The good news for entrepreneurs is that the Park will include an Incubator and Innovation Forum, which will host different high-profile tech events and meetings with investors. They could also benefit from modern office and sport facilities as well as cooperation with researchers and public servants who will be working just next door. Another good point is that Sofia Tech Park team aims to develop a network of partnerships with private and public institutions in order to create an innovation hub where they could work together on different projects or provide assistance. For example, it will be possible to get some expert consultations on commercialising tech products and services. The team has already established cooperation with Sofia University, the Technical University Sofia, Medical University and Bulgarian Academy of Science. The last piece of good news about the Park is its excellent location: it is in 6-8 min proximity to the city centre, airport, Bulgarian Academy of Science and Technical University Sofia.
In order to find out more about the project, I have arranged an interview with Elitsa Panayotova, Executive Director of Sofia Tech Park. She joined the team in June 2012 when Bulgaria’s Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism registered Sofia Tech Park JSC. In addition, I have also asked Ms Panayotova to share some ideas about CEEDS’15, which took place between 21–22 April in Sofia. It is one of the biggest digital and tech events in Central and Eastern Europe. Sofia Tech Park participated there as an exhibitor.
At what stage of development is Sofia Tech Park at the moment? What is the next step?
We are in the last phase of finishing the construction and then we will have to set up all management mechanisms. The park has to be completed as a physical environment and be functional at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
Are there any big challenges with the implementation of the project?
There are many different kinds of challenges. One of the purposes of Sofia tech Park is to overcome certain social and economic problems in Bulgaria. We need to bridge the gap between the academic environment and businesses because communication and technology transfer are not at their best. Finding a communication channel between them is one of the challenges. It is important for the project development because these players are key in setting the priorities.
There are also a lot of challenges that are linked to different EU procedures and approvals but they are not that important. Another challenge is related to setting up the mechanisms under which the park will operate. Each of the park units has a different philosophy in itself and management scheme. At the same time, they need to be able to work together. For example, for the laboratory complex we’ll have to set up a consortium that will include Sofia Tech Park JSC as the owner of the infrastructure.
Keeping the stakeholders’ interest and making them work together are also challenging. There is the startup community, businesses of different sizes and academia. We have on board 3 universities together with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences as project partners.
One of the goals of Sofia Tech Park which it would like to reach by 2016 is setting up the Incubator for start-up and spin-off companies. Could you describe in more detail what kind of project it will be?
There are 3 focal areas of Sofia Tech Park: (1) information and communication technologies, (2) life sciences and (3) energy. The target of the Incubator is to concentrate all startup activities under one roof, enhance and scale up new initiatives and also open up to other areas. Right now the accelerators and incubators funds focus on IT: applications and softwares. We want to expand to bio-technologies: startups could work together with the universities on different projects in the laboratories. We also want to create a hub for entrepreneurs and startups where they will be able to find assistance and cooperate.
Who will be in charge of the Incubator?
We will choose an operator. We are setting up some criteria and then will be looking for an operator in the second half of this year.
Has the Incubator project received a lot of interest and support of local and international entrepreneurs, startup support organisations (incubators, accelerators, etc.) and investors?
We have received some interest from different investment funds that would like to partner with us and have access to companies that will be in the Incubator and also from companies that would like to use the Incubator facilities. The interest will be rising during the opening stage and after the setup and announcement of the selection criteria. All of this will be happening in the second half of this year towards the end of the year. Of course, like with all incubators around the world, it won’t be overnight success. It will take a while until companies will start working and all the units will be functional.
The second part of the interview can be accessed here.