From June 18-23, the Summer Work and Travel Regional Entrepreneurship Academy brought together 30 alumni of the Summer Work Travel J-1 Visa Program (SWT) from Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia to learn about how to design and launch businesses. Taking place in the village of Dolna Banya, the participants took part in workshops, team-building activities, role-playing games and networking opportunities over the course of the six day Academy. The goal of the academy was to teach young adults the entire process of starting a business, from idea development to the realization of an actual business. Thanks to the hard work of Stojan Rashkov from SWT-Macedonia, Slobodan Rudic from SWT-Serbia, and Ekaterina Dimitrova, Nikolay Bliznakov and Mariya Sapundzhieva from SWT-Bulgaria, a small seed of an idea grew into a successful multi-national event.
On the first day of the academy, Dr. Solomon Passy, former Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and chair of the American Bulgarian Alumni Association (ABAA), greeted participants and underlined the significance of more intensive communications between the three SWT associations and expanding it to all the Balkan SWT organizations. Over the course of the week, participants had the opportunity to partake in lectures on entrepreneurship, start-ups, small businesses, and funding opportunities. The lecturers, selected from the same three countries as participants, used their own experiences and ideas as entrepreneurs to educate participants through hands-on activities and discussions. Keynote speakers included U.S. political science professor Bob Beatty and his brother James Beatty, an entrepreneur and financial adviser, who offered to participate as part of their private visit to Bulgaria. Professor Beatty captured the audience’s attention from the very first, speaking passionately about ongoing trends in the United States and the Balkans. Mr. James Beatty shared professionally-valuable information concerning general investment principles for investors and small business owners.
Another aspect of the Academy was devoted to social causes and networking skills and how to expand the Summer Work and Travel alumni associations in the participating countries. To discuss these skills, the Academy brought in three speakers: Yana Milosheva from Bulgaria, a public relations specialist, who discussed the topic of the social networks and the image of the start-up business; Mariya Bozhilova from Net1, who talked about social entrepreneurship, explaining the differences between being an entrepreneur and a social entrepreneur, as well as how to help society with sustainable businesses; and Slobodan Rudic from Serbia, who presented the Serbian web-based platform Work and Travel Iskustvo (“experience”) sharing how it helps young people find information about the Summer Work and Travel Program. After each speaker, participants had interactive group work and role-playing games followed by presentations of newly developed ideas
In the fall, a follow-up 1-day conference will take place that is designed to bring together representatives from universities, NGOs, business start-ups, and government to discuss how to better support youth entrepreneurs. During the conference they will also brainstorm and collaborate on future plans for cooperation among the regional SWT associations.