Imperia Online JSC is one of the biggest game developer and publisher companies in Southeastern Europe with 25 released games. The company’s flagship titles are medieval MMO strategy games, available on mobile, browsers, social networks and Steam. For almost a year, the company is part of Stillfront Group. The Sweden-based group of independent game creators has acquired the Bulgarian games studio for €10 million ($11.8 million), enabling it to expand its portfolio of online games.
Imperia Online – the game
The idea for the eponymous game – the real-time strategy Imperia Online – was born back in 2005, when Dobroslav Dimitrov – the designer of the gameplay – and Moni Dochev – freelance programmer (at the time) – crossed paths. Back then Dobroslav, in his role as the then owner of one of the largest chains of Internet cafes ‘Xaoc’, bought license for time tracking software, developed by Moni. Hopping from one business meeting to another, it became clear that they both are fans of Age of Empires. Soon after that the detailed survey and the extensive groundwork laid for the gameplay mechanics took shape in a prominent way – Dobroslav’s business plan. Moni and Dobroslav launch the project with the clear aim in mind to create the number one browser title of all MMO games on the market.
Today, Imperia Online has over 45 million users worldwide who appreciate the efforts to offer only superior products and reward Imperia Online JSC with loyalty, high ratings and flattering comments on all platforms. For almost a year, the company is part of Stillfront Group. Over 70 professionals work in the team in Sofia, almost half of them are women.
356labs is a boutique presentation agency that helps their clients write, design and deliver truly effective presentations. They do that by either building those presentations for their customers or by training them how they can do all of the above three by themselves.
The company is just 4 years old but has already worked on some of the most critical presentations on the market – ones that closed multimillion-dollar deals, got startup investment from people like Bill Clinton and even the 2018 IPO of the Bulgarian company Gradus that raised more than 40 Million Euro.
They have trained companies like Uber, KPMG, Roche, Unicredit Bulbank, Kaufland, BIODERMA and many more in topics ranging from presentation skills and storytelling to slide design and data visualization and are the only presentation agency in the world to speak twice at the biggest yearly conference of Microsoft with more than 25 000 visitors – Ignite.
Boris Hristov, founder at 356labs, tells us what makes Sofia a place to launch and develop a successful business.
Please tell us briefly about your investments in Sofia? What does your company do in Bulgaria and outside?
The whole team of 356labs is based in Sofia. We are currently 6 people on the team and looking to grow to 10 in the next 6 – 8 months. The whole company is focused on one thing and one thing only – truly effective presentations. We do not do anything else – we do not do corporate identity projects, web design, social media, etc. None. Our expertise is in one field only and that is what differentiates us on the market. That being said, the services we provide both in Bulgaria and outside of it are related to it – we build presentations for our clients and we also train them how they can build and deliver them by themselves.
What motivated you to invest in Sofia?
Well, even though I personally have delivered presentations and trainings in more than 30 countries now, Sofia is our home city. And home is home. Now, from the business side – it’s way easier and cheaper to start a business here than, let’s say in Germany. What’s more, Bulgaria could also be a great market for new companies to verify their idea and products or at least that is the case for us.
Are there other local and foreign companies here doing
Klear is a unique combination of Peer-to-Peer lending platform and a whole range of financial educational tools. It provides users with the opportunity to lend money and generate a return on investment or to borrow quickly and easily at reasonable interest rates.
Klear was founded in Sofia in 2015 by Loic Le Pichoux, Lukasz Lukaszewski and Nikolay Stanev, Since then, Klear has been named The Best FinTech Startup in Bulgaria at the Central European Startup Awards for two consecutive years – in 2017 and 2018. Few months ago the p2p lending platform hit the milestone of 1000 credits given.
Loic Le Pichoux, Co-founder and Chief Engagement Officer tells us what makes Sofia a place to launch and develop a successful FinTech company.
Klear was founded 4 years ago by a team with solid experience in consumer finance. Why Sofia?
First, we were working together in Sofia for a leading consumer credit company in Bulgaria. So, it was logical to assemble a team with the best professionals and to start operating on the Bulgarian market, our domestic market indeed.
The second reason is that Sofia offers a very good option for startups who want to bootstrap. You have a good quality of life for a very reasonable cost of living.
The FinTech revolution is rapidly transforming the financial industry. What is the future of P2P lending?
