Bridging Borders: Empowering Youth Through Entrepreneurship

November 20, 2023
Bridging Borders: Empowering Youth Through Entrepreneurship

The Bulgarian-Macedonian Student Startup Academy, a collaborative effort between the Informal Education and Entrepreneurship Association, the American University in Bulgaria, and the U.S. Ambassador’s Youth Council Bulgaria, has emerged as a remarkable initiative to achieve this goal. The academy brought together 52 high school students from Bulgaria and North Macedonia for a three-day intensive program, providing them with the tools, knowledge, and skills necessary to thrive in the globalized world.

Building Bridges through Entrepreneurship

According to Elena Zaharieva, AUBG junior and VP of USYC and Director of Participants’ Wellbeing, the event’s significance lay in its role as a bridge between two neighboring countries, encouraging students to collaborate, exchange ideas, and broaden their perspectives. The primary goal of the Bulgarian-Macedonian Student Startup Academy was to strengthen cultural ties and enhance the connectivity between high school students in Bulgaria and North Macedonia. By promoting entrepreneurship as a means of achieving these goals, the program demonstrated how business and innovation can be a driving force for positive change.

The initiative was appreciated by the distinguished guests, including:

  • Eric Brassil, U.S. Embassy Sofia’s Cultural & Educational Affairs Officer;
  • Augusta Philbin, Deputy Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Embassy in Skopje;
  • Vesna Ilievska, American Spaces and Education Coordinator Public Affairs Section, U.S. Embassy Skopje

“One of our main goals for this conference was to facilitate the building of meaningful relationships between students from Bulgaria and North Macedonia,” said Emil Todorov (‘22), VP of USYC and Deputy Program Director. “After the first edition last year, we were highly satisfied with the social environment of the event.

“The participants debunked most of the stereotypes concerning the other country and managed to connect by celebrating their similarities. This year we wanted to take it a step further, which led us to choose a practical approach rather than a theoretical one.”

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A Competitive Selection Process

The academy was highly competitive, attracting more than 250 applications from students aged 16 to 18, with half hailing from Bulgaria and the other half from North Macedonia. Only 52 students were selected to participate in the program. This rigorous selection process ensured that the most motivated and enthusiastic young minds were given the opportunity to engage in this unique educational experience.

Hands-On Learning

Throughout the three-day academy, students were divided into teams and paired with experienced mentors. Each team was tasked with developing a business project that pitched to a jury on the final day of the program.

“I liked that we were divided into teams from both countries, because we exchanged interesting ideas, got closer and got to know each other more,” shared one of the participants from Bulgaria. “The program was prepared beautifully, we had enough time to work on our projects and do our best to be proud to present our projects. I learned new things that I think will be useful for me.”

This hands-on approach allowed students to apply their creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills to real-world challenges, offering them valuable insights into the world of entrepreneurship. One of the favorite aspects for a participants from North Macedonia was that the mentors helped the teams and motivated them to be more confident in the work they were doing.

Practical Knowledge for the Future

The program’s emphasis on practical knowledge was a standout feature. While not every participant may choose to pursue a career in entrepreneurship, the skills and insights gained during the academy are transferable to various professional paths. The curriculum covered essential topics such as problem identification and solution development, ideal customer creation, value proposition, business model creation, financial projections, go-to-market planning, and competitive analysis. These skills are valuable not only for budding entrepreneurs but for any career path students may choose in the future.

“Engaging with high school students allows us to cultivate a sense of community and inspire a new generation of eager minds, who will play a pivotal role in the development of our country in the years to come,” said Yuliy Yuliev (‘19), President of USYC and Program Director.
“As an AUBG alumus, facilitating these conferences alongside is my way of giving back to the university and paying forward the invaluable experiences I gained at AUBG. Guiding high school students is a fulfilling and purpose-driven endeavor.”
“I am very happy that we share a common vision with the Office of Admissions – engaging with high school students early on is a proactive step in nurturing the future leaders and changemakers in Bulgaria and beyond.”