The Complete Stara Zagora Startup City Guide

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Ever thought about discovering a new and interesting place to launch your startup, establish your business and start a company? In this guide, we’ll introduce you to Stara Zagora - the beautiful startup city located in the heart of Bulgaria.

Whether you’re from outside the EU or inside, Stara Zagora, one of the biggest cities in Bulgaria, is a very affordable and attractive place to found a startup! Check out this Startup City Guide to find out more about Stara Zagora’s dynamic startup ecosystem that is just beginning to grow.

In The Heart Of Bulgaria

Stara Zagora (Bulgarian: Стара Загора, pronounced [ˈstarɐ ˈzaɡorɐ]) is a nationally important economic center for Bulgaria. Located in the Southern part of the country, it is the administrative capital of the homonymous Stara Zagora Province. According to the Operative Program Regional Development of Bulgaria, the agglomeration of Stara Zagora is the fifth largest in Bulgaria and has a population of 213,444 inhabitants. Stara Zagora is known as the city of straight streets, Linden trees, and poets. The favorable geographic and climatic conditions of the territory around Stara Zagora contributed to the establishment of several prehistoric settlements in the remote past. More than 100 prehistoric mounds from the 6th to 3rd millennium BC were found in the vicinity of Stara Zagora. One of them, called the Bereketska mound, is the largest in Bulgaria, containing traces of people that lived there from the New Stone Age (6th millennium BC) to the Middle Ages (12th century).

Located at the crossroads of multiple civilizations, Stara Zagora is an important piece in the European cultural routes mosaic. Inhabited by ancient Thracians, Romans, Ottomans, and Bulgarians, this unique city bears the historical imprint of those past civilizations along with many of their historical treasures. Proof of its longevity can be found in the multiple names of the city, each one connected to a different era of its development.

Another advantage is the location of Stara Zagora in the center of Bulgaria.The city is easily accessible as it is located in the middle of important transportation roads such as the motorway Trakia, the international road E85 – Ruse – Svilengrad (connecting Romania and Turkey, being the shortest distance between Bucharest and Istanbul), and just a short distance from the latest motorway in Bulgaria – Maritsa, which gives quick and easy access to tourists and visitors coming from Turkey and North-Eastern Greece. Stara Zagora is a central hub for the main Bulgarian railroads: Sofia – Plovdiv – Stara Zagora – Burgas and Ruse – Stara Zagora – Burgas. It is also only two hours away from the two biggest (by volume of passengers) international airports in Bulgaria – Sofia and Burgas and only an hour away from the international airport of Plovdiv (the European capital of culture in 2019). This makes Stara Zagora a preferable place for logistics companies and a desirable destination for conferences and other industry related events.

Direction: Stara Zagora

Launching a startup in Stara Zagora has many advantages but also a few disadvantages which founders should consider. Let’s take a look:

Advantages Of Starting A Startup In Stara Zagora:

  • Bulgaria has one of the most favorable tax regimes in Europe. The corporate income tax rate is 10%, the lowest in the EU. Personal income tax is 10%, flat rate.
  • Stara Zagora has one of the most competitive labor costs among the EU’s largest cities.
  • Many highly skilled IT professionals. Bulgaria holds the 3rd place in Europe and the 10th position worldwide regarding the absolute number of certified IT professionals (the third place worldwide according to certificates per capita).
  • The deep work ethic and community in the Bulgarian culture as well as the openness of the people.
  • Knowledge of foreign languages: 98% of the high school students learn a foreign language (usually English) and 73% learn German / French / Spanish / Russian as a second language.
  • Bulgaria’s strategic geographic location serves as a bridge between the EU and rapidly growing markets such as Russia, Turkey, the Middle East and CIS countries, placing the country in the center of transit between these regions.
  • Stara Zagora has one of the fastest internet connections in Europe.
  • The cost of living is lower than in EU capitals and other major cities.
  • Stara Zagora has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.

What Startup Founders Have To Consider:

  • Small local market with a low-income population.
  • Ineffective management of government funds.
  • High level of bureaucracy at governmental and municipal institutions.
  • Slow and ineffective judicial system.
  • 20% Value-added tax (VAT).

Despite some drawbacks, Stara Zagora is a great place to launch your startup. It provides excellent business development opportunities at a reasonable price and, at the same time, is a unique spot for culture, recreation, leisure, and sport.