Yes, traditional financial players are challenged by innovative FinTech companies on all their products: bank account, payments, investments and loans. P2P lending is a fantastic model. Everyone loves the idea. It takes however some time to reach a large audience, to convince people to switch. Trust is key. I believe that time will come when P2P lending will not only tickle existing banks but will take significant market share from them. Simply because it’s fair.
Judging from your business experience in the sector, how does the local FinTech startup ecosystem perform in the different FinTech domains?
I’ve witnessed a drastic change in the last 5 years. When we started working on Klear project, FinTech was not a very popular word (OK, now it’s the opposite and the hype is probably too much…) and I could count Sofia FinTech companies on the fingers of one hand. Today, I can’t know all of them as there are at least more than 50!
With a few other key players, we’ve created the Bulgarian FinTech Association. It’s
Nine months ago, the US IT company AtScale formed its own team in Sofia. AtScale is focused on big data management solutions that help companies convert big datasets into business intelligence and intelligent analytics tool. The company’s flexible platform combines access to data from different locations where they are stored, as well as offers visualization and management of datasets.
The team in Sofia is the first for the company outside the USA. Matthew Baird, Co-Founder and CTO at AtScale tells us what makes Sofia a place to further develop a successful business in Big Data.
Please tell us briefly about your investments in Sofia? What does your company do in Bulgaria and outside?
AtScale is expanding its team internationally and is planning to invest over $25M USD in Sofia, Bulgaria. AtScale’s software virtualizes data that allows Global 2000 enterprises to scale enterprise analytics.
What motivated you to invest in Sofia?
There were a couple of key reasons. Our Vice President of Worldwide Engineering and R&D, General Manager Europe, Momchil Michailov grew up in Sofia and has access to a highly skilled professional network in Bulgaria. Secondly, Bulgaria is known for computer software engineering top talent.
What are the advantages of investing in Sofia?
Loyal, smart and genuinely excited software engineers! We looked to Sofia as not an extension of our engineering team, but a completely viable software development unit that can spearhead new product initiatives from inception through to delivery and support. It takes a special kind of person and team to be able to keep innovating and pushing to deliver and we’ve found that the Bulgarian people are fighters! They have a strong pride in craftsmanship and a desire to win. The culture is actually similar in many respects to Silicon Valley.
What sort of challenges have you faced so far?
The challenges are expected and completely typical to expanding engineering teams in other continents and time zones. All can be easily overcome and the benefits far outweigh the challenges.
How do you estimate the overall business climate in Sofia today?
There is a growing realization within Bulgaria that global high tech industry leadership is within their grasp and a key to improving the lives of Bulgarian citizens. As such, Sofia is a very vibrant and friendly place to do business. As a result, AtScale could move quickly—from idea inception to an operating office took on the order
Тhe second edition of the Starfleet accelerator aims to provide $100К venture funding for each of the four selected projects: the event ticketing provider by Abend from Germany, the blockchain game Cryptic Legends (Malta/Serbia), the Croatian decentralized freelancing platform Cryptotask, and the Bulgarian satellite data marketplace Homeport.
æternity Ventures, the investment arm of the æternity Blockchain, has officially announced the funding in the 4 seed-stage startups from the second edition of the Starfleet accelerator program.
Each of the 4 teams will receive a funding of $100 000, the maximum amount offered, a certain sign for the excellent quality of the selected projects and the level of their experience. Every seed investment is connected to a set of milestones that are discussed and agreed with the teams. On top that each team will receive legal and marketing aid, as well as heads-on business development guidance through all stages of their growth.
“Since its foundation, the mission of æternity Ventures is to enrich the blockchain space constantly and ensure that the ideas worth hearing will be heard”, said Nikola Stojanow, CBO of æternity Blockchain and CEO of æternity Ventures. “It is exciting to follow the growth of these four high-quality projects with the potential to disrupt industries on a global scale! They would have a meaningful impact on the entire æternity ecosystem – the ultimate reward for me and the whole æternity Ventures team.”
The second edition of Starfleet accelerator started in March 2019 with 14 blockchain startups from all over the world, from which only 8 were invited to pitch on the final Demo day in April. In the end, 4 teams were selected for an investment offer. Тhe 4 startups receiving investment from æternity Ventures include event ticketing provider, satellite data marketplace, blockchain game, and decentralized freelancing platform.
