop gathered local government and business representatives, as well as representatives from utility companies, telecoms, and academia. The aim was to formulate a vision and ambition statement, as part of the roadmap to the creation of a digital transformation strategy for the city.
Based on the insights from interviews with close to 30 stakeholders, held last month and the discussions at the workshop on May 9th, we agreed on a Vision and Ambition for digital transformation for Sofia, as well as on next steps, action plan, priorities, and milestones, a SWOT analysis assessing Sofia’s digital maturity, the strong points, and the areas that need to be developed in order to aid the digital transformation of the urban environment, society, business, entrepreneurial environment, policies, and institutions.
We will present the results from the discussion, the SWOT analysis and Vision and Ambition of Sofia for digital transformation at the Second Digital Cities Challenge academy seminar “Vision & Ambition seminar”, on May 16-17th, 2018 in Brussels. The seminar will mark the closing stage of the Vision and Ambition phase and will kick-start the Strategy phase of the project when each city will receive support in solving and implementing individual urban projects.
Digital Cities Challenge is a tailored programme of coaching and facilitation launched by the European Commission to help 15 European cities develop and implement digital policies that can transform day to day life for residents, businesses, workers, and entrepreneurs. Challenge cities entered into a 14-18 month programme to help develop and implement a digital strategy through tailored advice and support from high-level experts.
We would like to thank all participants for their interest and the strong commitment to the discussion and all the organizations and companies that responded to our invitation and attended the meeting sharing valuable insights and ideas for the digital transformation of Sofia. This will give us the opportunity to present in Brussels ideas that are supported by local utility companies, the IT sector, startup ecosystem representatives, academia and city administration.
Sofia Investment Agency presented the business climate in Sofia and the investment opportunities in the city before a business delegation from Portugal. The presentation took place at the invitation of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), which organised a number of meetings for the foreign delegation within two consecutive days – 11 and 12 May. The purpose of the visit to Bulgaria is to present the opportunities for doing business with Portugal and, in particular, with the city of Santa Maria da Feira.
HE Helena Margarida Rezende de Almeida Coutinho, Ambassador of Portugal to Bulgaria, and the Mayor of Santa Maria da Feira Emídio Sousa attended the meeting. They presented the economic achievements of the country and the industry developed in the region of Santa Maria da Feira – production of cork, insulations, other cork products, paper, footwear, metallurgy, agriculture, and food industry. According to the presented data, Portugal is ranked 39th in the world in terms of competitiveness. The procedures for registering new businesses are as easy as possible and take three days. In 2018, the country’s GDP growth is expected to rise to 3.3%. Portugal offers skilled labor force and 60% of staff speak at least one foreign language. HE Helena Margarida Rezende de Almeida Coutinho pointed out that the country is the world’s second largest exporter of footwear, wine and olive oil. Among the promising industries in Portugal are aviation, automotive industry, building materials including cork, textiles, footwear, etc.
On the Bulgarian side, Tsvetan Simeonov, President of the BCCI, and Stanimir Mihaylov, President of the Bulgarian-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce, spoke about the opportunities for business cooperation between Sofia and the Portuguese city. Anna Dimitrova, senior expert in the Investment Analysis department of Sofia Investment Agency outlined the economy of Sofia, the industries with the most dynamic development and the opportunities for starting a business in the Bulgarian capital.
The presentation shown to the Portuguese delegation is available here.
Sofia Municipality welcomed the members of the Budget Committee of the EU Council and introduced them to some of Sofia’s successful projects implemented with EU funds.
Doncho Barbalov, deputy mayor of Sofia, and Vladimir Danailov, CEO of Sofia Investment Agency, presented both larger projects already implemented in the city and various opportunities for investment and business development in the capital.
For the last programming period 2007-2013 Sofia Municipality attracted funds for 89 projects with EU funding of a total amount of nearly BGN 3 billion. A total of 53 of them were under EU Operational Programs amounting to BGN 2 848 billion. The remaining 36 projects were under EU Community programs and territorial cooperation programs and amounted to a total of BGN 7.5 million.
