Student Startup Brings Homemade Lyutenitsa and Social Change
Many Bulgarian pensioners live with about five euros per day – money barely enough to cover their basic needs and not enough for them to lead a healthy social life. A group of entrepreneurial AUBG students has set out to change that. Their startup Grandma Knows Best gives Bulgaria's older women the opportunity to make friends, gain new skills and earn some extra money while cooking traditional Bulgarian food.
"We thought: 'Why don't we create a platform for grannies where they feel appreciated and welcomed and where they also feel like they can be productive and have a good time,'" said Maksim Lezginov, an AUBG student from Russia and one of the founders of the startup. Together with his colleagues Alexandra Khakimova from Kazakhstan, Vesselina Tasev from Bulgaria, Mladen Pecakovski from North Macedonia and Daria Biryukova from Russia, he leads the enterprise that brings senior women together for four hours of work and an extra hour of socializing and workshops.
As it usually goes with AUBG, this is a story of people from the entire community – students, alumni, professors and staff members -- working together and helping each other. The idea for the startup first originated during an entrepreneurship class with AUBG Professor Arthur Pantelides; Grandma Knows Best then became part of the AUBG Acceleration Program – a project led by alumni Boris Angelov ('19) and Nikolay Pohlupkov ('19) that helps students start their first businesses; The staff at the AUBG dining hall, the Hungry Griffin, then provided the students with cooking advice, products and working space.
Naturally, Grandma Knows Best's first product will be lyutenitsa. Among the most traditional Bulgarian dishes, this tomato and pepper spread is, as the startup owners warn on their website, "addictive." What differentiates the product from the competitors is that Grandma Knows Best will produce lyutenitsa that is homemade and 100% organic. "The idea is to bring actual food that is prepared by people and not machines," Biryukova said.
"We are pretty much the first niche market for lyutenitsa," Lezginov said. "The best lyutenitsa is cooked at home but if it is cooked at home, it gets expensive, so nobody does it."
The startup's target market are foreigners who live in Bulgaria and want to purchase food that is "homemade but safe and certified," Lezginov said. Realizing that the food market is among the most regulated ones, the students are now working on getting all the certificates needed to start selling their products.
Meanwhile, the entrepreneurs are also working to provide learning opportunities for the seniors. Together with the NGO Euni Partners, they launched a series of free classes that aim to teach beginner digital skills to the pensioners. The Seniors Go Digital, a project co-funded by the Erasmus + Programme of the European Union, ran for five consecutive days on AUBG campus Nov. 25-29 and will continue in Athens, Greece.
The students have also collaborated with AUBG to run yoga classes, "organized by seniors for seniors" on campus. "The health benefits of yoga have been proven by numerous studies," Lezginov said. "Yoga improves respiration, energy, vitality and flexibility and everyone can practice it."
The students' hope for the future is to "become sustainable, get all the required certificates and grow big enough for the stores to pick us up," Lezginov said. They are also open to expanding their portfolio, he said, and perhaps approaching Bulgaria's grandpas for tips on making rakia.