Ever fewer youth in Bulgaria are content with taking jobs already shaped by others and are instead looking to carve their own professional paths. The good news is that there are more and more organizations and tools to facilitate a young entrepreneur’s journey and help them turn an idea into a marketable product or service.
Innovation Starter, Bulgaria’s first innovation consultancy and accelerator, runs Innovation Academy, a program helping university students bring their innovations to life. For the past seven years, hundreds of student teams from universities around the country have applied for the program by submitting compelling presentations of their innovative ideas. Shortlisted candidates go through intensive innovation training and hone their ideas with experienced mentors from different walks of life. Then they pitch their ideas in front of a jury of entrepreneurs, nonprofit representatives, and members of academia for a chance to win a 10,000-lev prize and assistance launching their startup.
Out of the 60 applications in the 2020 edition of Innovation Academy, 17 were admitted to the program, with the jury recognizing not the usual three, but five projects in total, during the final round. In addition to cash prizes for the two first-place winners, all five awardees will receive support in developing their ideas, free participation in Innovation Starter Accelerator, and a trip to Brussels, once conditions allow it.
While life may take some time to get back to normal, these five exciting innovations are quickly moving to market. Here’s what to watch out for in the coming months:
We all like looking and feeling good; it’s the work it takes to get there that’s the problem. So, if you are like most people and need extra prodding to exercise and mind your diet, Healthit is for you. Two years after it was first conceived and after months of preparation and testing, the first Bulgarian health app is now a reality. Healthit is completely free, has a cool, fun interface, and earns you points for sticking to your exercise regimen and calorie count. You can then cash in your points for discounts and savings at your preferred retailers.
The idea for Healthit was developed by students from the American University in Bulgaria, led by Metodi Kanazirski, Emil Todorov, and Yuliy Yuliev. Their aim is “to change the healthy living market by making what’s healthy easily accessible and affordable to every willing Bulgarian.”
They got into the healthy living business two years ago, when together with other classmates they founded BAV.bg, a platform offering nutrition and exercise advice. And it is not just their body health they look after; healthy working habits are just as important to them. From the get-go, they have promoted a healthy company culture where everyone feels valued, supported, and respected.
“For us, the team is the variable that makes or breaks not only the innovation but the company as a whole. We spend a lot of our time connecting with the people from the team. … We even have a mentor program for interns,” Yuliy says.
Their idea for the Healthit app won first place at Innovation Academy 2020.
Be among the first to get all the health benefits of Healthit by signing up for free at https://www.bav.bg/healthit/
We’ve all been there: empty soap dispensers and infrequent refills in public restrooms make handwashing difficult and inefficient. Few of us carry wet wipes or hand sanitizer around with us, nor are these alternatives very good options for the environment conscious and sensitive of skin. And if there ever was a time when it was vital to clean your hands properly, that time is now.
“What if you could carry your own soap around?” is the question that prompted the creation of WashIt—single-use soap pellets that, just like gum, will come in packs and will be sold at drug stores, gas stations, and supermarkets. Unlike gum, WashIt will be environment-friendly, dissolve quickly in water, and leave no waste behind.
The creators of WashIt are five advertising students from New Bulgarian University: Joanna Miteva, Maria Doycheva, Metodi Mitkov, Teodossi Dimov, and Yana Koceva. They wanted to develop a product that solves a common problem in a sustainable, planet-friendly way. “Everyone has their definition of success. What unites our team is the belief in change for the better. We want to be the example we want to see around us,” team member Yana Koceva says.
In addition to selling directly to customers, the WashIt team envisions developing WashIt soap dispensers that will cater to the needs of whole schools, public institutions, and businesses.
The soap pellet idea tied for first place at this year’s Innovation Academy.
Flower in a Test Tube
The most popular gift in the world is also the most ephemeral. A few days after a special occasion, your gorgeous rose or artfully arranged bouquet is wilted and ready for the wastebasket. A sad and somewhat paradoxical fate for something that is meant to be a token of lasting appreciation and love. What is worse, cut-flower production is a major groundwater and air polluter.
