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“Why Sofia?” with Martyn Smith and Gordon Forsyth, founders at Brightive


Brightive-Why-SofiaBrightive, formally known as EHS Consulting is a project management/business analysis consulting company. In the beginning, EHS provided PMO (project management office) and BA (business analysis) services in the healthcare sector in the UK. Afterwards the company applied its knowledge and “know-how” in government, financial and utility sectors. Realising that its capabilities are moving beyond these industries, the company has re-branded to further strengthen its market positioning. Since the establishment of its Bulgarian operations in 2013, the company has doubled in size every year and plans to employ over 120 people in 2020. It uses its Sofia-based professional services center to handle its most complex projects. Some of their clients include Alcatel – Lucent and the National Health Service in the UK.

Martyn Smith, Founder & Managing Director and Gordon Forsyth, Founder & Director at Brightive tell 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?

As mentioned previously, Brightive is a management consulting company, with an emphasis on project management, business analysis and change management. The company uses a mixed-shore model for service delivery. Differentiating from other management consulting companies, Brightive has decided to introduce the “SMART” delivery model, which optimises client costs significantly and allows the efficient utilization of our consultants. Either being on-site (where the client is) or based in our professional services center in Sofia.

The company is not your typical foreign investor. We do not spend vast sums of money on production facilities and use Sofia as a base of operations due to cheaper costs. Rather, we have realized the potential of the talented workforce that resides in the city and have decided to build on that capacity by training and certifying our employees in various project management and business analysis standards to provide qualified and uncompromising service. Our clients are located throughout Europe and therefore we leverage Sofia’s excellent flight connections as our consultants travel up to 75% of the time.

What motivated you to invest in Sofia?

In 2012, we attended a seminar regarding investing in Bulgaria. The seminar was set up in the UK and organized by the Invest Bulgaria Agency. After making the necessary due diligence and consultations, we chose Sofia as our professional services center destination. Being a dynamic city, Sofia boasts an incredible working culture along with talented and qualified work staff. Due to our policy of recruiting people with international background, we can say that there is a trend that young and qualified Bulgarian workforce with an international background is coming back to Sofia. Among this, other reasons include:

  • Bulgaria has the most favourable tax regime in the EU. Corporate income tax rate is 10%, the lowest in the EU
  • 80% of university graduates speaking at least one foreign language
  • Sofia is a technological cluster, with many successful start-ups emerging in the past 10 years (Telerik, V-Ray, Stremio)
  • In Sofia, more than 100 000 students study in 23 universities
  • Excellent transportation links to Western and Northern Europe, as well as links to emerging markets such as Russia, Middle East

Are there other local and foreign companies here doing business in your sector?

Sofia is a home to the national branches of 4 of the biggest players in management consulting (KPMG, Deloitte, EY, PWC). Besides them, there are various small and medium-sized companies offering project management services and management of IT transformational programs. However, we are competing on a European rather than a local scale, due to our clients’ nature. We are currently exploring opportunities to work with local partners, however we are yet to make an impact on the Bulgarian market due to the unappreciated value of management consulting services! We are currently working towards partnering with strategic players in Bulgaria, but that strategy is yet to be devised in full.

What are the advantages of investing in Sofia?

Acting as the innovation and tech hub of Bulgaria, Sofia provides the following advantages:

  • Access to a young yet qualified workforce with a diverse background. Average age of our current team is 27 years old
  • Excellent cost of doing business
  • Excellent transport links to Western/Northern Europe
  • A very well-established business community, which provides exciting business development opportunities on a regular basis
  • Market access to Europe and the Middle-East

What sort of difficulties have you faced so far?

One of the few challenges that we have faced so far is the availability of free talent on the market.  It is true that one of the city’s definitive traits is its skilled workforce, however due to competition from other companies it has become difficult to attract and subsequently keep top talent. In terms of business development, there is a lot to be desired on the Bulgarian market. Management consulting is still a field to be understood by companies and we are still trying to make an impact on the market. It has proven difficult to persuade local business that our profession deals with incremental and carefully designed change, the results of which are seen in the long run. However, with more and more companies emerging with young and well-educated management, we believe that this trend is going to reverse and the demand of companies offering the service will grow.

Brightive-Team-SofiaHow do you estimate the overall business climate in Sofia today?

