It’s hard to describe the feeling of this city until you get here and explore it for yourself.
I’ve been traveling and running online businesses for the last four years in Southeast Asia and Europe. As a location independent tech entrepreneur, I’m always on the lookout for new locations to live and build my business. When I arrived in Plovdiv last year, I realized how much this city hit the sweet spot for me in terms of culture, food, cost of living, climate, ease of transportation, sports, arts, and business opportunities that no other place I’ve visited comes close to. And yet, I’m constantly surprised at how unknown it is. Plovdiv is untapped.
My partner Euvie wrote a guide to Plovdiv for digital nomads earlier this year that has been getting a lot of attention. Recently, because of her article, more entrepreneurs have come to visit and we’ve started to notice a promising pattern: a planned 1 week visit turns to 2 weeks, turns to a month, turns to 3 months, turns to residency. The sentiment is the same with all new visitors: “Why have I never heard of this place before?” But that’s about to change. We’re only half way through the year and Bulgaria’s tourism is already up 20% from last year. This little gem in Eastern Europe is in the process of being uncovered, but what’s most exciting to me is this city’s potential in the next 3–5 years.
There is an opportunity for Plovdiv to become a major player in Europe for tech startups, business incubation, virtual reality, and entrepreneurship.
Thousands of new jobs are expected to be created in the IT sector in the next few years. The outsourcing market here is growing fast, and the government is doing everything it can to accommodate the influx of foreign tech investors. The city is developing lots of new high end office buildings and there have been numerous co-working hubs, business groups, and specialized events popping up in just the last year alone. We’ve noticed a burgeoning startup community as a result. Last month we saw multiple events, hackathons, and meetups about drones, bitcoin, app prototyping, game design, graphics and web design.
Even we are in the process of raising funds to build our own virtual reality workspace and startup incubator. Suffice to say, we’re on board to develop the tech and startup community in Plovdiv, and we want more people to join us.
So here are six reason entrepreneurs and investors are interested in Plovdiv…
1) There is affordable talent here
IT and business process outsourcing are two fast growing sectors taking advantage of Plovdiv’s young and educated workers. If you’ve ever hired an Eastern European programmer, you already know how skilled, hard working, and competitive the workers in this region are. I’m often impressed by how nonchalantly a Bulgarian programmer lists off her multitudes of mastered programming languages, design skills, and past technical experience.
And there’s not just tech ability here, there’s also administrative and management talent. There are about 40,000 administrative, analytical and management positions, and more than 6,700 people are employed in the IT & professional services sectors. In our experience, it’s been relatively easy to find great accountants and support staff, and the costs of hiring in Bulgaria in general and particularly in Plovdiv are among the lowest in Europe.
Bulgaria was ranked among the most attractive outsourcing destinations in Europe and the World according to the Global Services Location Index compiled by A.T. Kearney.
2) Access to education
In Plovdiv there are 9 universities with 39,260 students, 53 vocational education centers and 34 vocational high schools with 8,351 pupils. In 2014, there were 5,592 high school graduates, of which 2,825 graduated from vocational high schools. Plovdiv has one of the biggest universities in Bulgaria — the Plovdiv University Paisii Hilendarski, teaches Mathematics and Informatics, Physics and Chemistry, among other applied sciences. The Technical University Sofia — Plovdiv branch offers programs in 2 faculties: Faculty of Electronics and Automation, where Industrial Engineering is taught in English, and Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Instrument Engineering. There are also two agricultural universities and the University of Food Technology, as well as a medical university. This means a huge pool of upcoming talent for entrepreneurs and startups to pull from.
3) Design and creative sensibilities
What really catches your eye here in Plovdiv is the art and culture scene. Plovdiv’s Fine Arts Academy is producing a lot of interesting talent in media, graphics, and audio/video production. I’ve met many people who work in the growing film industry, or produce their own multimedia projects for their bands, coffee shops, and art galleries, and I’ve learned that the design and multimedia skill level in Plovdiv is quite high. The design chops are evident wherever the younger generation hangs out. Just walking through Kapana district is like taking a course in brand design.
4) Business property prices are ACTUALLY affordable
This one is not going to last too long, but it’s worth mentioning: office and residential real estate prices here are LOW. A lot of new office projects were started in the last 8 years, and currently there is a large supply of modern office spaces in Plovdiv. There are offices located both in the city center and the industrial zones in the city with asking prices of €700 per sq. m. Which is pretty low if you compare it to other major Bulgarian cities and countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
Renting high end office space costs on average €7 to €8.5 per sq. m. for premium business properties currently available in Plovdiv. There is also a big supply of non-premium office space which could be rented for €3 to €6 per sq. m. monthly.
5) Taxes are ACTUALLY reasonable
Other tax facts:
- Flat 10% corporate and personal income tax rates.
- Corporate income from production activities in high unemployment regions is tax exempt.
- Costs of fixed intangible assets created through research and development are deductible.
- Bulgaria applies EU customs legislation and has signed double tax treaties with 68 countries.
Last but not least…
6) Bulgaria has the fifth fastest Internet in the world and third in Europe.
As an online entrepreneur living the last 4 years in Southeast Asia, I’ve never dreamt Internet could be so fast.
So, if you’re looking for up and coming locations to invest and build businesses in, consider checking out Plovdiv, and feel free to join us in our monthly startup meetups at plovdiv.digital.
Information by Plovdiv Municipality in partnership with Industry Watch Group Ltd. iwatchbulgaria.com | plovdiv.bg
Why entrepreneurs are planting their flags in Plovdiv was originally published in Plovdiv.Digital on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.