The largest project implemented with EU funds in the capital is the metro, having its third line currently in progress. The other projects are in the field of transport and water supply and sewerage infrastructure, energy efficiency, ecology, educational infrastructure, public leisure and recreation areas, etc.
The guests were introduced to Sofia’s advantages in terms of investment and business development, including strategic geographic position, highly educated population and excellent living conditions, education, tourism and sports.
Members of the EU Budget Committee are in Sofia as an informal meeting of the committee is being held in the National Palace of Culture. It is attended by representatives of all Member States, the General Secretariat of the Council and the European Commission.
The Budget Committee is a working body that examines the EU’s annual budgetary procedure and changes in the annual budget. It is also in charge of the legislative work in the field of EU financial legislation, including the amendments to the Financial Regulation.
“Sofia Municipality is the first municipality in Bulgaria to develop, approve and implement a Strategy for Smart Specialization. Its priorities for Sofia are information and communication technologies, as well as creative industries”, Yordanka Fandakova, mayor of Sofia, said at the two-day conference “Intelligent Specialization and Transfer of Technologies as Innovative Drivers for Regional Growth” held on May 3-4 at the National Palace of Culture. The event was organized by the Joint Research Center and the European Commission. It was attended by the EU Commissioner Maria Gabriel, the Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev and Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of Regions (CoR).
“In recent years Sofia Municipality has actively participated in and supported events related to digital technologies and innovations, including the Webit Festival and Innovation Explorator, and with the assistance of EU Commissioner Maria Gabriel we will hold a Digital Assembly in Sofia in June, where we will organize a Balkan Hackathon”, the mayor of Sofia said.
The mayor also pointed out that Sofia Municipality is the first municipality in Bulgaria to start the process of opening data. With the support of the Europe Program and the cooperation of the Association for Development of Sofia, a platform with open data from the municipal administration has been developed, including information about the Sofia Municipality budget, the projects under the Culture program, public procurement projects, etc. At present, 27 sets of data have been published and maintained for Sofia Municipality. 23 more sets of data are scheduled to be published in 2018.
“We are also developing public areas with free access to internet in the public transport. The metro of Sofia is fully covered with free internet. Sofia Municipality has also applied for the “WiFi4EU” project for the installation of Wi-Fi in public spaces. Sofia is one of the coordinators of the “Urban agenda for the EU”, where the European Commission and a number of European cities are partnering directly. Sofia is a coordinator of the “Digital Transition” partnership together with Estonia and Oulu, Finland, the goal of which is to implement new solutions for improving European legislation, funding urban policies and training programs to facilitate digital transition in Europe”, Fandakova also said at her welcome speech to conference guests.
On the second day of the forum Vladimir Danailov, the CEO of Sofia Investment Agency, made a presentation on “The
Sofia is among the 10 shortlisted cities nominated for the Emerging Europe Awards in the category City FDI Promotion Strategy of the Year. London-based think tank company Emerging Europe is organizing the Emerging Europe Awards to acknowledge local authorities and businesses and their success stories, leading projects and best practice across all 23 countries from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) – the so-called Emerging Europe region.
For the last several years, the region has been developing much faster than Western Europe and it is a significant growth engine of the economy on the continent. Emerging Europe’s awards aim to foster economic and social growth in the CEE region and to attract investments and entrepreneurs from across Europe and the rest of the world.
The entry was prepared and submitted by Sofia Investment Agency and it successfully passed the first stage of the application process, where applications from all 23 CEE countries were assessed by Emerging Europe experts. Ten nominees were chosen to go forward to the second round. At this second stage, the ten nominated cities will be assessed by juries made up of professionals from inside and outside emerging Europe, who will choose their top three nominees in an online assessment. The winner will be announced at the Emerging Europe Awards Ceremony in the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development headquarters in London on June 22.
The City FDI Promotion Strategy of the Year category assesses the strategies of municipal investment promotion departments or agencies, evaluating their creativity, effectiveness and success. Plovdiv is the other Bulgarian city nominated in this category, and Invest Bulgaria Agency is nominated in the National Investment Promotion Agency of the Year category.