Since our establishment in 2012, we have seen the city develop, not only from an urban perspective but from a business standpoint as well. Sofia has achieved multiple milestones in its endeavor of becoming a dynamic business capital. However, what we would like to see is the successful collaboration with already established businesses that have been on the market for 10-plus years, as well as start-up companies. This way we can blend the new and the innovative with proven business processes and know-how. We expect that climate will continue to improve and that with businesses evolving opportunities will become even better.

Judging from your business experience, do you think that local and foreign investors see our capital as a homogeneous business area, or are there still a lot of hurdles?

Based on our own experience we can conclude that it is relatively easy to set up and manage a business in Sofia. However, there is still room for improvement when it comes down to communicating with government administration due to a poor work schedule, not abiding timelines, etc. However, Sofia as a business area has improved significantly in recent years. Communication with other business has never been easier. Some of the government agencies have very well-established relationships with local business and we can rely on them to provide us with up-to-date contacts with businesses/stakeholders, both on a national and an international basis. With already established chambers of commerce, we feel confident that Bulgarian and international business partnerships are not that far away.

What would you point out specifically in terms of business climate improvement for investors who are already operating in Sofia?

With all the start-ups emerging in recent years and some entering in their mature state, we believe that they would need the assistance of companies like ours in their efforts to stabilize and reach the next stage of their development. Moreover, companies should become acquainted with managing change and operations in an environment where dynamic work pace is the standard. Working with international clients for several years now, we can conclude that constant change and uncertainty will be the definitive traits of businesses, something to which Bulgarian companies must adapt. Due to the efficient cost of doing business, Sofia is the perfect place to for foreign investors who are willing to take risks.

What needs to be improved to increase the number of new investors both from Bulgaria and abroad?

We believe that, for foreign investors to increase, the number of success stories should increase on a regular basis and not only in start-ups. We should be able to see already credible businesses going through successful changes in their strategy and operations. One of the goals for start-ups is to also be an innovation driver for bigger businesses as well. It would be interesting to see, how will these different types of organizations work together to create innovative and sustainable business environment, which will foster innovation and best practices.

How much does the investment climate in Bulgaria stand out in comparison with the progress made in other countries in the region?

The country is yet to reach the progress level of some of its European neighbors. Sofia is an excellent place to do business, however, to effectively quantify progress made, we must see more businesses, both local and foreign, set up in other Bulgarian cities. Sofia is an excellent example of how such an environment can be set up. The country is becoming more and more credible in the eyes of foreign investors, despite occasional political turmoil. Ease of doing business, transparency, hard work and innovation is what drives the decision of foreign investors to set up in Bulgaria and Sofia in particular.

When you look at Sofia and the country, as a Bulgarian investor, what attracts or surprises you most?

As mentioned before, Sofia is a vibrant and dynamic city bringing together knowledge and innovation. Bringing together young and talented individuals with the desire to grow and excel is what makes Sofia stand-out as a competitive destination. As mentioned earlier we aspire to develop our consultants, making them better in every aspect of our work. Being an active community member Brightive employees are making the effort to share knowledge and spread it with like-minded people, which are willing to put in the hard work and see results. This aligns with our corporate values that our employees are at the heart of our value proposition. With trends stating that Sofia will continue to be a nutshell for talented and skilled workforce, we will continue to invest and grow our team in the city.

How do you feel about Sofia and Bulgaria as a place to live – transportation, food, travel, prices, education, medical services?

Sofia is one of the few European capitals that manages to have a dynamic working environment, while at the same time maintaining a good quality of life. The city is populated enough to provide good opportunities for doing business. There are also a lot of ways one can relax and have a good time. Compared to other European capitals, Sofia is very cost friendly, where one can enjoy eating out, attending events on a regular basis at an affordable rate. With educational institutions realizing the need for a more qualified workforce with hands-on experience, we are already seeing changes in the educational system. Our last career fairs have been a success as we managed to employ several talented individuals. Based in the city center, we are very well-connected with all parts of the city either through the subway network or a via trams, busses and other means. Being able to travel from A to B in little under an hour is extremely convenient and it allows our team to be mobile in the city boundaries as well.  Regarding medical services, based on the recent emergence of start-ups like Printivo, which 3D prints tissue, we believe that we are in good hands.

5 Things you like about Sofia?

  • Vitosha Mountain
  • The South Park
  • The diverse mozaique of people that the city hosts
  • Variety of opportunities for our team to get together and spend time like a small community
  • Learning something new every day