The Fund for Innovations, launched in 2013, is the first public-private funding instrument for innovations in Bulgaria, designed, among other things, to fill in some gaps in the Operational Programme for SMEs. The Fund attempts to bridge this “lack-of-finance” and “eligibility” gap for cultural enterprises by fostering a public-private initiative for funding cultural and artistic projects and products with a specific focus on innovation as a novel dimension in culture and cultural entrepreneurship.
The policy instrument mobilizes city resources (financial, human, organizational) through publicly co-financed innovation initiatives, contributes to the generation and diffusion of knowledge (mentoring, public-private partnerships, etc.) and promotes the institutional process in support of innovation activities by developing recommendations for regulatory rules, acts and local policies to explicitly influence the undertaking of innovation by Sofia businesses and organizations.
The portfolio of support services includes:
- Small-scale financial support for individuals in creative and cultural industries (CCI) - 60 K EUR / year;
- On-going mentoring to beneficiaries – an in-kind service, amounting to 25K EUR/year if monetized;
- Public and media outreach and promotion – an in-kind service, amounting to 250K EUR/year if monetized;
- Innovation competitions - 60K EUR/year.
The InnoBridge exchange resulted in broadening the thematic scope of the Fund to focus more on digitalization, digital skills and innovations – thus addressing the two priorities of Sofia RIS3: CCI and ICT innovations.
The Action Plan aiming to impact this regional development policy instrument – Sofia Public-Private Fund for Innovations, includes two actions:
1. Enhanced interactions with businesses and universities.
Building up more collaborative links with universities and SDA-academia-business synergies is a way to amplify the Fund’s critical mass. In the course of the InnoBridge Peer Review workshops Sofia partners identified several takeaways of sharable experiences and Good Practices: Kampusareena, and Situational Picture of Innovations – Tampere region, Uni-Business challenge contests and Entrepreneurial Campus Contest – Castilla y Leon.
This new action involves the following four complementary measures:
- Innovation competitions: aims to transform the focus of Sofia Public-Private Fund for Innovations from grant-making to “innovation through competition” - large-scale competitions/challenge events with the active involvement of businesses and universities.
- Financing innovative start-ups programme: a specialized guarantee scheme of Sofia Municipal Guarantee Fund for SMEs, jointly with SDA, developed in implementation of Sofia RIS3.
- Start-up Accelerator Sofia: will be managed institutionally by SDA but it combines the efforts and expertise of many stakeholders: universities, business clubs and chambers of commerce, municipal enterprises. It will support both start-ups and physical persons with entrepreneurial ideas who would be helped to set up a start-up. The financial support is 5,000 Euro, and the ongoing mentoring and critical support lasts for one year.
- Annual report on Sofia Innovative performance.
2. Working with Schools and Teachers.
The measure aims improved collaborations with schools and young people to design new initiatives in support of innovations and entrepreneurship. Almost all secondary schools in Sofia city are public, with relatively centralised curricula set by the Ministry of Education and Science. Teaching about entrepreneurship and its fundamentals is not systematically.
The action is inspired by three InnoBridge project good practices: FabLab EvoraTech; the Creative Pre-Incubator Program (CPI) Lower Austria, established by the University of Applied Sciences in St. Pölten and Accent Gründerservice GmbH; the Małopolska Innovation Festival.
This action includes one measure – the establishment and functioning of SofiaLab as a dedicated public space to foster innovation among students. It opts to combine three main functions: a physical space equipped with certain computer-controlled tools and appropriate for gatherings/co-working; ongoing support for potential entrepreneurs; and ongoing bottom-up events demonstrating local innovation, entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer.
The implementation of the Action Plan started in 2018, with the annual programme of the Sofia Public-Private Fund for Innovations, adopted by Sofia Municipal Council with Decree N102/22.02.2018, item 22. Upon the completion of its implementation it will affect 1,150,000 Euro directly or indirectly by March 2021, all from sources different that the structural funds. An additional performance indicator was identified: “number of SMEs innovative solutions supported by the policy instrument, that reach technology readiness level 7 (system prototype demonstration in operational environment) till 2021 – 5”.