Emerging Europe Awards presents awards in 11 different categories, including Tourism Campaign of the Year, Young Empowerment Initiative of the Year, Equality-Friendly Initiative of the Year, Research & Development Programme of the Year, Social Impact Start-Up of the Year, FDI Project of the Year, Lifetime Achievement.
For all categories except National Investment Promotion Agency of the Year and Lifetime Achievement, the winners will be chosen by a jury of high-level professionals inside and outside the CEE region. Jury members vote electronically and anonymously by sending their choices directly to the Auditor. Emerging Europe is not involved in this process and is only informed of the winners. The organization will publish the list of jury members on its
What are the opportunities for investment and business tax rates, is there a basis for development of smart city projects – these are some of the topics that are of interest to the 25-member CIDIC (European Diplomatic, Economic & Academic Center) delegation currently visiting Sofia.
The guests were welcomed today in Sofia Municipality by Doncho Barbalov, deputy mayor of Sofia, and Vladimir Danailov, CEO of Sofia Investment Agency. Danailov introduced the CIDIC representatives to the main parameters and conditions for the development of business projects in the capital. He said that there are special programs in Bulgaria to stimulate investors.
A month ago, the international rating agency Standard & Poor’s confirmed Sofia’s long-term credit rating – BB+ with a stable outlook, as the state’s. According to S&P’s analysis, financial policy, sustainable income base, clear priorities and goals for the development of the city show the stability of Sofia Municipality as a basis for investment.
The advantages of Sofia as geographical location and climate, convenient infrastructure, highly educated population and a very good standard of living with excellent opportunities for education, sport and tourism were highlighted today before the CIDIC delegation.
Yordanka Fandakova, Mayor of Sofia: Sofia Produces One-Third of Bulgarian Exports
Sofia produces 40% of the GDP in the country and one-third of the Bulgarian exports, Yordanka Fandakova, mayor of Sofia, said at the “Business Sofia 2018 – Digital Horizons” conference. The forum, organized by Sofia Investment Agency, was dedicated to the benefits and opportunities for the Bulgarian business in implementing a digital single market, the challenges in providing experts and the economic and financial programs of the European Union. Special guests at the conference, attended by the Top 100 Sofia companies, were EU Commissioner Maria Gabriel, MEP Andrey Novakov, Labor and Social Policy Minister Biser Petkov and Hewlett Packard Bulgaria General Manager Iravan Hira.
Sofia is the largest regional economy and in recent years the capital has increasingly been turning into an attractive place for investment, Mayor Yordanka Fandakova said. The mayor also emphasized that Sofia is working to develop partnerships with other cities. We are in a process of negotiating through Sofia Investment Agency and this year Sofia will join the European cities network in support of startup companies – SCALE (Startup City Alliance Europe) where the leading partner is the city of Amsterdam. The network comprises 19 organizations from 10 cities. Our goal is to set up a connected European ecosystem from startups and organizations aiming at facilitating the process of entering of new companies in foreign markets, Fandakova said.
Sofia Investment Agency is working on projects and specific cases with over 80 Bulgarian and foreign companies and has managed to present the opportunities in Sofia as a business destination in EU countries, South Korea and the Scandinavian countries. This year Sofia Municipality is a partner in organizing important events in the field of digital technologies. In June Sofia will host the international events for innovation within the Digital Week, which is organized in cooperation with the Bulgarian commissioner, Maria Gabriel. A Balkan Hackathon will also take place.
This places Sofia as an innovation hub in the Balkans and promotes the digital connectivity of the Balkan countries, Yordanka Fandakova said. She added that Sofia, together with Estonia and the Finnish city of Oulu, are partnering for digital transition in a European Commission program. A total of 36 European cities and regions are involved in the partnership.
