From the black sand beaches of Iceland to the Dolomites, the Eiffel Tower to the Colosseum, there is no shortage of wonders–both natural and man-made–in Europe. While these destinations are popular for a reason, often overlooked, underestimated, and forgotten are the less mainstream countries that boast equally beautiful and wondrous landmarks, culture, and history.
Bulgaria, a cultural melting pot with a vast array of spectacular landscapes, falls under this category. While it lacks attention from the mainstream media and you’re unlikely to find it on a list of ten places you should visit this summer, what you’ll find is a plentiful bounty of heritage, natural beauty and hospitality.
And should you visit for leisure, it’s possible you’ll want to extend your stay. In addition to being a lesser-known leisure destination, Bulgaria offers many surprises in the business sector. From a booming startup ecosystem to a highly skilled – yet affordable – workforce, here are four reasons that make the Balkan nation a top business destination that never crossed your mind.
From IT to Startups
Known in the 1980s as the “Silicon Valley” of the Eastern Bloc, Bulgaria has historically been a major player in exporting computer technologies and in the information technology (IT) sector. Since the fall of the Communist Party in 1990, their influence, particularly in IT, has only grown stronger.
Ranked by Washington DC-based Clutch as the 5th top outsourcing country in the world and by Global Services Location Index A.T. Kearney in 2014 as the 9th top country, Bulgaria didn’t stop there. The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2020 found Bulgaria to have the second largest increase in relevant digital skills among its workforce since 2016, showing why the country continues to be considered one of the top IT destinations in the world.
The strong digital infrastructure (Bulgaria boasts the ninth fastest mobile internet speed in the world at 142.27 Mbps) has also led to the Balkan nation’s trajectory to transition from an outsourcing hub to an innovation center. Now home to over 400 startups, 15 VC and growth equity firms with over 200M Euros worth of VC funding available, and multiple organizations dedicated to fostering the startup ecosystem, Bulgaria is well-positioned to further develop in industries such as fintech, artificial intelligence, and deep tech.
Related to the startup growth is an increasing acceptance of and interest in entrepreneurship. Local success stories have been a driving force toward inspiring young entrepreneurs to establish ventures in their homeland.
According to a 2016 report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Bulgaria, three out of four Bulgarians viewed successful entrepreneurship to be important for society. Additionally, 57.5 percent of adults believed entrepreneurship to be a strong career choice and 71.5 percent agreed that successful entrepreneurs experienced elevated status.
Just as important as the local legends are the Bulgarians that experience entrepreneurial success abroad, and the country has done well at maintaining a strong connection with its diaspora.
Education > Skilled Workforce
Much of Bulgaria’s growing economic trajectory can be attributed to the country’s investment in education, leading to a skilled workforce. This can be traced back to 1999, when Bulgaria became one of the first countries to sign the Joint Declaration of European Higher Education Area (EHEA), which ensures more comparable, compatible, and coherent higher education systems in Europe.
The country’s 15 universities and 220 high-schools (not including private institutions) offer ICT programs and courses in English and other major languages, directly benefiting the growing pool of 65,000 multilingual IT professionals and counting.
Adult education is also prioritized in Bulgaria, often provided by Licensed Vocational Training centers and Trade Unions.
For a country with a highly-educated and skilled workforce, Bulgaria offers some of the most competitive labor costs in Europe. The fDi’s European Cities and Regions of the Future 2020/21 Report ranked the Bulgarian capital of Sofia as the third among major European cities in cost-effectiveness and foreign direct investment strategy. The same report also ranked the smaller Bulgarian cities of Ruse, Burgas, and Plovdiv as the first, third, and fourth most cost-effective among small European cities.
Although Bulgaria isn’t the first European country to cross your mind, we must not ignore the potential and benefits it offers. While organizations are fighting for attention among the mainstream, Bulgaria sits steadily ready and waiting to be invested in – and it has an abundance to offer.