EDIH Trakia in the heart of Plovdiv’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

Two new forums in support of local entrepreneurs were co-organized by EDIH Trakia at the end of April 2024. At the beginning of the Holy Week, on April 29, 2024, when most of the residents of the City under the Hills were already planning how to spend their days off, another information seminar on the topic “Entrepreneurship as a life strategy and how Europe supports it” was held at the Training and Business Centre of the Digital Innovation Hub “Trakia” as part of the project “Cyber4AllSTAR”.

The partnership event in support of the digital development of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem was held under the patronage of the Deputy Chair of the Committee on European Union Affairs, Schengen Area and Eurozone Commission, Ms. Denitsa Simeonova, who initiated similar discussions in three other locations in the country, together with the University of National and World Economy, The National Association of Small and Medium Business (NASMB), the European Institute Foundation, the Digital Innovation Hub “Trakia” with coordinator Union for Private Economic Enterprise (UPEE), and the Digital Innovation Hub “Thrace”. On the local level, the CyberClub and the Manager’s Club at Plovdiv University Paisii Hilendarski were also involved in the organization of the event.

In the discussion at the Digital Innovation Hub Trakia on Drava Street in addition to the Member of Parliament Denitsa Simeonova, experts with experience in entrepreneurial projects participated such as Dr. Hristian Daskalov, Chairman of the Board of the Digital Innovation Hub “Trakia”, as well as representatives of business and other partner organizations. In her opening remarks, Denitsa Simeonova introduced the topic and shared her solid personal experience in entrepreneurship. She emphasized that entrepreneurship is the intersection between business and the cause of making Bulgaria more hospitable for small and medium-sized businesses. Ms. Simeonova noted that as a full member of the European Union, Bulgaria should make the most of the opportunities the organization provides for entrepreneurs. “There are not many companies that have managed to raise funding directly from the European instruments and my goal has always been to be a bridge between businesses and the opportunities that Europe provides for them,” Simeonova noted.

In his opening speech, Dr. Hristian Daskalov from Digital Hub “Trakia” introduced the attendees and the online audience to the projects he has applied for as an entrepreneur and emphasized the need to share during the meeting new tools that can benefit startup entrepreneurs. He also pointed out the particular importance of networking for the success of any business, recommending that every start-up entrepreneur should be a member of a nationally representative employers’ organization such as the UPEE and that contacts should be extended internationally through the grant support received from networks such as the European Enterprise Network.

The entrepreneurs Gergana Stancheva and Penko Stoev presented a successful example of creating a business at both national and local levels. They talked about their companies – the biotech “Lam’On” and the business consultancy “IMD Co-working & Consulting”, sharing the challenges they have overcome so far and how Europe has helped them through various financial instruments and business networking opportunities to achieve success. “After two years and a lot of difficulties along the way, we now have our production base in Sofia and produce our product. European programs are crucial for people who have ideas but no money to finance their development,” said Gergana Stancheva.

Mr. Penko Stoev focused on his experience as a serial entrepreneur and the lessons he has learned from his previous business ventures. EDIH Trakia has signed a memorandum of partnership with IMD Consulting & Coworking, who are developing one of the most cozy co-working spaces in Plovdiv on the territory of the “Grand” shopping center. IMD is behind a number of innovative initiatives for the benefit of start-ups from the region, such as the monthly workshops “Entrepreneurs of Plovdiv” (Hills of Business), the usefulness of which the chairman of EDIH Trakia had the opportunity to see for himself at the end of March 2024, alongside freelancers and owners of start-up companies from the region.

In the panel discussion that followed, tools to help entrepreneurs were presented by Krasimir Loykov from “Europe Direct” – Plovdiv, who explained the role of his organization and its main functions in informing citizens about the main European policies. He emphasized the need for good awareness so that everyone can understand European issues from their perspective and receive information about the assistance they need and how it fits into existing priorities. He also stressed the importance of knowing the facts on the big European issues. “Certain people are using open misinformation on particular European issues and this is hindering our society,” Loykov noted.

In the final part of the event, a business case study on “From Theory to Practice” was presented, during which it was discussed with the management of “Manager’s Club” in the person of Ms. Snezhina Suleva what opportunities for support from the Club can rely on the start-up technology entrepreneur Denis Petkov, who presented his start-up “BrighThrive”. The case study was also discussed with the other participants of the event – in person and online, who generated valuable recommendations on the successful implementation of the entrepreneurial project. What’s interesting in this case is that the startup project “BrighThrive” was structured in 2023 during a hybrid hackathon organized by the “Digital National Coalition” (DNA Bulgaria) in Plovdiv, where the head of the business ecosystem at Hub Trakia, Mr. Yassen Tanev, participated as a mentor on cybersecurity issues.

