StartUp@Blagoevgrad 2019: StartUp. Build. SustainApril 19, 2019
Annually organized on campus by a group of enterprising AUBG students, the StartUp@Blagoevgrad Conference has over the years become one of the region’s most significant entrepreneurial events. The theme of this year’s conference was sustainability and speakers from all paths of life and corners of the globe have come to share their points of view on the topic during the day-long event April 6.
First to walk on the stage of the Dr. Carl Djerassi Theater Hall was one of Bulgaria’s most prominent social entrepreneurs, Blagovesta Pugyova. Pugyova is the CEO of software company Childish, executive director at Bulgaria’s largest volunteer platform Time Heroes, and founder of the Give a Book Foundation. Give a Book Foundation started nine years ago as a Facebook group aimed at collecting books for children deprived of parental care and grew to become a network of hundreds of volunteers who offer support, advice and attention to kids in social homes. “The volunteers ‘donate’ their time to children which often results in life-long friendships,” Pugyova said. “It is not about giving books anymore, it is about giving time.”
The second speaker, Harvard Business School graduate Kiril Petkov, told the story of his biotechnology company ProViotic. Petkov used lactobacillus bulgaricus — bacteria first identified by a Bulgarian scientist and used in the production of yogurt— to ferment carrots and thus create the world’s only bio-preservative that can be used in organic and vegan foods. “Turns out you can find an innovation even in a traditional industry when you come to think about it,” Petkov said. His business rapidly spread to the U.S., UK and Japan but despite the global success, Petkov is certain that Bulgaria is a good place to make business. “We can find resources to be sustainable here, in Bulgaria,” he said.
Next to speak about sustainability was Dr. Clifford Hurst, professor of entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, U.S. According to Hurst one “should be able to do good through [their] business” and young people nowadays are not simply interested in making profit but want to make a difference in the world. However, in order to take care of their business and the planet, Hurst argued, entrepreneurs need to first take care of themselves and strive to live a healthy lifestyle.
Omar Al Busaidy spoke about his personal experience of becoming a successful entrepreneur. Al Busaidy is a Fulbright nominee, a best-selling author and host on the only radio dedicated to tech in the United Arab Emirates. “I’m an educator,” Al Busaidy said. “I grab every opportunity to write or to speak on the radio or on stage. I love spreading my ideas, educating people.”
Fashion entrepreneur Bogomila Traykova gave a speech on the importance of creativity in the sustainable development of a business. Traykova produces socially conscious and eco-friendly silk with support from local craftsmen, artisans and elderly people. During the silk production process people sing and laugh together, Traykova said, thus feeling that there are not simply working but also doing something good.
The StartUp@Blagoevgrad Conference concluded with well-known Bulgarian actor, producer, writer and director Nikolay Iliev who spoke about “Sustainability in the Film Industry”. Iliev’s lecture focused on the hardships he faced during the production of his first movie, “The Foreigner”, and how the movie eventually became Bulgaria’s most watched and highest grossing film in the cinemas in both 2012 and 2013.
In addition to the panel speakers, the conference also offered the audience the chance to participate in two practical workshops with some of the startup industry’s top experts. The student team behind the conference “put a great amount of effort to deliver the best possible experience to AUBG students,” said Natalia Rogova, AUBG student and president of StartUp@Blagoevgrad. It was amazing because at the end of the day you can feel that you are making a change in somebody else’s life.”
In line with the topic of sustainability, the students from StartUp@Blagoevgrad collaborated with the students from the AUBG Campus against Plastic (CAP) Club to bring to recycling all plastic that was used during the event.
Story by Bilhen Sali
Photos by Igor Grinin and StartUp@Blagoevgrad