Get in the Ring and Change the World!

According to “Entrepreneurship Education and Training Programs Around the World—Dimensions for Success,” a 2014 study of entrepreneurship education programs around the globe by the World Bank, entrepreneurship is “the largest single source of new job growth in both developed and developing economies.” Therefore, a few weeks ago I was thrilled to see this idea in action when I attended the Eastern European regional finals of “Get in the Ring” (GITR), which took place in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Initiated by the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship, GITR is a global entrepreneurship battle, which puts startups in the spotlight and connects them with investors. Annually, over 2000 start-ups compete to be one of the eight most promising companies who make it to the international final, which takes place in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. On the way to Rotterdam, the finalist need to overcome several hurdles: 1) first they needed to win their country’s GITR national finals, which took place in 60 countries worldwide; 2) the winners of the national finals then compete in eight regional finals—Africa, Asia, Middle East, North America, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, South America and Western Europe; 3) finally, the eight regional winners make it to the international finals.

So back to Sofia, where I witnessed this revolutionary entrepreneurship free-style battle in all of its glory. This unique competition started by pitting Virtual Laboratory, a Georgian startup, which enables high school students to safely conduct diverse experiments in a virtual reality set-up against TutoToons from Lithuania, which is a platform that enables users to create, publish and sell their own mobile games. The battle consisted of five rounds. During each lightning fast round, the Georgian and Lithuanian entrepreneurs had about 25 seconds each to address the following topics:

  • Team
  • Achievements
  • Business Model and Market
  • Financials and Investment Proposition
  • Closing Statement: Last chance to Convince the Jury

At the end of the battle, a four person jury of investors and serial entrepreneurs such as Simon Jenner (CEO and founder of Oxygen Accelerator) and Daniel Tomov (Partner at Eleven Accelerator) asked a couple of questions to each startup representative and ultimately selected TutoToons as the winner of the battle. Five more battles, which pitted startups from Hungary and Serbia, Estonia and Bulgaria, Moldova and Macedonia, Belarus and Slovakia, and Romania and Kyrgyzstan followed. At the end, Choo Choo Baby Carrier from Moldova was selected as the winner of the Eastern European regional finals.

To me, however, the real stars of this competition were not the competing startups, but the members of the Association of Bulgarian Leaders and Entrepreneurs (ABLE) who promoted, organized and executed this incredible event (the GITR Eastern European regional finals), as well as the GITR Bulgarian national finals. ABLE has done an amazing job promoting entrepreneurship in Bulgaria and in Eastern Europe. For example, the GITR Bulgaria website had 486,000 unique impressions and almost 2000 likes on Facebook. Moreover, cognizant of the fact that the Bulgarian startup community is clustered in the capital city of Sofia, aside from organizing the GITR Bulgarian national finals, the members of ABLE organized local entrepreneurship workshops in Ruse, Varna, Burgas, Stara Zagora, Plovdiv and Blagoevgrad, which were attended by 120 people. The goal was to promote entrepreneurship in cities outside of the BG capital and invite startup teams from all over Bulgaria to join the competition. Consequently, as a result of the hard work of ABLE, 29 Bulgarian startups, including five startups from outside of Sofia, applied to the Bulgarian GITR regional finals. Similarly,the GITR Eastern European regional finals web page had 608,000 unique impressions and 2000 likes on Facebook. In recognition for their efforts of promoting entrepreneurship and their impeccable organization of the GITR Eastern European regional finals, ABLE was selected as the best GITR regional final host in the world!

Since ABLE is an organization formed by alumni of the Bulgarian Young Leaders Program, which IIE manages of behalf of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, we are incredibly proud of the organization’s accomplishments and its world-wide recognition. In just five years (BYLP’s inception was in 2010), the BYLP alumni and ABLE in particular have become synonymous with “excellence” and “positivism” as they try to improve the social, economic and civic engagement situation in Bulgaria and the region via various start-ups, mentorship and leadership initiatives and projects such as GITR! So, here is a big shout-out to ABLE and their contagious creative energy, which spreads positive change and optimism in a region of the world, which desperately needs it—so, long may it continue!