Abend from Germany is a cashless, user-friendly, on-site payment platform whose prototype is already running on æternity blockchain.
The team behind the project engages to create “own little economy” for the music events segment internationally.
The Croatian Cryptotask is urging the long-awaited freelancing revolution by creating a task-oriented, easy to use, decentralized freelancing task market with advanced dispute resolution system built in (something like Upwork but much better and on æternity blockchain).
Cryptic Legends (Malta/Serbia) is blockchain-based hero management, battle simulation game set in an ancient fantasy world.
Aside from selling legends/heroes directly to the players, Cryptic
Kaufland Service IT HUB announced the opening of its second IT office in Sofia. The company expands its team to 110 employees who will develop software products and technologies for customers of more than 11 500 markets and over 400 000 employees of the Schwarz Group around the world.
Kaufland Service IT HUB started its activity in Sofia in 2017 after evaluating the IT sector and business environment of several European locations. The centre had opened with nine software specialists, but just a year later expanded to a team of 55 people, delivering IT solutions in the areas of SAP Basis, Java, SharePoint, BI, CA. With its second office, the engineering team has grown to 110 people and the company plans to double its workforce by the end of 2020.
According to Michail Petrov, CEO of Kaufland Service IT HUB Bulgaria, Sofia maintains the business of a global player with a turnover of 100 billion euro for 2018 offering innovative value added IT products and solutions to facilitate the development of the Schwarz Group’s overall activity – the retail.
Schwarz Group is the world’s fourth-biggest revenue retailer, with Kaufland, Lidl, and Handelshof retail chains.
With an investment of BGN 1.2 million, the Singapore-based Acronis expands the operations of its European research and development centre in Sofia. The Bulgarian office will also open 130 new positions for engineers.
The centre in the Bulgarian capital opened in August 2018 and has been working in areas such as Cybersecurity, AI and Blockchain projects. The expansion of the R&D centre is related to the development of a new product – Acronis Total Protection (ATP) for proactive defensive technologies, controlled by an AI.
For the investment, Acronis Bulgaria received an A-class investment certificate from Emil Karanikolov, Minister of Economy. As a result, the company may take advantage of the privileges and relieves, envisaged in the Investment Promotion Act (IPA).
Acronis entered the Bulgarian market with the acquisition of the Sofia-based T-Soft and started its business with a team of 30 people. Almost a year later, 120 people work for the team of the company in Sofia. The international leader in cybersecurity and hybrid cloud solutions has more than 1000 workers around the world and provides its solutions in more than 150 countries. The products of the company are adapted in 20 languages and provide security for more than 500 000 companies and 5 million customers.
Financial Times (FT) moved to Sofia one more of its key teams in the field of development of technologies and products. The new department FT Specialist will develop in Sofia digital products for well-known brands of FT as Investor Chronicle, fDi Intelligence and The Banker. By the end of the year, there will be 30 new positions for software engineers, product managers, business analyzers and designers opened.
The team will be accommodated in the office of FT in the Bulgarian capital that officially opened at the beginning of 2019 with the department FT Core. FT Core supports the platforms and systems of FT.com. Among them are the subscription software, data domains, content publishing and distribution, etc.
The Financial Times is one of the world’s leading business news and information organisations with more than 900 thousand subscribers across print and digital products. It provides a broad range of services, including news, comments, data, and analyses.
Sofia was selected due to its location and fast access to Financial Times’s head office in London, as well as for its technology talent pool.
Sofia has been chosen as one of eight sites across the EU that will host the first European supercomputers. The new high-performing computing machine will be located at Sofia Tech Park.
The project is the largest EU investment in Bulgaria related to scientific infrastructure. It would cost 18 million euro, 12 million euro of which will be paid by Bulgaria and the European Commission will pay six million euro.
The supercomputer in Sofia will be capable of executing at least 4 million billion operations per second. The other 7 supercomputing machines will be located in Ostrava (Czechia), Kajaani (Finland), Bologna (Italy), Bissen (Luxembourg), Minho (Portugal), Maribor (Slovenia), and Barcelona (Spain).
The EU project is part of a pioneering continent-wide plan to compete with the USA, China, and Japan as major international players in supercomputing. The deployment of world-class supercomputing and data infrastructure should be completed by the end of 2020.
