The founders of Escreo, Yassen Rusev, Elena Nikolova and Iskren Mitev, meet during an entrepreneurial program in the US in 2013. In the space where the training takes place, the walls are painted with marker as if they are whiteboards. Impressed by the idea, the young entrepreneurs decide to create their own product – a wall and furniture paint that allows multiple writing and drawing with a marker. The Eleven Fund foresees the potential of the idea and helps the team with financing and networking, by introducing them to specialists in the chemical sector. Thus the newcomer in the team – Manol Novakov, a long-time technologist, develops Escreo’s own formula for water-based coating, which allows tinting in different colors and endless writing, drawing and sharing of ideas on any surface.
The total investment in the project amounts to EUR 121 000, of which 85 000 are Eleven’s investment from the European Investment Bank. In a short time, Escreo gains popularity, doubles the sales, equips its own factory in Rousse, strengthens its positions on the Bulgarian market and starts its expansion to foreign markets.
Please tell us briefly about your investments in Sofia? What does your company do in Bulgaria and outside?
We are a technology company that produces innovative dry-erase paint that can transform any flat surface into a whiteboard of a new generation. Our product allows any wall or furniture in the office or home space to become a collaborative area for writing, drawing and sharing ideas. Although it’s based in Sofia, our business quickly sets its foot on foreign markets such as Romania, Germany and the Netherlands, with future development lying just around the corner.
What motivated you to invest in Sofia?
As a capital city Sofia has some advantages – good inner country connections, rich market, natural innovation leadership status and attracting foreign businesses when they decide to initiate a local development. Of course, we are surrounded by our families and friends and it helps a lot.
On the other side, Bulgaria offers great conditions for business development in terms of low taxes and access to talent in general.
Are there other local and foreign companies here doing business in your sector?
One of our competitors had a distributor who now is working with us. There is another player in the market who is more into retail. We strive to differentiate our product by offering end to end service – offering customized solutions that address specific customers’ needs and wishes.
What are the advantages of investing in Sofia?
An innovative and fast-paced economic ecosystem that improves on a daily basis. We believe Sofia can become the start-up center on the Balkans and set a tone in Eastern Europe. Its geographical position and attraction of foreign investment contribute to a lively and positive oriented mindset.
What sort of challenges have you faced so far?
One of the disadvantages is lack of access to investment for a later stage companies. Currently for us the biggest challenge is distribution model and it is hard for us to foresee all the obstacles ahead. We need some support.
How do you estimate the overall business climate in Sofia today?
It gets better by the year. The local business climate is dynamic, motivational and challenging. But it’s also quite unpredictable. Only time will tell if it’s a good or a bad thing.
Judging from your business experience, do you think that local and foreign investors see our capital as a more or less homogeneous business area, or are there still a lot of hurdles?
Hurdles have nothing to do with the problems our capital faces nowadays. We simply lack the ability and habit to promote ourselves in the right way. It is evident mostly in the field of tourism – all these wonderful resources around us and we can’t put ourselves to the task of utilizing them. No investor will approach us without knowing what benefits await him here.
What would you point out specifically in terms of business climate improvement for investors who are already operating in Sofia?
Business climate improvements are found at their best in the local startup industry. European funds contribute a lot. There is an angel network which develops as well. A couple of NGS such as StartUp Foundation and Start it Smart educate young students and offer pre-accelerator programs which help entrepreneurs test their ideas and improve their communication and presentation skills. As I mentioned earlier I believe the next challenge is how a Bulgarian start—up can become a regional player.
What needs to be improved in order to increase the number of new investors both from Bulgaria and abroad?
Better and large-scale advertising. More sector diversity as well. So far, our country’s average composition of employment (55%) is in Services, of which 45,1% are Knowledge-intensive services. Investment in education and structural support and approach to business endeavors in the field of education.
How much does the investment climate in Bulgaria stand out in comparison with progress made in other countries in the region?
Our country is a modest innovator. Our performance hasn’t changed relative to that of the EU in the last 6-7 years.
When you look at Sofia and the country as a whole, as a Bulgarian investor, what attracts or surprises you most?
What attracts me is the locals’ striving for improvement. What surprises me is the mentality that’s far too negative.
How do you feel about Sofia and Bulgaria as a place to live – transportation, food, travel, prices, education, medical services?
Its levels are moderate, at best. I enjoy living here, but my opinion is strongly subjective. Bulgaria can make a person feel free in any way possible. But it can also get on his nerves by constantly providing him with reasons to complain about his accomodations.
Name your top 5 favourite things in Sofia?
Lots of bookstores, vast public transport coverage, street musicians at every corner, farmers markets and it’s constantly striving to improve itself. That should cover it.