Olivier Marquette: InnoStart Forum opens Bulgaria’s perspective for a productive entrepreneurial eco-system

The speech of the AmCham Bulgaria President Olivier Marquette at the Opening of the InnoStart Forum 2019.

 

Dear Deputy Prime Minister Donchev,

Dear Ministers,

Your Excellency Lilian,

Deputy Chief of Mission Friedman,

Dear sponsors and partners of InnoStart Forum

Distinguished panelists and speakers,

Dear guests and media,

Dear AmCham members and friends from North Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria.

Welcome to the InnoStart Forum 2019!

 

One word is uniting us together today. INNOVATION! To many it is the magic word for success – those people fill it with meaning by providing non-stop evidence of progress. Others see it as mantra for their constant pursue for improvement – they are never satisfied with the current results and strive for something better.

I believe that this hall is full of such people. And we are all certain that there are many people with an Innovation DNA in Bulgaria, Europe, USA, Israel and globally.

The diversity of people in this hall shows that innovation speaks many languages, it has many origins and faiths, and it does not stop at any border or challenge. Many of you have overcome hurdles and bottlenecks to achieve your ultimate goals and dreams. You constantly deliver results to amaze colleagues, stakeholders, institutions, families.

A quick Google search of the definition of “Innovation” shows that it is “crucial to the continuing success of any organization”. Now, please allow me this metaphor: innovation is the food for the hungry minds for progress and prosperity. Biting one piece of innovation, you never feel satisfied, you are hungry for more.

Many nations developed vibrant economies because they utilized their ultimate asset – the intellectual power of their people. Over the past decades – including during the socialist times and the period before the World War II – Bulgaria had a solid base of engineers and scientists. Studied abroad, copied Western knowledge, they have often returned to motherland to give back what they have learnt. They started businesses, they did science, and they taught their successors.

Today we are having a new wave of bright entrepreneurs whose efforts are bringing their companies and startups to the global stage of innovation. Bulgaria has many success stories, but still it does not have its own unicorn. It is because we are missing a well-structured eco-system to unite all parties and players. In our view this is the way Bulgaria and the Southeast Europe could become the hotspot of innovation for Europe.

In our view innovation and venture capital should be nurtured and the entrepreneurial culture should be supported institutionally and promoted by the governments.

The key elements of the entrepreneurial eco-systems are – governments, business, venture capital, startups, academia, accelerators. All of those players should speak a common language – the language of growth, innovation, peace and success.

We are happy that the Bulgarian government shows its will and implements a variety of measures to improve business climate. Thus, it shows that it realizes the importance of innovation and education for the sustainable growth and prosperity of Bulgaria. We are glad that we are having four members of the Cabinet who will present their sectorial and broaden views on how we could do better.

AmCham Bulgaria designed the InnoStart Forum as an initial event of a long-term project. We don’t want to do just a single show. We have invited guests from three continents to learn from their experience aiming to foster the innovation and startup ecosystem of Bulgaria. It could happen by deepening the collaboration and exchange between Bulgaria, Israel, USA, and EU.

In the next seven hours before us we will hear concrete insights from successful innovative companies. Having you all here, we encourage you to initiate conversations or even build a network between entrepreneurs, venture investors, academia, institutions. These are the main elements of a well-working eco-system of innovation. Upgrading the existing situation of the Bulgarian entrepreneurial scene is our aspiration for this conference and beyond it.

 

Frankly speaking, InnoStart Forum is not just an event. For AmCham Bulgaria It is a cause. That is why we are grateful for the support of our sponsors that believed in our idea. I would like to express our gratitude to Telelink and namely to its CEO Lubo Minchev – our distinguished AmCham board member.

I would like to thank the sponsors – and will say their names too – Cisco Systems, Coca-Cola, Google Cloud, IBM, PwC, UniCredit Bulbank, Acronis, America for Bulgaria Foundation, Bulpros, BrightCap Ventures, Citibank, Fund of Funds, Merck, Sharp and Dohme, Nik Agro.

We know that such an event is an extra effort for many, but I am sure it is worth it. And on behalf of the Board I would like to thank you all.

During the journey for preparing the InnoStart Forum, we have found a partner and an ally for joint success. This is the team of the Embassy of the State of Israel. Before starting to combine efforts and resources we quickly realized that we have common goals – bringing together the Israeli and Bulgarian entrepreneurs, venture investors or even institutions to explore deepening working together. Thank you, Ambassador Lilian for your support. And I would like to acknowledge also Violet Diachenko, Deputy Chief of Mission, for her will and dedication to make this event a reality and to foster the dialog between Bulgaria and Israel. Your efforts to bring Mr. Chemi Peres to speak about how Israel has become an innovation and startup nation is a great benefit for InnoStart Forum, which we treasure a lot.

Also, AmCham is happy to rely on our natural ally and friend – the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. We are glad to have your support – Dear Eric, Justin, and Miguel – and we never took it for granted. Presenting some of the best examples of the American entrepreneurial and educational culture today is a great achievement for us too.

We would like to thank the Bulgarian Startup Association, the Bulgarian Venture Capital Association, Fulbright Commission, Sofia Tech Park team for building the agenda of the forum, and for their partnership.

Our messages, actually – your messages too, can never reach broader audience or could never unlock hidden innovation potential to youngsters if they are not transmitted properly. That is why I would like to thank especially to our media partners, as well as our guest journalists too.

Thank you, Bulgarian Telegraphic Agency, Bulgarian National television, Bulgarian National Radio, economy.bg, Bloomberg Television Bulgaria, Capital, Investor.bg, and SeeNews.

Also, this event is a great example of collaboration between sister AmChams – the Bulgarian and the Israeli ones. I would like to mention personally two individuals who are the engines that brought this initiative to live – the executive directors Petar Ivanov and Oded Rose. Oded is not with us today, but we are having the President of AmCham Israel Yaniv Garty. Your support is much appreciated. Thank you, Yaniv.

Moreover, we would like to thank to our neighboring AmChams – from North Macedonia and Serbia who are today with us too. And we would like to thank for the efforts of our peers in Montenegro, Greece and Romania. They did their best to bring their ministers of innovation. However, other planned activities prevent them to join us.

It was a long speech, isn’t it? But it is worth delivering it because we are grateful and happy to have you all here today, to rely on the support of many people and organizations, and to make efforts for boosting the entrepeneural and innovative eco-system of Bulgaria and the Southeast Europe.

Thank you.