Student Entrepreneurs Present Business Ideas at Elevate Demo Day
Fifteen weeks of hard work, over 60 hours of mentorship, a $5000 capital per team and several innovative ideas – this is the premise of the AUBG Acceleration Program that began last fall and culminated in the Elevate Demo Day. The event that took place online on April 28 presented the business prototypes of the six AUBG team finalists in the program’s first edition.
Launched in fall 2019, the AUBG Accelerator Elevate helps students and recent alumni start their first businesses. Daniel Tomov (‘97), University Council Chair and Eleven Founding Partner, and Gerry van der Sluys, former AUBG Trustee and UC Chair, co-founded the program and recent alumni and entrepreneurs Boris Angelov (’19) and Nikolay Pohlupkov (‘19) led the initiative.
The program is “a long-term mentorship-based support mechanism and a playground where students can experiment with their ideas,” Angelov said. “It goes without saying that if it would not have been for the generous support of our donors, the accelerator would only be an idea.” Nearly half of the funds needed were collected thanks to the donation of Gerry van der Sluys. Many other AUBG friends and alumni also embraced the project and helped bring it to life, including the Lachezar Tsotsorkov Foundation, Eleven, ImpactAssets, Melon Inc., SiteGround and Schwab Charitable Fund, as well as individual sponsors Svetozar Georgiev ('00), Minna Kress ('98), Alexander Danchev ('97), Georgi Malchev ('04), Martin Ouzounov ('97), Stefan Ivanov ('95), Rossen Petkov ('04), Nikolay Todorov (EMBA '18), Stanislav Genov (EMBA '18) and Doncho Angelov (EMBA '18).
Six teams comprised of AUBG students and recent alumni presented their business prototypes during Demo Day: conceptual collaborative artists brand Melanin that, during the Elevate program, organized a mixed art event, participated in a fashion show and collaborated with 21 Bulgarian artists; social enterprise Grandma Knows Best that fights against older people’s social isolation and poverty while producing high-quality homemade food; Invoke, a company that makes learning exciting by motivating kids to solve mathematical problems though competitive gaming; the first Bulgarian fitness tracking app HealthIt; ChargeMe, an innovative firm that develops wireless chargers; and Rora, a ride-sharing platform that connects commuters with similar interests.
All student teams made significant progress during the program, but the way forward was not always easy. “Building a product is a difficult and messy process,” Pohlupkov said. “It requires dedication and discipline. But even when you get the hang of this, every now and then, a mentor came and shared their harsh feedback about your idea, sending you back to the drawing board. Exactly those moments are the great teachers of the program.”
The mentors were 35 successful business people and entrepreneurs who, in many cases, traveled from Sofia to Blagoevgrad to offer workshops and lectures. Among them were CEO at TaxiMe Hristo Chernev (‘99), Yordan Zhechev (‘04), head of creative at guts&brainsDDB and managing partner at Tribal Worldwide Sofia, co-founder of Creative Shower Rene Tomova and Co-founder and CEO at Harmonica Foods Lubomir Nokov.