The nineteenth edition of the National Innovation Forum “Innovation and Sustainable Growth” and the Award Ceremony of the National Innovative Enterprise of the Year Competition, held on December 19, 2023, brought together the most prominent representatives of the innovation community in the country.
Among the special guests at the event were Iliana Ivanova, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, European Commission; Nikolay Denkov, Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria; Todor Tagarev, Minister of Defence; and Vassil Terziev, Mayor of Sofia; and Miglena Nikolova.
The organizers of the Forum are the Applied Research and Communications Fund and Enterprise Europe Network – Bulgaria, with the support of the Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs of the European Commission and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and in cooperation with Sofia Tech Park, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences’ Unified Innovation Centre, the Bulgarian Association for Human Management, the Bulgarian Association for Information Technology, the Professional Association for Robotics, Automation and Innovation, the Bulgarian Entrepreneurs’ Association, the Artificial Intelligence Cluster Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Biotechnology and Science Cluster. Media partners of the event are the Bulgarian National Radio – Radio Sofia, Economy magazine, 3-e news.bg, economy.bg, profit.bg, ESGnews.bg, Engineering Review, Industryinfo.bg, Kaldata.bg, “Bulgarian Science” magazine, Economy.bg, TLL Media, Lider.bg, CEO Forum, and Internet Media Group.
Ognian Shentov, Chairman of the Applied Research and Communications Fund, noted that Bulgaria is at the threshold of the very important 20th anniversary of laying down the foundations of a modern, market-based innovation policy in Bulgaria, the start of which was marked with the first National Innovation Forum back in 2004. He pointed out that stakeholders still expect the Bulgarian government to develop an independent innovation policy at national and regional level, backed by long-term national financial resources. He also emphasized the formula for a successful national innovation policy: focusing on the strengths of the Bulgarian innovation ecosystem, leadership and perseverance. The most important elements of such a successful ecosystem are Sofia, as an engine of innovation growth for the other regions in the country, the network of Bulgarian business support centres in the regions, and the utilization of the many opportunities provided by Bulgaria’s EU membership.
Ognian Shentov thanked Iliana Ivanova, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, for her commitment to this extremely important national cause.
In his congratulatory address to the NIF 2023 participants, Norbert Beckmann-Dierkes, Head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Representation in Bulgaria, noted that innovation is a key area for Germany and for all other EU countries – including Bulgaria – with which the Konrad Adenauer Foundation works. He focused on the pressing issues to be addressed: products, services and business models that can contribute to prosperity, ethical rules to foster innovation, and a common European framework for innovation. Innovation must be sustainable, it must have overall long-term social and environmental positive effects, and it must not put natural resources at risk. Sustainable innovations require time and effort.
In her keynote speech, Iliana Ivanova, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth at the European Commission, noted that the world has undergone profound changes in the last few years. In response to the supply chain disruptions during the pandemic, the EU set itself the goal to invest in and produce more integrated circuits in Europe. This is key to the competitiveness of important European industrial sectors such as the automotive industry and will soon be a reality with the adoption of the European Chips Act. Since the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, priority has been placed on the development and deployment of renewable energy sources to ensure Europe’s energy independence. In every crisis in recent years, research and innovation policies have been part of the solution. They are key to both stimulating economic growth and employment and to strengthening the technological independence of the European Union.
Commissioner Ivanova stressed that in the current global context of uncertainty the EU needs to rethink the way it defends European interests globally. At the same time, it needs to maintain its open and cooperative approach with partners who share its values and priorities. Bulgaria is still developing as an innovator and continues to face challenges stemming from insufficient public and private investment in research, as well as limited links between academia and business. Commissioner Ivanova noted that despite these challenges, the country has seen significant progress in recent years. Bulgaria’s participation in Horizon Europe has so far attracted more than €94 million, which already exceeds the funds attracted from the previous Horizon 2020 programme. The total number of participants in the widening programme, which concerns countries from the latest waves of accession, as well as candidates, has almost doubled compared to Horizon 2020.
In his congratulatory address to the participants in the Nineteenth National Innovation Forum, Nikolay Denkov, Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, noted that in order to develop Bulgaria as a high value-added economy, the government and other stakeholders should prioritize innovation and strive for competitiveness in the global and European markets. the Prime Minister noted of some of the achievements in the field of national innovation policy in the last ten years: centres of excellence, smart specialisation strategy, national research strategy, which have created a good basis for promoting science and innovation. He also gave several specific examples of innovation successes in Bulgaria, such as:
- The Institute for Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence and Technology (INSAIT), structured as a special unit of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski.”
