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© Stephanie Mccabe, # 24621, 2018, © bloc.optimy.com

INTERVIEW #6 : Speeding up the transition to sustainability - Start-up potential and support networks in Bulgaria

Posted on: 21.11.2018
by The EREK team

 

Cleantech Bulgaria is a business network for clean technology, innovation and sustainable development, connecting entrepreneurs, SMEs and large enterprises with experts, science and education organisations, NGOs, government and international institutions. 

Their main areas of work are in the fields of entrepreneurship, science and education, and cities and regions. Cleantech Bulgaria acts as a catalyst for green business and innovation - covering climate, energy, circular economy and “cities of the future” – by connecting key stakeholders. Their main mission is to accelerate the transition to a sustainable carbon-neutral and circular economy.

Founded in 2012, Cleantech Bulgaria has been a member of the biggest public-private partnerships in the EU in the fields of climate change and sustainable energy – Climate-KIC and InnoEnergy – since 2016. It is also а member of the Board of KRIB (the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists of Bulgaria), the biggest and most prominent association of Bulgarian industry. And, finally, Cleantech Bulgaria has just joined EREK! 

 

We asked Mariyana Hamanova, Executive Director of Cleantech Bulgaria, to tell us about resource efficiency in Bulgaria, how the Cleantech network helps companies, and the benefits for businesses of building EU-wide networks to support them. 

 

  • Cleantech Bulgaria has promoted better environmental practices for many years, and has witnessed a range of developments in this field. What are the most pressing issues related to resource efficiency in Bulgaria? 

There are many challenges ahead, for all countries, and what is needed is to have the right understanding of the situation, and to implement the right policies and business models. Technological retrofitting is being implemented on a large scale, leading to more efficient production processes. However, this measure alone is insufficient, as total consumption is increasing. This is because of the large amount of resources which go to waste instead of being given value and reused. This is not a problem that innovative technologies alone can solve: innovative business models, circular supply chain management practices and legislative change (and its enforcement) are needed in combination in order to make progress. 

Since 2014, Bulgaria has been implementing its National Waste Management Plan, and the country is currently developing a strategy on transitioning towards a circular economy. In the meantime, the number of innovative solutions to the problem is growing.

Another important topic in Bulgaria is related to energy productivity, caused by poor energy efficiency in the residential sector and rising energy costs. While the energy sector faces its challenges, it also provides many opportunities for innovation. An increase in energy efficiency has great potential to reduce people’s energy bills and dependency on foreign imports, as well as greenhouse gas and other emissions, thus increasing energy productivity and mitigating the energy poverty problem in the country. 

In turn, this will improve air quality (which is also a serious problem in Bulgarian cities) and will have a positive health impact. Sofia municipality is currently strongly focusing on improving air quality in the city (including in collaboration with Cleantech Bulgaria), which also includes improving energy efficiency (e.g. in residential heating systems) and fostering innovative solutions for urban mobility in the city. 

 

  • As a business support organisation, what difficulties do you see companies facing, and what potential do they have?

Thanks to its geopolitical position, Bulgaria is considered to be a start-up hub in the region. The country has access to the large European markets, but at the same time has a large niche market and many untapped (and unrealised) secondary resources. In addition, the Bulgarian market is perfectly sized to test pilot projects: it is large enough to find a client segment, yet small enough to start over (without losing a lot) in case the start-up fails. While there is a large array of specialists in Bulgaria, it has been difficult for some of the start-ups to find the right partners to join their teams who can turn the founders’ vision into reality, perhaps due to the more unconventional work model of a start-up compared to established corporations.

 

  • How can Cleantech Bulgaria support and foster resource-efficient business models among its members?

Cleantech Bulgaria supports resource-efficient business models through several key activities:

First, we accelerate the development and market launch of technologies related to resource optimisation and reduction of carbon emissions. 

Second, we collaborate closely with established businesses and large companies in introducing resource-efficient solutions and practices in their key activities – on the path towards transitioning to circular economy models.

Last, but not least, we connect stakeholders, including business and industry representatives, through our large network, and thus foster circular supply chain management, leading to the reduction of material use across the whole value chain in different sectors. For example, Cleantech Bulgaria is looking forward to working on the development of a self-assessment tool to measure progress in the transition to a circular economy model targeted at all members of the value chain of the construction sector.

 

  • Cleantech Bulgaria is part of Climate-KIC and InnoEnergy, two itinitiatives of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, what is your involvement in these two initiatives?  

Through our partnership, we provide direct access to all programmes and initiatives of Climate-KIC and InnoEnergy for Bulgarian innovators, entrepreneurs, students and citizens. Some of the projects include: The Journey, the largest summer school on climate innovation in Europe; Climate-KIC Accelerator, the only programme in the EU aimed at the accelerated validation and seed-financing of solutions for sustainable business and clean technologies; Power Up Competition – sustainable energy competition in Central and Eastern Europe; and Pioneers into Practice – Europe’s leading mobility program for knowledge development and placement in the field of climate change. Other joint programmes and initiatives of Cleantech Bulgaria and EIT Community can be found on our website https://cleantech.bg/en/initiatives/.

 

  • Could you tell us something about good practices or success stories from companies in Bulgaria?

Cleantech Bulgaria has assessed over 250 and supported over 100 start-ups in the last 2 years offering access to funding, mentorship and tailor-made business consultancy. 

One of our start-ups, Biomyc, has created an innovative bio-based material which can be used for packaging and construction. The material is made out of a combination of agro-waste and the roots of a type of mushroom and is a rival to plastic foam. Nominated as one of the TOP30 start-ups by EIT and winner of the Green-Category – Start-up Europe Awards, Biomyc is currently in the R&D phase, producing pilot product runs for corporate consumers. 

A very interesting topic in the field of climate risk assessment has been addressed by another start-up from our network – CRISTA. The start-up provides up-to-date information on climate risks and hazards. CRISTA relies on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) expertise for the development of climate risk assessment models. The platform creates an enabling environment for adaptation, where decision-makers in regions and industry are equipped with the tools and information they need to adapt to changing climate, as well as to make informed decisions. 

A very different example of a success story is our project Sofia Urban Challenge – the first system for shared electric bicycles in Sofia. The public-private partnership project was implemented by Cleantech Bulgaria and Climate-KIC in partnership with Sofia Municipality and “Green Sofia”, while the electric bikes were provided by ElJoy Bikes – a start-up company which is also part of the Cleantech Bulgaria network. The main goal of this pilot project is to test the needs and attitudes of users towards a shared e-bicycle system, while shifting citizens’ attitudes towards the transition to an eco-friendly and healthy means of transportation. 

 

  • Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

At Cleantech Bulgaria we believe that strong partnerships and joint projects between academia, the public sector, business, industry, and entrepreneurs is the way to achieve success in the transition towards a sustainable carbon-neutral resource-efficient society. Additionally, innovation cannot succeed without a suitable legal and normative environment, hence our work with the public sector, especially on the municipal level, as in this way we also target citizens’ attitudes and behaviour as the main drivers for sustainable change.