Interviews with 10 Bulgarian tech entrepreneurs which were part of the Bulgarian channel on RE:Connect 1.0 on 07 January 2021. The interviews are conducted by Sylvia Pavlova MBA CMC, Founder PropTech Bulgaria and Eng. Adriana Taskova, PhD

PROPTECH | Mitko Tsonev, CEO & Founder Valkrea.House

There is no majour technology which emerged. At least, I haven’t noticed such. I would say, there is a mindset shift of the users. Now they are more aware of the different expenditures they have, they own their time much more than before. We don’t think about our home as just four walls any more. We think about it as something that could benefit us, or exert costs on us. This certainly brings some more activity in the higher adoption rate of smart technologies in general, but also people search for such services to see how they can improve their homes which by now were regarded as a ‘black box’. They try to clarify what can be optimised, which costs can be lowered, how the environment can become healthier. As a result, I would say that people are more eager to really try these technologies and implement them in certain spaces at their homes. They want to try it out, and a no longer afraid to adopt it.

PROPTECH | Lyubomir Yanchev, CEO MClimate

It’s not a new technology, but it is one that proved very useful during the pandemic. It’s called LoRaWAN. You can imagine, it is kind of a WiFi, so we have like a gateway which communicates with the devices, but it can communicate kilometres away. It doesn’t transmit harmful radiation, power. In the meantime, the devices themselves can survive years on battery. As I said, kind of a WiFi, but for IoT. There is more adaption in narrow-band IoT. But with LoRaWAN devices you get really easy installation which is as easy as plug in a gateway. That’s it. It kind of look like a radar. You have one gateway for the entire building, and then you can connect unlimited number of devices there. Obviously, you don’t have to service these devices, because with the off-the-shelf batteries from the store they can live for about 10 years. The pandemic played a key role in the acceleration of the adoption of this technology.

PROPTECH & FINTECH | Georgi Demirev, Co-Founder appraiser.ai & оцениме.бг

We work very closely with departments at majour Eastern European banks. We have seen that some technologies are more widely adopted after the pandemic. These are all technologies which have to do with digitizing the mortgage process, e.g. Digital Document Exchange, digital signatures, digital identity verification, video consulting with bankers. The adoption of all such have been accelerated. None of these is new or revolutionary. All of them were also available before the pandemic. However, banks as very large institutions with strong inertia in their operations, such an external shock as the pandemic can play a positive impact. In our specific area of operation – automated evaluations and automated appraisals – we have seen an increased interest in digitizing the appraisal process.

MOBILITY | Anton Sotirov, CTO Sesame

We started using proximity sensors. It allows to gain information where the user is. This is what we have been using in the public transport sector for about 5 years now. We began using it in other spaces too. It allows you to interact with the place you are in, without the need to use a QR code or to go to pay for the service at assigned places. This proved very useful and actually, gained popularity, in the interaction of businesses with their customers while also keeping the social distancing norms. This namely we are in process of introducing at some shops, in the e-commerce sector. When you go to a place to pick up your order, you don’t have to queue and reach a cashier in order to take your order.

You just have to show up, and your order will be waiting for you at the cashier. To me, such an approach will be used a lot more in the near future. It can also be used in buidings. When you go to an elevator, at the moment with the present PropTech solutions, for example, you can call the elevator using your smart phone. All those solutions can be enhanced by using proximity technology. Any interaction with a place can be enhanced by this technology.

HEALTHTECH | Ivan Yosifov, Founder & CEO Naicoms

The technologies in our sector – Telemedicine – were already existing before the pandemics, but, as I said before, they gained a lot more popularity, more and more people started using them. Besides the Telemedicine, we also we have developed devices which gather all vital information about a patient, such as blood pressure monitoring, oxygen saturation, and so on. During the pandemic we added more devices to the initial set of 7 tech solutions we had prior 2020. We don’t have just a single software solution, but an entire ecosystem of solutions for Telemedicine – software, hardware solutions, integration of devices. The different solutions we have can be a solution to a lot of problems we encounter in the society.