A week before the information seminar on European topics in Hub Trakia, on April 24, 2024, a similar event was hosted by the University of National and World Economy, “Ceremonial” Hall. Opening remarks were made by the Deputy Minister of Education and Science, Ms. Natalia Miteva, the Rector of the UNWE, Prof. Dr. Dimitar Dimitrov, as well as by the Vice-Chair of the European Affairs Committee, Ms. Denitsa Simeonova. During a panel discussion moderated by the Chairperson of the National Association of Small and Medium Business Eleonora Negulova, the Dean of the Faculty of International Economics and Politics of UNWE Assoc. Prof. Dr. Svetla Boneva, the President of the EDIH “Trakia” Dr. Hristian Daskalov, as well as the Program Director of the European Institute Foundation Borislav Mavrov, presented their entrepreneurial experience and how Europe helps business.

The next day, on April 25, 2024, back in Plovdiv, a forum for sharing best practices and match-making “Digitalization and entrepreneurship in agriculture” was held, organized jointly by the National Center for Agricultural Sciences and Competence in Agriculture to the Ministry of Agriculture, EDIH Trakia, and AgroHub.BG. The forum, held at the Agricultural University in Plovdiv, brought together leading Bulgarian scientists, experts, and entrepreneurs from the agricultural sector to point out the intersections between entrepreneurship, modern agriculture, digitalization, and the penetration of new genomic technologies.

During several panel discussions, the experts highlighted the leading trends in the development of modern agriculture, which increasingly requires the inclusion of technological solutions such as supercomputing, blockchain, and the application of current new genomics techniques (NGT), including the Nobel Prize-winning chemistry CRISPR technology. The combination of these technologies can adequately and rapidly address the growing needs and expectations of modern society for new, sustainable, healthful products that reach the market on time, experts said.

EDIH Trakia was presented in the working program of the forum by Mr. Peter Kanchev, Head of Training Programs in the Hub with the topic “European Digital Innovation Hub “Trakia” as a tool for increasing cybersecurity in agriculture”; Prof. Stanimir Stoyanov from the team of Plovdiv University “P. Hilendarski” and the Institute of Information and Communication Technologies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; Kiril Grigorov, Deputy Chairman of the Bulgarian Cyber Security Association; Dr. Hristian Daskalov – moderator of the panel discussion in the field of biotechnology “Deep Technologies in Agriculture – Opportunities, Risks, Strengths and Weaknesses”.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Petko Ruskov, CTO & Co-founder, The Edge: R&BD and Eng. Petar Blagov, CEO and co-founder of FoodChain-Veloxoft LTD European spoke on the topic of “Blockchain Services Infrastructure (EBSI) as a tool for application in value chains in the agriculture and food industry”. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ruskov, who as the President of the Bulgarian Blockchain Association is the co-founder of the EDIH Trakia, presented the most recent on the opportunities for research and development in the field of blockchain technologies under the Digital Europe Programme of the European Commission with an emphasis on projects with Bulgarian participation.

In the days preceding the Forum “Digitalization and Entrepreneurship in Agriculture”, two opening events of the “Cinema Club of the Center for Promoting Cooperation in Agriculture between China and Central and Eastern European Countries” took place – on April 16 and April 24, which were also attended by the experts from EDIH Trakia, and in the future, in support of entrepreneurs from the agricultural sector, there will be three editions of the “Academy” and the annual “Accelerator” – initiatives of CPCACCEEC, organized in partnership with EDIH Trakia and other innovators from the South Central Region and the whole country.

The Forum “Digitalization and Entrepreneurship in Agriculture” was the third consecutive event where the two hubs based in the South Central Region have partnered synergistically since the beginning of the year.

At the end of March 2024, from 26.03-28.03, the second annual “Innovation in Agribusiness” Academy was held at the Literary Club “Feather” in the National Palace of Culture in the capital under the title “Ready for the Future”, co-organized by ARC Fund, AgroHub.bg and other partners. Extremely interesting presentations within the thematic panel “Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence”, were invited to be delivered by Mr. Peter Kanchev from EDIH Trakia and experts from “Acronis”, who are members of the innovation ecosystem of Hub Trakia.

