Architect Elitsa Panayotova, executive director of the new ‘Sofia Tech Park’ company, in an interview with ‘This is Bulgaria’ radio show, broadcasted by Radio FOCUS
Host : A tech park similar to the one in the Silicone valley is going to be constructed in Sofia. The idea of it- you remember- was announced by President Rosen Plevneliev during his visit in the United States in May. What exactly is the ‘Sofia Tech Park’ going to be, architect Panayotova?
Elitsa Panayotova : This is going to be a place, in which fundamental elements of the innovative process will meet and communicate. These elements are universities, the science and business. Namely, the main purpose of the tech park is to encourage this process of informal and formal exchange, thanks to which innovations are being created. This is the main idea of the tech park, as the favorable things this place would give include not only the financial support for innovations but also things needed by all new companies, which are beginners and work with innovations. I talk about consolations – law, patent and marketing, and how such companies to realize their production on the market. That is to say, the tech park will provide the support to encourage, and accelerate the process of development of new ideas, new conceptions and the creation of new products.
Host : Does this mean that part of the Technical universities in Bulgaria would be placed in the tech park?
Elitsa Panayotova : Moved… for now I cannot confirm such information. The thing that matters is the existence of a place, where these people can communicate – under the form of education and conferences or apprenticeships, or joint projects between the science, universities and business. There is a wide range of different forms of communication – I see no obstacle for universities to open campuses or departments.
Host : The Silicone valley is a famous place as a centre of many companies, which produce technological products. Is this the idea of the future tech park in Sofia?
Elitsa Panayotova : There are many examples, which could be relative to what we aim to accomplish here. There are numerous very successful technological parks not only in the Silicone valley, but in Europe and worldwide. We still research different models so that the most successful one could be chosen for Bulgaria, because there are no strictly formed patterns due to the specifications of each country. There are series of forthcoming meetings with the management of numerous successful technological parks, so that we can work out our detailed conception, which will guarantee the long successful development of this project. Because this is a strategic project, it does not happen within the range of a year or two, it is dynamical and endures transformations. This is a project with a vision for the future 20 years and further.
Host : And do you foresee any contacts, respectively support, from European instructors with analogical tendencies? In Budapest, there is the European institute for innovations and technologies, which has already begun working a year ago.
Elitsa Panaayotova : As a matter of fact, the very initial funding for starting the project comes is secured from a European fund line under the OP ‘Competitiveness’. The first EUR 50 million, which are allotted for the beginning of the project, will clearly serve exactly for this – for its beginning, for the formation of the fundamental core of functions, which are compulsory for such technological park. Afterwards, from different projects, programs and private and national financing, the park will realize its long-term development in the future. The European Commission is entirely behind this project and it will also collaborate for contacting us with similar successful projects in Europe and other suchlike projects, which have recently started functioning thanks to European funding.
Host : The future Technological Park in Sofia is going to be located near ‘Tsarigradsko shose’ Boulevard, on the 4th kilometer, where the present-day military units are. In how many stages will this project be constructed?
Elitsa Panayotova : The stage, which is now starting, the so-called first stage, is called in this way due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, because the terrain, on which the Technological Park is going to be constructed, still has buildings belonging to the Ministry of Defence that in time must be moved. The first financial aid also has a certain volume. Due to this, we decided to call this first stage – the beginning of the project. The stages will be many. I already mentioned it – it’s a dynamical project, which depends on how fast the business would react to it, how well the project will start, the number of the partners it would attract, the interest it would generate. This is important not only in Bulgaria, but in the region, because this is a project which exists and works beyond the boundaries of the country. And the stages would depend exactly on this – how well the process is structured, how well it is managed and how big interest it would generate.
Host : Architect Panayotova, it’s been a month since we’ve started talking about this project. What is the initial interest generated towards the project?
Elitsa Panayotova : The interest is really big. I personally have met a lot of companies. There are forthcoming meetings with representative from the educational sector and with scientists from Bulgaria. There are people with concrete ideas of what can be included in the park and what would be their exact role in the park’s functioning. Foreign companies are also interested in the project. For now, the project is not a concrete object of interest, but there is an interest in it. Our goal is to specify, choose and announce which are our strategic big partners in this project.
Host : And what are your expectations of this project?
Elitsa Panayotova : I hope this project will give the needed stimulus to processes, which are happening in one very isolated and scattered way in the country. Actually, this project is the tool, which will give a hand to the process related to innovations and in this way will support the business and science. It will attract people with innovative way of thinking and will also attract the business, which is out of the region. That is why I’m saying this is a strategic project, which will be of help for the entire community to focus on this field, because this is the future. We find innovations in so many places from our daily life, so that this field actually includes a wide range of spheres. Of course, not necessarily all of them must be included in the park, but the beginning of such project will most certainly stimulate the development of other similar parks- probably not of this size- in other Bulgarian cities…
Host : It would create a chain reaction?
Elitsa Panayotova : This is exactly what I mean, We expect a chain reaction.
Host : We can certainly presume, that the project is going to attract Bulgarians, who work in big technological companies abroad and who will gladly return if they see a better perspective here in Bulgaria.
Elitsa Panayotova : Exactly. Actually, we’re aware of the fact that people choose where to live and work motivated by a wide range of different factors, one of which of course is related to their professional, intellectual and career development, which means that the park will surely tempt many people to stay here.
Host : When to expect the first buildings of the park? When will the park begin to work?
Elitsa Panayotova : Conditions, which we have under the OP ‘Competitiveness’, actually give us a very clear frame for the first stage of the project – all objects must be realized by the end of 2015. The most essential part is the correct implementation of the project’s conception and its development strategy, because this is the first step and the first portion of funds. If this whole thing starts working as one successful project, within the next programme period funds could be doubled or tripled, depending on how well we protect the need of such type of funding. The model must be perfectly planned and designed and this is the most essential thing, so that strategic partners and companies could be attracted in the park, the rest is ahead of us.
Host : Strategic partners – when do you plan to announce their choice?
Elitsa Panayotova : By the end of the year, we might give concrete names. This is a process, by means of which they want to see where the things are heading to, in what schedule, the way all procedures are moved and fulfilled, the exact focus of the park. By the end of the year, I hope we’ll give concrete names and more specific information.
Host : Thank you very much. You made us dream for a while, because the existence of such tech park is something very necessary for Sofia and Bulgaria. I really liked your idea about the transparent and clear construction of the project because we’re well aware of the fact that one cannot build a home on quick sands by using playing cards.
Elitsa Panayotova : That’s correct. All we need is one very good and strong basis, behind which we all could stand, knowing it is accomplishable. I always believed that there is always a way to find money for realizing good ideas. Our task is to make the good conception, the good project and to estimate the possibilities for funding. We can always find EU funds and private partners and the business will follow.