Acceleration programs targeted at companies outside the tech sector are rather rare in Bulgaria. So are female-led ventures (30%), even though Bulgaria features the highest number of women in tech throughout Europe. This is why the pilot edition of the scaleup accelerator Dare to Scale by the Bulgarian branch of global entrepreneurship network Endeavor is an interesting phenomenon. In its pilot cohort of ten companies, the program featured 14 founders, with eight of them being female.
The three companies awarded most of the points during the final demo day were also female-led. A jury of mentors, entrepreneurs, and business leaders evaluated the participants based on their growth strategy and scalability potential. Two food innovation ventures and one clothing company turned out to be the champions of the cohort.
The top three
The winner Frudada is a brand of the founded in 2015 company Santulita, which offers high-quality plant-based beverages and ice cream that provide both sweetness and healthy nutrients, with smoothies being its best-known products. Although not a tech company, the business features a production innovation – the entire production process from extracting the juice in a vacuum chamber to bottling occurs under non-oxidizing conditions, which allows a significantly higher content of antioxidants. Currently, the venture led by Zlatelina Bezheva generates around €500K annual revenues from the Bulgarian market. Diversification of the product portfolio, and also European expansion are the next steps for the company. Dare to Scale, the four-month mentoring and growth program of Endeavor, helped the young founder crystalize her strategy. “Most of all, however, it gave me a network of business contacts and peers that will help me scale the company,” tells us Bezheva.
Cheese the Queen is a food production company devoted to change the food system throughout healthier and sustainable dairy alternatives. The flagship product is cheese made from cultured cashews with probiotics. Cheese the Queen is a fairly new market player that was registered in 2017 and has grown its revenues 600% to €45K in 2018. The founded by Vera Tinkova company is now selling in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and has an ambitious plan to go to the US, Israeli and Saudi Arabian markets in the next years.
More Noir is a contemporary swimwear label for women, targeting fashion-oriented millennials, which was established in 2016 by sisters Nia-Karla Klincheva and Sandra Klincheva, who graduated from fashion schools Central St. Martins and Istituto Marangoni. Their premium swimwear is currently sold in stores in London, Monaco, Dubai, Saint Tropez, Sofia, and of course, online.
To be continued next year
As the pilot season has shown Endeavor Bulgaria’s team validation, Dare To Scale will be organized again. The growth program featured eight educational modules in marketing, sales, finance, strategy in support of high-potential entrepreneurs, and aimed to help high potential entrepreneurs achieve a product-market fit, set up a scalable sales process, learn the knits and grits of raising capital.
Dare to Scale will continue in the coming years to encourage the growth of even more new local businesses, reads an official statement. “A key element of the project is that thanks to Dare to Scale, each of them has significantly expanded their network of business contacts, and we are already seeing the effect this has on growing them as leaders, which is extremely important in creating supportive micro-communities,” comments Irina Encheva, Endeavor Bulgaria’s entrepreneur selection and growth manager.
Endeavor works to catalyze long-term economic growth and is focused on countries with emerging innovation ecosystems. It’s already operating within over 30 markets. For four years on the local market, the organization has managed to identify and guide through the selection process 23 local entrepreneurs who are already part of the network and grow their businesses on a global scale. Some examples are the nanosatellite startup Endurosat and the flight delay compensation platform ClaimCompass.
Bulgaria is the only CEE market where Endeavor is active, but this is about to change soon as the local team has the ambition to grow within the Eastern European region in the next few months.