We have a separate solution for hospitals, for people at home – our solution is different, and yet another for monitoring elderly people or for schools. There is a different combination of solutions which applies to the particular area. For example, the software platform MedCare provides the audio-video communication medium, inclusive for transferring of vital parameter information from patients to doctors. For instance, if the patient has physical devices to measure his/her different vitals, s/he can also transfer them to the other side on the spot, immediately, during the communication with the physician. Additionally, the information is being saved in a separate file of the patient which s/he can use it later. The platform is called Personal Health Record. It is a free online platform. Most of our services are free for the public. And we made them free because we want to improve the process of dealting with the pandemic. Our business model is the freemium one. We have started providing our services in our neighbour countries – Romania, North Macedonia.

The pandemic motivated a lot of companies to start developing software solutions in a way to gain a lot from the situation and the high market demand for telemedical solutions. The competition in the sector increased dramatically. At the end of 2019 we made a research and to our surprise, we found out that we were among of only 5-10 companies in the world with such a portfolio. When Covid-19 came, a lot of people decided that if they make a mobile app they will have the perfect solution for Telemedicine. This have a kind of a negative effect on the sector, because many people get disappointed with such quick-fix solutions, and they have some prejudice towards all other Telemedical solutions. Writing a software is comparatively simple when compared to creating a real-value tech solution. You need to have the expertise ‘at the backend’ of the solution. We have been doing this for 6 years now. You need to understand how the dynamics behind it is working.

PROPTECH & TOURISM TECH | Boris Pavlov, Founder Flat Manager

There are a lot of technologies which existed before the pandemic, but were not massively adopted. One technology which we have been using since 2016 - I cannot even call it ‘a technology’, because it is a simple mechanical box – is the self-check-in. All of our guests at the individual appartments enter by themselves. They don’t have contact with anyone from our staff. At first, we did that to save money. But now, self-check-in is a benefit not only at our places, but anywhere, because people don’t want to meet anyone. So, self-check-in mechanical boxes are one thing. We also use more advanced digital self-check-in methods at other properties where we have more units at one and the same place.

Another thing is the digital rental contracts, digital booking, and everything digital.

Also technologies which limit the spread of the virus, technologies which automate the whole process with least human interaction. They have already existed prior to the pandemic, but the adoption right now has sored.

HEALTHTECH | Georgi Kadrev, CEO Kelvin.Health & Imagga

A good tech solution requires an interdisciplinary approach. You have to be good at what you do but at the same time you need to understand what problem your solution is meant to solve. I believe in the multidisciplinaty approach to innovation.

As I briefly referred before, there is a lot of automation of medical imaging – XRs, scans, and so on. I always like to demystify Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). I don’t like to pretend that this is magic. All these technologies in our space – AI, they basically are dependent on 2 key factors. The first one is the ML models, the design, the architecture of these specific mathematical models.

But the second one, and to a huge extent, more important, is the quality of the data sets that these technologies work with. So, ML is 80 % about the data collected. In some areas, like XR images for example, there are a lot of data that have been collected over the years. Basically, it was just a trivial exercise for some companies to develop. I am not devaluating them. I just say that it is more or less an explored field. This was a huge trend in 2020.

Another one, which we observed especially in the beginning of the pandemic, was demography scanning of airports, hospitals, etc. But this has been existing for many years. It was just the timing for such technologies to become widespread. I am re-reading ‘Zero to One’, a book which is very popular in the US. It’s about that new things should be invented, not just globalizing the things that already exist. Both are very necessary. Do both. And I belive that all of us do both. But I believe that to a huge extent humanity as a group has achieved a relatively good standard of life, and Covid was a kind of a reminder that we are much more vulnerable than we actually think we are. And because we didn’t think we are vulnerable, we didn’t take measures to be less vulnerable in the future. So it was a bit of a forceful change to digitation. This is sad, when I think about the 50s, 60s, and 70s, no matter the historical context and the Cold War, people did tremendous new things. They sent people to the Moon, and invented a lot of new technologies which went mainstream. In the last 20 years, IT is one of the very few things that has been developed actively. And even this hasn’t been combined much with other inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary fields. So, to a certain extent I am a bit disappointed with how much technology has progressed in the last years, even in the case of Covid and the huge ‘boom’ which they say.

We need to build much more on top in much more exponential scale. The quality of human life in the prevention of some problems is still not improving exponentionally.

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BULGARIA: PropTech Mapping Report 2021, 3rd edition which is coming very soon. Stay tuned!