The first part of the interview can be accessed here.
Sofia Tech Park will also have the Innovation Forum, which will host different meetings and events of the tech startup community: scientific conferences, industry panels, meetings with investors, etc. Is it already known who will be administering the Forum? Have any events been already planned?
Again: no. We will also have an operator selected for the R&D Forum. Of course, Tech Park will be assisting with ideas and contacts but we will have an operator that will be responsible [for everything – ed. note]. It will work under an R&D consortium that will manage the laboratories.
We are planning the first events for November but we haven’t set the dates. Probably in a month or two we’ll know the exact date of the opening and then the event dates. For two years, we have been organising events as Tech Park in different venues, mainly in Sofia: event centres, hotels and universities. This is part of the concept with which we applied for funding. The goal is to prepare the park ecosystem while developing its physical environment. Last year we had 3 or 4 events, this year we’ll have other 10. Basically once or twice a month we have events on different topics. For example, one event focused on intellectual property rights in the 3 areas that are focal to Tech Park [ICT, life sciences and energy – ed. note]. We had participants from all over Europe, the US and Israel.
Then we have an event this year that will focus on matchmaking companies from different areas. One of the topics will be: How could you find horizontal integration between software development and agriculture sectors? Another event worth attention will be about innovations in the form of design: how design brings innovations to different businesses. Also, we will focus on education, not on the institutional side of it but on global trends and how they could be introduced to our society. These are events that we are organising in parallel and once the Forum opens we will be able to host them there. This year we'll probably have one or two events outside Sofia and in the future we will also try to expand our activities to other cities.
How are you trying to attract local and international investors?
We haven’t started attracting investors actively. You need to know the opening date and Park mechanisms before you can address all players. Our focus is not only on national companies but also regional and international. We see some interest. As we speak, companies are sending us letters of intent. We have started communicating and reviewing some of them.
We have our first investor. It’s a local company called Walltopia. It is a world-leading producer of artificial climbing walls. It is constructing tailor-made buildings offices and the R&D Centre. That building will also house a lot of sport activities. We also have 2 or 3 multinationals with whom we are discussing setting up their operations in the Park. They are not newcomers to the market. We will start attracting investors actively at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
What are the eligibility criteria for investors interested in the research and development (R&D) and office facilities?
Their businesses should be in the 3 focus areas of Tech Park [ICT, life sciences and energy – ed. note]. We aren’t looking for companies that just sell technology or provide services. So one of the basic criteria would be R&D. Companies should also be innovative and contribute to the whole environment. We need to give a push to the ecosystem with innovative technologies.
What cooperation opportunities will be offered for international researchers?
As we speak, we are talking to several international research centres about projects that we’ll be working on together when the Park opens the doors. For example, our laboratories will participate in different research projects.
Sofia Tech Park is a member of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovations (IASP). What kind of support do you receive from the organisation?
The support is mainly information: contacts and information on how things are done. Definitely it will grow as we operate. There will be more exchanges in the network: requests for different services, products or projects. This will be very useful for us.
Between 21–22 April Sofia Tech Park participated as an exhibitor at CEEDS’15, organised by Webit. Could you describe your work there?
The point of our participation was to present the project on a larger scale: to get people better informed of what we are doing and what the Park will be about. Some of them could become our clients afterwards. Also, we established new contacts and got some useful information. Some of the event lectures were focal to many aspects of our work.
What is your impression of the event?
It was very well visited. There were a lot of interesting companies and lectures. There was a very informative lecture on global [digital and technology – ed. note] trends. I think it was a very useful event, an event on a global scale. I am very positively impressed. It is good to have such events in the region.
Would you recommend participating in the event next year?
We will definitely participate and are already planning to participate in a different way. Right now we are very cautious because we are not yet there: we are at the development stage. We hope that next year we will be better visible.
I think that Webit events have proved to be among the most important and interesting events in the area. They attract people and leading technology companies from all over the world.
This event was quite prestigious. Even if you look at the list of lecturers and panelists: it’s an amazing group. It was a very informative and networking event. People got to know each other. For example, people whom we met came to Bulgaria for the first time and weren’t aware of certain opportunities that are in stock for them here. So this was an event where you could come up and come out with specific results and contacts.
What are your future plans for cooperation with Webit’s team?
We have discussed cooperation. If next year Webit is again in Sofia, we’ll be glad to host it at the Innovation Forum. We’ve agreed that after the event in Istanbul in the autumn [the 7th Global Webit Congress, 7–8 October 2015 – ed. note], we’ll discuss in more specific terms how it will turn out next year.
Thank you for the interview.