The world’s top gift just got an upgrade thanks to a team of molecular biology students from Sofia University. Alexandrina Nesheva, Gabriela Radulova, Lubomira Ivanova, Mikaela Stancheva, and Petar Neftelimov came up with Flower in a Test Tube—lab-grown miniature bouquets beautifully arranged in glass containers that can live up to two months without special care. Relying on a handy bit of science, the five scientists-turned-entrepreneurs have created a gift that is innovative, environmentally responsible, long lasting, and visually striking. Their idea impressed Innovation Academy 2020 judges, earning them second place.
“Our strong desire is to reduce the land area used for cut-flower production. Instead, this land can be used for food production. Our solution is this new, environment-friendly product offered by an up-and-coming, morally responsible business, founded by young scientists, whose main goal is to support science in Bulgaria,” says Petar.
The team is currently looking for seed funding to rent and equip a lab to commence commercial production.
So, if you would like to support an environmentally responsible, science-powered startup, consider backing their venture or gifting your loved ones a bit of nature in a test tube by pre-ordering at https://cvetevepruvetka.store/. You can also find Flower in a Test Tube on Facebook and Instagram.
Day5’s Cheatburger is a burger you don’t have to feel guilty about. It “cheats” or tricks you into thinking it is unhealthy but is actually bursting with the good stuff. After you are done with it, you might even have some space left for Day5’s line of keto desserts.
The Cheatburger idea, which won third prize at this year’s Innovation Academy, caters to busy, weight-conscious city dwellers and proves that fast food does not have to be unhealthy. The keto burgers and desserts developed by Day5 replace carbohydrates with high-protein substitutes that are both nutritious and delicious.
Day5 is the work of three advertising students from New Bulgarian University—Dayana Belovezhdova, Aneta Yoveva, and Petya Panova, who like to experiment with new ideas. Their company name in Bulgarian, Дай5, is a greeting, “Give me five!,” and a partial anagram of their names (Д – Даяна, АЙ – Анета Йовева, 5 – Петя), while in English it stands for their favorite day—Friday or Day 5, the start of the weekend. Their declared preference for leisure notwithstanding, Dayana, Aneta, and Petya are hard workers juggling schoolwork, professional commitments, and the many ideas that they have brewing at any one time.
Style and presentation are just as important to the three young entrepreneurs as content. The result is simple, elegant, and beautiful branding and food that looks as good as it tastes. If you fancy a bite, drop them a line at [email protected] and have them cater your event.
Their ambition is to become the #1 DIY robot company in Europe in three years. Still in high school, the five founders of EduBots were Innovation Academy 2020’s youngest participants. Rangel Plachkov, Russie Shishmanov, Petko Mikov, Dimitar Serafimov, and Kaloyan Blagoev are juniors at Sofia’s German High School and the National High School of Sciences and Mathematics drawn together by the challenge of creating their own innovation.
Even though they have only been working on their idea for EduBots since January, they already built several prototypes and rolled out their first robot kit, Tripio, this summer. Tripio helps kids learn about robotics in a fun, easy-to-follow way.
“We know from personal experience what it is like to want to develop your knowledge in robotics and have no accessible, understandable, and interactive way to do so. Tripio and every future EduBots robot will strive to guide every child and robotics enthusiast through their first steps in programming, microelectronics, and robotics,” Dimitar says.
Tripio isn’t just for the engineers-to-be: because it develops problem-solving and wide-application digital skills, it is a good fit for anyone who wants to prepare for the jobs of the future.
Judging by the team members’ drive and by the incredible progress they have made in a few short months, we believe the EduBots creators might just achieve the goals they have set for themselves.
Tripio is available for pre-ordering at https://edubotsbg.com/
Innovation Academy 2020 was organized by Innovation Starter in cooperation with 14 Bulgaria-based universities, the institutional support of the European Commission in Bulgaria, and the general support of the European Investment Bank and the America for Bulgaria Foundation.