Interview by Rumen Iliev and Lilly Drumeva-O’Reilly
The Fund of Funds recently signed a contract with a selected financial intermediary for the implementation of the Seed/Acceleration and Start-up Fund with the resources under the Innovation and Competitiveness Operational Program. The resource will be managed byVitosha Venture Partners Ltd. and has a budget of BGN 38 million. The intermediary’s international team has acquired relevant experience in managing investments and creating entrepreneurial programs and ecosystems. Along with financing through equity investments Vitosha Venture Partners will provide mentorship and strategic support to the companies. Business development strategies will be offered, as well as strategies for attracting additional private capital and accelerator programs. Other funds that will realize investments are New Vision 3 and Innovation Accelerator Bulgaria. The latter changed its fund manager name to Innovation Capital. Along with Morningside Hill, four equity and quasi-equity financing funds are operating on the Bulgarian market. They will support nearly 400 small and medium enterprises with a total resource amounting to BGN 190 million.
In relation to this news, we spoke to Max Gurvit from Vitosha Venture Partners. This is what he shared:
Tell us а few words about yourself and the fund you co-manage.
I’m Max, I’ve been based in Bulgaria for nearly ten years. Vitosha VP is my second fund, earlier I’ve been part of the founding team of Eleven Ventures. My other work have been two successfully exited startups, a number of angel deals, and a few ecosystem-building projects in the Balkans, Europe, the US, Asia, and Latin America.
What is your investment strategy?
With Vitosha VP, we’re taking a broad approach to early-stage talent and product in and around Bulgaria. We’re aiming for approximately 120 deals, half of which through our acceleration platform, to be launched later this year, and the other half would be standard seed and early A deals, in the EUR 100k-1m range. Our main goal is to be able to help beyond money: with a team of six partners holding seven nationalities, and based in Sofia, Vienna, Tallinn, SF, and LA, we aim to connect our wide global network to the best founders we engage with on the ground in Bulgaria.
What are some of the sectors you plan to focus on?
Due to our mandate, we’re sector-agnostic, but our main areas of interest are fintech, SaaS, mobility tech, food innovations, data services, and e-commerce.
How many acceleration stage and seed startups do you plan to invest in per year?
Roughly 15 of each per year.
What are the key criteria you focus on when selecting teams?
It’s hard to say anything original here: we’re looking for above-average zeal and ambition. Founders who don’t give up, who have a strong ethical backbone, and who are convincing leaders. As teams go, we have a strong focus on diversity: we believe in teams that are clearly diverse when it comes to age, professional backgrounds, gender and ethnicity.
What is a ‘no go’ or what are the areas you will not invest in?
We will not invest in domains and verticals where sectoral growth is either over or far from happening yet. Next to that, we won’t invest in projects that are related to gambling, adult content, controlled substances, or companies that have IPO’d/ICO’d before.
What is the typical process to reach an investment decision that entrepreneurs must be aware of?
From the moment we hear from a team, it takes us about two weeks to go over the opportunity and decide on a meeting. After a meeting, we’ll work with the team to reach a go-no go within one month. After which, if it’s a go, we aim to be able to complete the investment within six weeks.
How can entrepreneurs reach out to you?
Until we launch our acceleration platform, which will have a dedicated online presence and a system of offline content and touchpoints, we invite all interested companies to join our deal analysis workflow on our website at http://vitosha.vc, under Apply For Funding.
What would you like to share with entrepreneurs in Bulgaria or what advice would you give them?
Bulgaria is currently probably the best place in the EU to start growing an innovative business. A significant number of funds and programs, affordable and plenty real estate, a talent pool that gets bigger and better every day, excellent international connections. Those of us who are here should count ourselves lucky as entrepreneurs to have all of these conditions available at our fingertips.
Mr. Gurvit, thank you for this interview.
The Fund of Funds manages its BGN 1.2 billion in four Operational Programs: Human Resources Development, Innovations and Competitiveness, Environment, and Regions in Growth. The resources come from the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) and are planned for the period 2014-2020. They are aimed at projects that could potentially turn into self-sustaining ones, i. e. – become economically viable. The Fund provides the resources through financial intermediaries and banks in the form of guarantees, loans and equity investments. The effort is focused into three main directions. The first is the provision of liquidity support to small and medium-sized enterprises. Secondly, the Fund of Funds already has an existing program to support self-employed persons and small start-ups with a short or almost no business history. Here again, soft loans are provided. Thirdly, the Fund offers a resource in the VC area through shares in start-ups and innovative companies. The aim is to support the rapid recovery of the economy after the crisis, especially in key areas of innovation, digitalization, high technology such as bio-and nanotechnology. In addition, the Fund of Funds finances municipalities by supporting projects aimed at improving the urban environment, development of infrastructure projects, sports facilities, cultural and tourist monuments, among others.