The eight sites that will host the world-class supercomputers will support Europe’s researchers, industry and businesses in developing new applications in a wide range of areas, such as designing medicines, fighting climate change, testing and simulations in the aviation and automotive industries, data analytics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and blockchain.
Bulpros officially opened a new technology Innovation Lab in its office in Business Park Sofia. The project aims at showcasing the variety of opportunities that digital innovations reveal for businesses and helping the companies in the processes of digital transformation.
Bulpros Innovation Lab includes demo stations that demonstrate product and services accelerating the digitization of business processes through digital and personalized user experience, digital collaboration tools, efficient customer communication based on Cisco and Microsoft solutions, virtual reality, AI developed by the company, and more.
The laboratory includes demo stations on Sales Effectiveness Dashboard and Sales AI, Professional Services Resource and Project Management, Team Collaboration, Boardroom Meetings, Secure Connectivity Platform (SCP) for manufacturing and Remote Expert based on Cisco technology, Accounts Payable Process Automation, Remote Digital Onboarding, In-person Digital Onboarding, Smart Assistants and Chatbots, Executive Workplace, iQ.Suite, Traffic and Security Analytics.
Bulpros Innovation Lab is a further strategic investment initiative after in 2016 the company received a Certificate for Investor Class A for a BGN 3.1 mln investment project in the area of IT and customer services.
Bulpros is a global IT and BPO services, solutions and products provider, focused on Cloud and Support Services, Industry Digitalization, Cyber Security, Digital Workspace, Technology Services, and Sales Services in the areas of Finance, Professional Services, Telecommunications, Manufacturing, Healthcare, and Retail.
The Sofia-based company was established in 2010 with a team of 5 employees. Currently, Bulpros operates in four cities in Bulgaria and has 19 offices in total, located in Europe and North America. The company has a team of more than 1200 experts and consultants. Through the years, it has been repeatedly recognised as one of the fastest growing IT companies in prestigious rankings such as Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 in CE and Technology Fast 500 in Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Financial Times 1000 Europe, and McKinsey’s 2018 report The rise of Digital Challengers.
With an investment of €16.2 million, the Germany-based company Веhr-Неllа Тhеrmосоntrоl (ВНТС) extended its production plant in Sofia-Bojurishte Economic Zone. Thus, the leading automotive parts manufacturer doubles the production capacity of its factory in Bulgaria, which is also the biggest one among the locations where the company has production facilities. Along with the expansion, the company opens 250 new jobs and plans to hire another 400 people by 2022.
The expansion of BHTC Bulgaria covers 7,500 square meters and includes warehouses, technical areas, offices, and laboratories. At the end of 2018, ВНТС received a certificate for a priority investment project.According to BHTC CEO Martin Nyland, BHTC’s annual production at the start of the company’s operations in Bulgaria in 2015 was 1 million units of automotive air conditioning systems, and now, four years later, it is 26 million. The new expansion will allow the manufacturing of 150,000 devices per week or over 7 million per year.
The German company Varengold Bank acquires 20 % of Klear, a Sofia-based peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platform. The bank will support the lending platform with a BGN 1.5 million financial package, which comprises of equity and debt funding. The proceeds from the package will be used to expand Klear’s operations across Bulgaria and SEE.
This is Varengold Bank’s first investment in a P2P lending platform, based in the SEE region. The German bank opened its branch in Sofia in November 2018 with the mission to turn it into a major hub for its expansion in Southeast Europe.
Klear provides individuals with the opportunity to lend loans and generate a return on investment. Borrowers, on the other hand, are able to withdraw a loan easily at reasonable interest rates. The amount of the loans which active investors have granted through the lending platform so far is more than BGN 8 million.
Klear was founded with the mission to be fairer and more transparent in terms of interest rates and return on investment. It has been named The Best FinTech Startup in Bulgaria at the Central European Startup Awards for two consecutive years – in 2017 and 2018.
Varengold is headquartered in Hamburg and has branch offices in London and Sofia. Varengold specialises in Marketplace & Transaction Banking, a sector which has been dynamically developing worldwide.
Varengold is supporting FinTech-companies in Europe, mainly lending platforms enabling them to grow and gain relevance.
Further information is available in the official statement on the website of the P2P platform.