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Sofia 1407, Bulgaria

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Bulgaria is one of the oldest states in Europe, located in the heart of the Balkans. The country has undergone major transformation in recent decades, moving from a communist country to an open market economy. After the major political and economic restructuring in 1989 the country experienced major growth and development that lead to it becoming an upper-middle income EU country. Wages have steadily risen since liberalization with GDP per capita going from $2,477 USD in 1989 to $9,272 USD in 2018. The economy is expected to expand by 3.4% in 2019. Economic growth has been robust in recent years, but a slowdown is expected due to decreased demand from key trade partners. Growth is expected to remain at a moderate 3% into 2020 even with the fall in demand. The government has worked with the EU to develop currency regulation which has enabled low interest rates fueling lower mortgage rates and corporate credit.
Bulgaria is in the midst of significant demographic change. Bulgaria has the fastest shrinking population in the world. The population has gone from 9 million in 1989 to 7 million currently and is expected to continue to fall to 5.5 million by 2050. This has been largely due to high rates of emigration along with low birth rates. There are concerns about the long-term economic implications of the population decrease. This challenge isn’t unique to Bulgaria, it has become a regional issue for all 10 countries in Eastern Europe. A huge driver of increasing emigration has been concerns around quality employment. While unemployment levels have fallen to 4.8%, Bulgaria remains the poorest country in the EU. Entrepreneurship is still developing in Bulgaria. Self-employment rates in Bulgaria are still the lowest in Europe at 11%; developing a more mature entrepreneurial system will be critical in maintaining and continuing economic growth.
The government has developed the Action Plan Entrepreneurship 2020 to help encourage start-ups and small business growth. Strategic implementation of the strategy and ensuring inclusivity will be important in successfully growing the number of successful small businesses. SMEs already play a significant role in economic growth in Bulgaria. SMEs account for 75% of employment outside of the financial business sector and have generated significant value add in recent years, accounting for over 65% of value added outside of the financial sector. Though women’s participation in entrepreneurship is lower than men; Bulgarian women enterprises show more growth than their regional counterparts. However, they represent a limited share of innovative, export oriented businesses. More tailored support is needed for women to be more competitive in the SME space in Bulgaria. CEED Bulgaria is working to provide inclusive learning spaces, offering the skills and networks needed for women entrepreneurs. CEED presents an important support tool for women to generate successful businesses.

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