There Is More Than One Way to RE:TURN

As art director at Pixar Studios, Anthony Christov has worked on films such as Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Cars, and The Incredibles.

Genoveva Christova’s incredible success as an entrepreneur is proof not only that doing business in Bulgaria is possible without the support of influential relatives and friends but also that Bulgarian products can compete on global markets.

For the past 37 years, Anthony lived and worked in California, while Genoveva built her life and business entirely in Bulgaria. They met last fall, and their shared desire to shake things up in Bulgaria’s creative industry fueled the idea for Ligna Creative Space—a place that would bring artists and creative entrepreneurs under the same roof.

The aim of RE:TURN is to forge partnerships like Anthony and Genoveva’s. The two joined the initiative on its West Coast tour in March, and in a series of meetings with fellow Bulgarians, they talked about their work and plans and about the reasons Bulgaria is worth investing in.

RE:TURN, too, is the result of a partnership. In 2018, four organizations—the Bulgarian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (BVCA), the America for Bulgaria Foundation, Solutions for the Future Foundation, and Bulgarian Entrepreneurship Center (BEC)—joined efforts to establish closer connections between Bulgaria and Bulgarians abroad. The initiative is the brainchild of BVCA, an association of investors and entrepreneurs working to improve the business environment and encourage innovation in the country. At a series of events called BVCA on Tour throughout 2017 and 2018, association members met with Bulgarians in several European cities and talked to them about the many investment and entrepreneurship opportunities Bulgaria offers.

In early March 2019, RE:TURN traveled to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle to meet with Bulgarians and friends of Bulgaria abroad. Over three evenings, investors and entrepreneurs from Bulgaria like Genoveva, Telerik cofounder Vassil Terziev, former Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev, and BVCA Chairman Evgeny Angelov talked about the positive changes in Bulgaria in recent years and urged their compatriots abroad to invest in Bulgarian companies and to support meaningful initiatives in the country.

ABF President Nancy Schiller presented the work of Bulgarian nonprofits striving to improve business conditions in the country and working for sustainable change in areas such as justice, media, and education.

“I ask you to contribute to better education for the country’s youth, encourage entrepreneurship, and fight economic decline in rural Bulgaria by donating to these organizations now. Acting now might just bring about the change that will make you want to return,” Schiller said.

RE:TURN attendees also learned about the newly established Bulgaria Innovation Hub, which will help Bulgarian tech startups get a foot in Silicon Valley’s door.

The events in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle gathered together more than 450 Bulgarians who have made the United States their permanent home. Some of them are recognizable names from the US tech industry such as former Google vice president Bogomil Balkansky and Momchil Kyurkchiev, CEO and cofounder of Leanplum, a leader in integrated mobile marketing. Attendees also included up-and-coming tech entrepreneurs such as Vince Gaydarzhiev, founder of Alcatraz AI, which produces facial authentication security software, and Amazon Bound founder Nick Dimitrov as well as designers, architects, engineers, pilots, and inventors.

Some attendees were there to learn more about RE:TURN, but the majority wanted to know: “How can I help? How can I get involved?” said Ivan Dimov, a Bulgarian who left a career in investment banking in New York to start Single Step, a foundation working to build an accepted, vibrant LGBTI community in Bulgaria. Ivan is also a Bulgaria Innovation Hub cofounder.

At the Seattle event, Genoveva met a young Bulgarian couple living in the United States, who told her they were thinking about returning to Bulgaria. Genoveva’s story was such an inspiration that they are considering making the move this year. Genoveva will also attend the couple’s wedding in Chernomorets, on the Black Sea coast, this summer.

Anthony, who moved back to Sofia a few months ago and is about to start a professional school for movie animators and video game designers, says, “What I set out to do is to make sure students would have connections and ideas about what they can do after they graduate. This way, they are less likely to leave Bulgaria.”

Photo 1: Kalin Radev, Ivailo Gospodinov, Genoveva Christova, Ivaylo Penchev and Maria Karaivanova at the RE:TURN event in Seattle

Photo 3: The RE:TURN event in San Francisco was hosted by Leanplum, whose CEO, Momchil Kyurkchiev, is a Bulgarian

Photo 4: Former Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev addresses the audience in San Francisco

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