The city’s startup ecosystem is rapidly growing and manages to solve its problems one by one. Therefore, it might not be a long way for disadvantages to disappear and advantages to remain.

Get To Know Stara Zagora’s Local Startup Community

The Complete Stara Zagora Startup City Guide

The startup community in Stara Zagora is growing at a fast pace. More and more people start being enthusiastic about new projects and innovation. Here’s where you can find info about upcoming events, meetups and other occasions:

  • ZaraLab – The main hub in Stara Zagora is the local co-working space and tech lab. ZaraLab provides lots of information about startups and educates the society. You can find many lectures, events, and workshops there.
  • The House Of The Architect – The personal home of architect Hristo Dimov built in 1923. The house is in the town of Stara Zagora, one of the few remaining monuments of the city, characterized by the Art Nouveau style. Since 2012, the house is managed by the Association for Contemporary Art and Culture, where the organization conducts art activities and cultural events for children, young people, and lovers of contemporary art. The place also has a co-working space.
  • International Center For Children & Youth In Risk – The center, with its primary mission is to serve the youth sector and young people. The main focus of the program of the center is young people and those who work with and for young people. Much of the educational activities at the center correspond to informal educational profile. The center provides training of trainers involved in the informal learning of young people. The center offers a tolerant and safe work environment that is based on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, human rights, including those of minorities.

Regular Events & Meet-ups:

  • Weekly lectures in ZaraLab on different topics related to entrepreneurship, IT, digital arts, and digital marketing.

Yearly Or Major Events, Festivals, Conferences:

  • Zara Code Week – organized by ZaraLab, the local edition of Europe Code Week for the city of Stara Zagora.
  • TEDx Stara Zagora – the local edition of the world famous TEDx events.

The startup ecosystem is still young but thriving. As you can see there are many startup events and conferences. Their number is increasing annually so make sure to constantly check out their Facebook pages and Startup Digest for further updates.

Choose A Space To Be Productive In Stara Zagora

The Complete Stara Zagora Startup City Guide

The prices of the office spaces in Stara Zagora are still much cheaper than office spaces in other EU capitals or bigger cities in Bulgaria such as Sofia and Plovdiv. Many affordable, comfortable and high-quality offices for rent can be found in Stara Zagora. When it comes to founding a startup, co-working spaces have their own magic and charm.

Co-working Spaces In Stara Zagora:

  • ZaraLab – a combination of co-working space and hackerspace in Stara Zagora. ZaraLab is still young but it has visitors from different parts of Bulgaria and abroad. Prices begin from 10 Euro. ZaraLab is the first co-working space in Stara Zagora. It is situated very near to the center of Stara Zagora and it is easily accessible. This is the only place in the city where one can rent a desk without minimum lease period, deposit or any inconveniences of that kind. ZaraLab gathers a group of people who work independently but share common values and interests and care for the synergy that comes out of working at the same place with other creative people. Despite providing quiet and inspiring workplace, the other main goal of ZaraLab is to form a community of entrepreneurial people who develop innovative projects in Bulgaria. In order to achieve that we organize different educational and social events like workshops and networking gatherings.
  • The House Of The Architect – a space for contemporary arts but it also has a co-working part and an option to rent a working space.

Secure Financing For Your Startup In Stara Zagora

The Complete Stara Zagora Startup City Guide

Unfortunately, all accelerators, incubators, and startup angels are situated in Sofia. Anyway, there is a good connection with Stara Zagora and most of them participate in the main startup events.

Accelerators:

    • LAUNCHub operates under the Entrepreneurship Acceleration and Seed financial instrument of the JEREMIE initiative of the EIF and EC and has a partnership with Seedcamp and Mozilla WebFWD.
    • Eleven is an accelerator and venture fund for early-stage startups, which provides mentorship, wide range of support, and critical initial capital to entrepreneurs and their ideas.
    • Chivas The Venture is a global initiative in more than 20 countries in the world giving 1 million USD to extraordinary startups that use their business to create positive change. The Venture has a mission to inspire entrepreneurial thinkers to transform the world. Successful applicants will have the chance to pitch for a share of The Venture’s 1 million USD funds and have access to the tools and mentorship to accelerate their growth.
    • CLIMATE-KIC ACCELERATOR – Building on good examples from ClimateLaunchpad for the second consecutive year, CleanTech Bulgaria organizes a 3-month Climate-KIC acceleration program. Launching companies across the country will have the opportunity to touch on specific cleantech and entrepreneurial expertise. Their route through the program will also be backed by financial support (up to € 15,000) to develop their product. The accelerator focuses on statups in a more advanced stage of development.

