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To See the Big Picture Clearly… Take a Hike

Gabrovo’s Gradishte area is a special place. It is the city’s highest point. On the hill, tradition meets modernity in the form of the ruins of the late-antique fortress Gradishte, nestled at the foot of Gabrovo's giant TV transmission tower. The hill is one of locals' favorite R&R spots because of the splendid view it offers of the city. According to Martin Pavlov, the founder of Gradishte Foundation, this is a "place where you can clear your mind and see the big picture."

The similarity in names is no coincidence. Martin started Gradishte three years ago because he believed that the city’s future development hinged on the ability to see the big picture. Gabrovo has all it takes to be a success, he believes. The city has a strong business community and several large international companies, quality high schools and a university, proactive citizens, and capable city administrators who are willing to work for their city’s future. What is lacking is meaningful communication between them. So, young people fail to obtain the skills and knowledge business actually needs. Companies do not invest enough in education, and city institutions in encouraging local entrepreneurship. People who wish to start their own business lack the courage or the necessary knowledge to do so.

It is Martin's mission to change this. “Gabrovo can once again be hailed for its entrepreneurial spirit, its industry, and its talented youth,” Martin says. “I believe we can create an environment where ambitious young people can meet and work on entrepreneurial ventures. This will happen when business, government, and citizens start working together.” Over the past three years, Martin has devoted his free time to Gradishte's activities. These include establishing a dialogue with business and local government, organizing entrepreneurship- and IT-themed events, designing entrepreneurship training programs for high school and college students, and developing a plan for a coworking space in town.

Martin knows how to cultivate entrepreneurship. While working toward his bachelor's degree in law and business administration at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, he served as legal and financial adviser in the university's business incubator. The incubator provides tech startups with office space and mentoring. Martin's job was to help novice entrepreneurs navigate the financial and legal intricacies of starting a business. After graduating, he got a number of lucrative job offers, but he had already made his choice—to go back to his hometown in Bulgaria and work for change there.

“I've always preferred taking the less-trodden path. It's more fun,” he says. His decision, however, has nothing to do with adventure-seeking. It was motivated by his strong connection to Bulgaria and his life philosophy that there are opportunities everywhere, particularly where there are problems.

Martin believes that problems can be turned into something positive. "How many times have we been dissatisfied with a service, or there was no product offering the solution we were looking for? These are examples of problems, but also of opportunities to gain a competitive advantage. We need to perceive problems as opportunities. Only then will we achieve lasting change in Bulgaria," Martin insists.

So far, Gradishte has organized more than 25 events and workshops in entrepreneurship, soft skills training, and new technologies. At these events, field experts and experienced professionals discuss technology-enabled business opportunities and trends in entrepreneurship and teach aspiring entrepreneurs how to build and work in teams, present their ideas more effectively in public, look for funding, and expand their professional networks.

Martin and his team also offer individual consultations to startups. Among those who have taken advantage of this opportunity are a couple who plan to start a marketing agency, a freelance physiotherapist, and the organization that launched the first public IoT (Internet of Things) network in Gabrovo. The network will help locals get weather reports, monitor water and pollution levels, and find parking more easily.

To bridge the gap between education and business, Gradishte designed a one-year entrepreneurship program for adults covering the entire business cycle from business idea generation and business modeling to market research, financial planning, and execution. Participants learn how to transform their idea into a business plan and present it to potential investors successfully. Another program in the making will allow high school students to visit local companies and discover what a real work environment looks like.

In 2017, Forbes magazine recognized Martin’s contribution to entrepreneurship education in Gabrovo and the region by listing him among the 30 Bulgarians under 30 helping change Bulgaria. Martin’s vision for the city has also been recognized by the City of Gabrovo, the town’s Technical University, and NGO partners such as United Ideas for Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law (BCNL), which support the foundation's activities. Gabrovo’s Community Fund supported Gradishte's annual event program thanks to a donation from the America for Bulgaria Foundation.

On the eve of Gradishte’s third birthday, Martin is well aware that what has been done so far is just the beginning, and there's still a lot of work to do. This doesn't deter him one bit: he believes that if you work hard for something, change will come sooner or later. This conviction is reflected in the name of the foundation itself: Gradi i shte. Build and [you] will [achieve success].

Photo 1: A view of Gabrovo from Gradishte. Photo by Svetlozar Stefanov 

Photo 2 by Nikolay Nikolov

Photo 3 courtesy of Razkovniche Blog

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