At an even earlier stage of the year, on 30.01.2024, the Project Manager at EDIH Trakia, Mr. Svetlin Iliev, part of the leadership of the European Cyber Security Organization (ECSO), was invited to participate as a speaker in an information seminar of AgroHub.BG in support of small and medium businesses, held at the TEZ Event Center of the Trakia Economic Zone (TEZ). The exchange of expertise between the two hubs was highlighted as an excellent example of synergy between the Cyber4AllSTAR and AgroDigiRise projects, supported by the Digital Europe Programme of the European Commission and the national program “Research, Innovation and Digitalisation for Smart Transformation” (RIDIT).

These events are a small part of the Hub’s activities to support young entrepreneurs in the South Central Region in recent months.

In January, a partnership was established with the “Focus Point Plovdiv” at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, created under the “Development of the Social Economy” project of the MLSP. Within the framework of this cooperation between DIH Trakia and Focus-point Plovdiv, experts from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy actively participated in a number of events organized by EDIH Trakia, and the Hub in turn distributes and currently distributes information materials on-site in its training and business center on ul. Drava 2, as well as online, promotes the incentives that the state provides to registered social enterprises, namely – assistance in seeking specialized funding for the social enterprise’s activities, presentation of the social enterprise’s activities through a specially created electronic platform, provision of a distinctive certificate mark and several others.

The Hub’s interest in social economy enterprises is not coincidental. In February (13.02.24) EDIH Trakia was invited to participate in a presentation of the project “Cyber4AllSTAR” in the first for the year Regional Meeting “Sustainable Development and Socially Responsible Business”, which was held in the town of Trakia. The first edition of the annual conference “Socially Responsible Business” was held in Plovdiv at the initiative of the National Association of Socially Responsible Employers (NASOR) in partnership with the magazine “Socially Responsible Business”. Enterprise, Plovdiv Municipality and the Executive Agency for Promotion of Small and Medium Enterprises. The invitation to participate in the forum came both from the organizers of NASOR and the co-founders of Hub Trakia from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Plovdiv (part of the European Enterprise Network), who identified Cyber4AllSTAR as a good example of a socially responsible project to be presented to the audience of social entrepreneurs, social workers and representatives of institutions from the region.

In addition to the Regional Centre at the MLSP, EDIH Trakia also cooperates with other European networks and projects working to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Plovdiv and the South Central Region. EDIH Trakia participated in the annual meeting of the European networks, which was held on 14.03.24 under the hosting of European Enterprise Network – Plovdiv and “Europe Direct”. The meeting was also attended by representatives of local higher education institutions, which are implementing several European projects to support the development of youth entrepreneurship, digitalization, research, and innovation under programs such as Erasmus+, Horizon Europe, and etc.

In addition to all of the above, the coordinator of the academic partnerships of the European Digital Innovation Hub “Trakia”, who is also a freshman in the class of 2023 of the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences of Paisii Hilendarski University, Denis Petkov, was an active participant in the most important entrepreneurial-oriented events of the academic ecosystem of Plovdiv, incl. He participated in the “Days of Innovation in Education”, organized on 26.03.2024 by the Center for Creative Learning; respected the national tour of Sofia Tech Park and Junior Achievement – “The Entrepreneur’s Path” during his visit to the University of Food Technologies on 10.04.2024, as well as the first international scientific and applied conference “The Future of Talents” with a focus on digitalization, organized on 21.04.2024 at TU Plovdiv by Club Quant Foundation and partners.

The contacts established during the first 12 months of the European Digital Innovation Hub “Trakia”, since the opening event of the project “Cyber4AllSTAR” was held in April 2023 in the Grand Hotel “Plovdiv”, have naturally established the training and business center of the Hub, located on 2 Drava Str.  Part of the EDIH Trakia’s strategy to open the space to current and future members of the Hub’s innovation ecosystem has been to hold themed open days throughout the month, where different clubs of entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts are welcome to organize their own community events. Students from technology, business, and other disciplines are welcome to use the space as a shared learning and working space.

Among the first to have already taken advantage of the completely free co-working model is the local “Science Fiction Club,” which has begun regular gatherings for film screenings and presentations of science fiction books, from which the experts behind the Hub Trakia Cyber-Poligon draw inspiration for developing cyber-attack scenarios. As well as students from the Medical University – Plovdiv, with whom EDIH Trakia has an existing agreement for joint activities within the Cyber4AllSTAR.

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