Today marked the team’s last full day in Sofia—it was a jam-packed yet memorable day. Yesterday we made the final presentation to our clients at the Ministry of the Economy, Energy, and Tourism (MEET). We spoke at lengths about not only the definition of the new Sofia science and technology park and what it’s trying to achieve, but also the park’s unique value proposition and the governance mechanisms/institutions that must be in place for it to succeed. We talked about the importance of the cluster initiative (which helps to build trust and enables companies to achieve scale and be globally competitive)–and that Bulgaria should focus on one sector (ICT) in which there is already demand/unmet needs and core competencies in place.
We believe our 2-hour presentation (which also includes tangible metrics for success and real case studies) was well received by the Ministry (people in attendance included the deputy minister, her adviser, newly-appointed leader of the management entity of the park, the Bulgarian ministry’s liaison to the EU Commission, among others). We got a lot of questions and had a number of follow-up conversations with the different stakeholders. This presentation was the culmination of months of hard work and preparation (with primary/secondary research). We sincerely hope that the Ministry will take our recommendations seriously, ask the tough questions, and have the (political) will to act…and execute.
Now…on to our eventful final day here. This morning we were delighted to meet with U.S. Ambassador James Warlick and to represent Berkeley-Haas at the Embassy of the United States here in Sofia. The deputy chief of political/economic section was also present. We had a fruitful conversation with regards to our work and our findings/takeaways. Ambassador Warlick told us that he wishes more Americans would travel to Bulgaria and the Balkan region in order to have a better understanding of the culture as well as the enormous amount of business/commercial opportunities that are here. He’s been in Bulgaria for about three years now and he also shared some of the highs and lows of being a career diplomat…
After meeting with Ambassador Warlick (who also asked his assistant to briefly show us around the magnificent Embassy complex), Dan went to have lunch with the newly-appointed head of the diplomatic mission here on behalf of Portugal (he’s been staying at our hotel!).
In the afternoon we had the extraordinary honor and privilege of meeting with Mr. Rosen Plevneliev, the President of the Republic of Bulgaria (along with his chief economic adviser). We’re grateful that we were able to meet him on short notice.
When we first arrived at the Office of the President we thought we’d only have a few minutes for quick greetings and a photo opportunity. We were pleasantly surprised and delighted that he met with us for nearly an hour—given his hectic daily schedule. He was unbelievably candid and showed us his passion, determination, and resolve to make the Sofia Tech Park a reality and a success story for the region. He asked for a copy of our final presentation to the Ministry and listened intently and took notes as we briefly went over our recommendations.
Even though he is now a head of state, President Plevneliev told us that he constantly remembers and draws strength from his past as he forms a long-term vision for Bulgaria. He told us about his passion for coding as a youngster…as well as his entrepreneurial/private sector experiences that took him all over Europe and the United States. We agreed that it is important for Bulgaria to develop a unifying message about the Sofia Tech Park so that it can start building a brand that’ll be marketed around the world. The clear message would also send a clear signal to potential anchor companies, influential investors–which would lead to clarity and confidence among the Bulgarian people.
Aside from the Sofia Tech Park we also chatted about his recent trip to the Bay Area/Silicon Valley, his experiences from attending the NATO summit in Chicago (being the “new kid on the block,” said the president), the European debt crisis, as well as about leadership and the need for political leaders to avoid the temptation of short-termism and simply thinking about the next election cycle.
This was an extraordinary visit and again, we were honored and excited to represent Berkeley-Haas. What a great way to wrap up an amazing three weeks in this beautiful country. We wrapped up the evening tonight by eating at our favorite restaurant (Adi’s Cook and Book), toasting each other and recording our last thoughts/reflections.
We have already started discussing about when we’d reconvene in Sofia! We do hope that when we come next time, it will not rain as much!
Alright, I better get back to packing my belongings. We’re grateful for the amazing hospitality, warmth, and generosity that the Bulgarian people have shown during the past three weeks. We will stay in touch with our clients and follow the developments from the project…can’t wait to see this again!
To all of our other amazing classmates–safe travels and have a great start to your summer internships!
Hassam Hussain, Seung Ho Song, Dan Tavares, and Benny Du