Grants And Subventions:

  • Operational Program “Innovations and Competitiveness” is an EU – European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funded a program whose main objective is to achieve a dynamic and competitive economy through the development of innovations, entrepreneurship, growth capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), energy and resource efficiency of enterprises.

Crowd Investing Platforms:

  • Tramplin.bg is a Bulgarian crowdfunding platform for social goods projects.
  • Za Bulgaria is a Bulgarian social entrepreneurship crowdfunding platform.

Angel Investors:

  • The Bulgarian Association of Business Angels is an organization whose main function is to provide a platform for connection and interaction between entrepreneurs and business angels.
  • The Bulgarian Business Angels Network is an online platform, which is intended to help connect those that have ideas, a sense of entrepreneurial skills and lack financing with private investors that are interested in doing business in Bulgaria or other South Eastern European countries.

Further Information About Stara Zagora

The Complete Stara Zagora Startup City Guide

If you are looking for further information and tips, you may take a look at the Invest Bulgaria Agency (IBA). IBA is a governmental organization, established to attract investment to Bulgaria, to assist project set-up and to ensure successful project development resulting in new jobs, exports and know-how transfer for the Bulgarian economy. The organization helps potential and existing investors explore the investment opportunities in Bulgaria.

You may also check out The Council of Innovation and Technology Development at the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, whose mission is to allow individuals and legal entities to submit ideas, development, prototypes, products and more, to establish contacts, to help companies and individuals in seeking services contributing to the solution of certain problems related to their activities, and to help them find funding from investors and crowdfunding.

Agency for Regional Economic Development, Chamber of Commerce and Industry & Other Organizations:

  • Stara Zagora Regional Economic Development Agency (SZREDA) – The agency was established in 1995 with the support of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Initially serving as a liaison focused on strengthening communication between city governments and the business community, it soon attracted as members the municipalities, training centers and organizations supporting the economic development of the region. Stara Zagora Regional Economic Development Agency (SZREDA) has worked on a number of programs and projects, funded by the European Union, USAID, as well as on British, Canadian and Italian bilateral programs. SZREDA has a number of partners and clients throughout the Stara Zagora region, including small and medium-sized enterprises, local governments, state institutions, non-government organizations, and individual citizens. The agency also partners with a number of national and international organizations and provides services to foreign companies.
  • Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Stara Zagora  (CCI) is an independent association of companies from Stara Zagora, established to support and promote their business and to represent and defend their interests. CCI – Stara Zagora is part of a unified system of Bulgarian Commerce and Industry (chambers), which unites 28 employers’ associations across the country and over 60,000 companies. CCI – Stara Zagora is based on the principles of voluntary participation and membership, autonomy and self-financing. The Court has about 300 firms – direct members and over 1,500 – associates. Commerce and Industry – Stara Zagora provides administrative, information, advice and assistance to companies, organizations, institutions, and individuals.
  • Regional Information Center Stara Zagora – It is part of a network of 27 centers located in all regional cities and Central Information and Coordination Office in Sofia financed by the Operational Program “Technical Assistance”, financed by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund. The team of the center consists of 4 experts with extensive experience in the development and implementation of projects funded by EU and other donor programs.

In conclusion, Stara Zagora is a wonderful city, to launch your new startup business, taking full advantage of one of the lowest taxes in the EU, a highly skilled workforce, affordable prices of office spaces and labor. Not only taxes, but comparatively living isn’t expensive in Bulgaria. Without having to worry about how to pay the rent and bills, the focus remains on work. According to a global survey, the average internet connection speed in Bulgaria is 24.25 Mbps, ranking it thirteenth in the world.

You have a unique opportunity to become a part of the dynamic and aspiring startup community.
While enjoying the peaceful life, delicious food and beautiful nature in Stara Zagora you can successfully launch your startup business here.

Interested? Welcome to Stara Zagora!

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The guides are like startup communities – they constantly change and grow. Make sure to check for updates and if you have something to add to one of them or want to publish one for your city, get in touch right away! And don’t forget to enrich the startup ecosystem by creating your company profile at StartUs!

Featured Image Credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis via VisualHunt.com / CC BY