- The PlantaSYST project, aimed at the construction of a centre for plant systems’ biology and biotechnology in Plovdiv.
- Big Data for a Smart Society Institute (GATE), the first centre of excellence in Bulgaria working to integrate and scale up research and innovation in priority areas such as big data and artificial intelligence at regional and European level.
- The Big Data Supercomputer is a research and application infrastructure in Sofia Tech Park – a good practice implemented in cooperation with the EC, which makes Bulgaria unique in the region.
Ruslan Stefanov, Coordinator of the Innovation.bg group at the Applied Research and Communications Fund, noted that Bulgaria registered the most serious improvement in its innovation performance on a yearly basis within the EU-27 – nearly 14%, followed by the Czech Republic (11%) and Poland (8%). However, he also noted that these higher innovation index growth values were not enough for the country to catch up with the EU average.
In addition, a Eurobarometer survey showed that Bulgaria is emerging as a leader in the EU in terms of attitudes towards entrepreneurship and its realisation among young people (under 30). Bulgaria has the highest proportion of young people with an existing business in Europe – 14%, compared to an EU average of 9%, with a minimum of 5% in Luxembourg.
To ensure further growth in innovation, Ruslan Stefanov stressed the importance of an adequate annual national innovation budget and better use of existing opportunities.
The participants in the lively panel discussion that followed the introductory statements included Todor Tagarev, Minister of Defence of the Republic of Bulgaria; Vassil Terziev, Mayor of Sofia; Miglena Nikolova, Executive Director of “Niki Rotor Aviation” Ltd, awarded with the “Innovation in Creative Industries” Award for 2022, and Todor Yalumov, Deputy Dean of “Research, Innovation and Projects” at Sofia University, St. Kliment Ohridski.
Highlights of the panel discussion:
According to Todor Tagarev, the Bulgarian defence industry has great capacity for the production of ammunition, and there already are investment instruments of the European Commission through which this capacity can be further increased. According to him, it is important the Bulgaria introduces new technologies, innovative approaches, and new management that will help the integration of its industry into the supply chains of major European and US manufacturers. In the areas of cybersecurity, satellite surveillance, artificial intelligence, and quantum technologies, there have also been advances. He further noted that successfully stimulating innovation requires transparency and predictability and resources to meet existing needs.
Vassil Terziev stressed the need for Bulgaria to maintain its position as a leader in innovation in Southeast Europe. According to him, research must be commercialised to be sustainable. For the innovation economy to be successful, the government needs to know where innovation is being created, how science is being conducted, how it is being invested in, as well as how entrepreneurial attitudes and investment in STEM are being cultivated. Vassil Terziev emphasized the need to create a community among all participants in the innovation ecosystem, because the more stakeholders are invested in the success of others, the more likely it is to achieve collective success. He also called for a change in attitudes towards small companies and actively working with them in developing their products.
Miglena Nikolova, spoke about the advantages and challenges for innovative companies in Bulgaria, and focused on the following elements: the human factor and the entrepreneurial spirit that contribute to the creation of innovations on the one hand, and the numerous national and international regulations in the aviation industry on the other. She also noted that as a Bulgarian brand, their company has to constantly defend the qualifications of its engineers, even though their product is in the top 3 worldwide. On the company’s efforts in the defence sector, she noted that it is working on the creation of a two-seater ultralight helicopter for medical and military purposes, as well as a platform for the installation of cameras and equipment.
Todor Yalumov noted that the traditional industries in Bulgaria managed to keep their positions. For many years Bulgarian industry has shown good results in the use of communication and innovation technologies, i.e. digitalization and the use of artificial intelligence of processes. On the topic of national policies, he said that Bulgaria should facilitate the access of more students from third countries to the Bulgarian education system, because after completing their education, many of them will enter the national labour market and will thus support the innovative development of all companies in the country.
- Companies awarded with Excellence in Innovation label in 2023
- Agenda of the Nineteenth National Innovation Forum 2023
- Innovation.bg 2023 Report
- Opening remarks by Dr. Ognian Shentov, Chairman of the Applied Research and Communications Fund
- Congratulatory address by Mr. Norbert Beckmann-Dierkes, Head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Representation in Bulgaria
- Congratulatory address by Mr. Ruslan Stefanov, Coordinator of the Innovation.bg Group at the Applied Research and Communications Fund
- Media representation