The challenges to personal data security and EU policies were presented by EU Commissioner Maria
The team of Sofia Investment Agency welcomed students of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. The students are studying Building Engineering and the visit is part of their curriculum. It aims to introduce them to innovative practices in the field of construction and real estate. The data will help them complete their Bachelor’s theses. The students are given the chance to choose between several European cities and it was a pleasure for our team to host those who chose Sofia.
We presented the Agency and the trends in the real estate market in Sofia, the investment climate, the life in the capital and the economic development of the city in the last years, the development of the metro network, the infrastructure and specific projects and buildings in Sofia that implement innovative practices for sustainable and long-term construction.
Utrecht University is among the oldest universities in the Netherlands and is one of the largest in Europe. The Times’ “Higher Education’s World University Rankings” for 2018 includes 13 Dutch universities among the top 200 universities in the world, one of which is Utrecht University.
We managed to answer many of the students’ questions and we hope we have been helpful.
“City-to-City”, the new business agreement to support business between London and Sofia, is now a fact. On behalf of London, the program is implemented through the British Investment Agency London & Partners, and on the part of Sofia – through the Sofia Investment Agency.
The City-to-City program aims to encourage and facilitate the establishment of foreign businesses in London or British companies in partner cities. The common ambition is to build two-way, mutually beneficial commercial and investment ties, providing the necessary support for establishing business in new cities.
The agreement between Sofia Investment Agency and London and Partners regulates the terms and services that partner cities are willing to provide as necessary support for start-ups on their territory.
The encouraging measures make provision for:
– providing office desks in office spaces with a discount for a certain period of time;
– discounts for local accommodation partners;
– travel discounts for local public transport;
– getting acquainted with the local business and start-up environment;
– providing useful contacts in specific business areas;
– access to tourist attractions.
On the links below, you will find useful information related to:
– a short presentation of London & Partners;
– a detailed description of the types of assistance that foreign companies receive in the process of expanding their business in London;
– a 9-step guide to setting up a business in London;
– useful contacts of London & Partners.
Should you require further information, you may contact Nadia Soultanova – Head of Investment & Business Development Department.
In continuation of Sofia’s participation in the Digital Cities Challenge initiative by the European Commission, on 29th and 30th of March, we conducted a series of interviews between the experts working with Sofia on the Digital Cities Challenge project and some of the local stakeholders. The interviews are following a digital survey filled by to over 30 local stakeholders assessing Sofia’s digital maturity and identifying the strong points, as well as the areas that need to be developed.
We would like to thank our local partners they agreed to take part in the questionnaire and those who dedicated their time for an interview during the last two days: Mr. Nikolay Stoynev, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Sofia Municipal Privatization & Investment Agency and Deputy Chairman of Sofia Municipal Council, our colleagues from Sofia Municipality, Project Vision for Sofia, Sofia Tech Park, Scale Focus, Bulpros, Telenor, representatives from the banking sector and academia, and prof. Petko Ruskov, mentor at Junior Achievement Bulgaria and Director at “Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation in IT Lab” at the Software Engineering department at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.
The insights received were a valuable step towards creating a digitalization strategy and identifying lighthouse projects.
The European Commission’s Digital Cities Challenge initiative aims to support 15 European cities in initiatives for digital transformation of the urban environment, society, business, entrepreneurial environment, policies, and institutions.
Having already kicked off with eight cities (Sofia being among them), the Digital Cities Challenge has completed its selection process with the addition of seven more cities with the potential to unlock unreleased potential by putting advanced technologies at the service of their citizens.
Alcoy (Spain), Arad (Romania), Grand-Orly Seine Bièvre (France), Guimarães (Portugal), Kavala (Greece), Pori (Finland), and Rijeka (Croatia) will join the initiative to receive free coaching and facilitation from high-level experts.
You can see all the participating cities’ profiles on the Digital Cities Challenge website at www.digitallytransformyourregion.eu/challenge-cities.
If you would like to learn more about the project please contact Nadia Soultanova, Head of Business Analysis Department at Sofia Investment Agency by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will present the findings from the digital maturity assessment during a workshop in Sofia next month and would like to invite interested partners from the private and public sector to take part. The exact date of the workshop to be announced shortly.