Sofia climbed two positions – tо 86th place among 1 000 cities in this year’s Global Ecosystem Rankings 2020 by StartupBlink – a leading international startups and research centers platform. A case study presents Sofia and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city in the deep dive section of the report.
For its annual review, StartupBlink has reviewed the global startup ecosystem by analyzing data from more than 1 000 cities in 100 countries. In the country rankings Bulgaria is ranked 32nd, or three positions higher than in 2019.
Sofia in “Global Ecosystems 2020”
Sofia is a technology center with innovative startups in various industries, according to the report.
Around 15% of the startups are in deeptech – AI, IoT, aerospace, and others, and over 30 startups are in the gaming industry. About one-third of the startup founders are foreigners. Sofia has a well-developed ecosystem with a network of angel investors, over 15 VC funds, and 30 coworking spaces. With the notable 246 funding rounds in the last six years, Sofia comes up third among Central and Eastern Europe cities by the number of VC rounds. 30.2% of those employed in the ICT sector are women (vs.16.7% in the EU). 42% of current university students are in STEM-related fields.
The article reminds that Sofia will host one of the EU’s еight next-generation supercomputers, expected to be operational by the end of 2020 and cites Mr. Vladimir Danailov, Deputy Mayor for Digitalization, Innovation and Economic Development of Sofia: Sofia has come a long way from an outsourcing center into a developed ecosystem that invents world-class products and services. Sofia has a great story to tell!
Sofia’s start-up ecosystem was featured during the live launch of the report on 26 May, via Zoom.
Nadia Sultanova presented on behalf of Innovative Sofia: ‘Sofia has one of the most-rapidly developing startup and entrepreneurial ecosystems in the region and is a tech, innovation and creative hub with a mature IT, innovation and tech ecosystem. Today Sofia-based companies are developing global solutions locally. Sofia hasn’t had its first unicorn yet, but there are several companies that are close to achieving that goal.’
Bulgaria in the ranking by country
The report states that Bulgaria has a remarkably high number of participants in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. If it continues on this trajectory, Bulgaria might be in the top 30 by 2021, according to the report.
The article notes that there is a gap between Sofia and the 3 other Bulgarian cities included in the index. The second strongest ecosystem is Varna at 430th place, Plovdiv – ranking 784th, and Burgas – ranking 984th, and all three cities register a drop in the index compared to 2019, lagging far behind Sofia.
This disparity is certainly holding the country back from breaking the top 30 mark, and a priority for ecosystem developers should be working to bring those smaller cities up in the ranking, comment the authors of the analysis. Bulgaria’s startup ecosystem had plenty of momentum when we first visited it in 2014 with accelerators like Eleven, funded by the EU. Entrepreneurs from across the continent started noticing the ecosystem and basing their activities there. Some special tax benefits by the public sector also helped in showcasing why relocating to Bulgaria made sense, and Europe’s most iconic coworking chain, Betahaus, also opened a massive coworking space in Sofia. The worry back then was whether this would not be enough to change local mindsets and push the population into entrepreneurship.
Now, in 2020, we can clearly see that Bulgaria is indeed maintaining its position of a strong ecosystem in the Balkan region. However, Sofia has still not transformed into a major European hub, and it is left to be seen how additional investment will bring Bulgaria to the next level. Bulgarians have an abundance of technical skills, and when founding startups, local entrepreneurs are choosing interesting deep tech verticals like machine learning and data analysis, which gives hope that the ecosystem has the potential to become highly advanced technologically if the right policies are implemented. These policies have to facilitate the legal framework for entrepreneurs, encourage private investment, and reduce dependence on public funding.
The full report Global Ecosystems 2020 is available for free download here.