COMPETITIVENESS THROUGH PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP
SUCCESSES AND LESSONS LEARNED
EXPORT – A CHALLENGE TO BULGARIAN WOMEN
A BACKGROUND PAPER
CLUB OF WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS & MANAGERS, BULGARIA
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF “Nie Zhenite” (WE WOMEN) WEEKLY
Montreux – September 2004
There is an interesting fact about Bulgarian women. Formed as “working girls”, they consider
professional experience as a way of social realization, economic independence and self-esteem. Surveys
show that although half of Bulgarian men assume the occupation of housewife as sufficiently valuable, ¾ of
women would prefer to work and to be economically active even if they were totally materially satisfied. But
Bulgarian ”working girls” still receive about 67 % of the men’s salaries for the sam e job.
There are 4 women ministers in the present government: Mrs. Lydia Shuleva, vice Prime minister and
minister of economy, Mrs. Hristina Hristova - of labor and social policy, Mrs. Meglena Kuneva – of European
integration and Mrs. Dolores Arsenova - of ecology. There are also many women deputy ministers, incl. of the
Ministry of Defense. 26% of the deputies in the present national parliament are women, which is more in
comparison with the past parliament but not enough having in view that more than a half (3 400 000) of the
electorate are women.
2. Small and Medium Enterprises in Bulgaria
In 2002 there are 220 000 SMEs which represent 99,1 % of all companies in Bulgaria. From all
Bulgarian companies 90,8 % are micro firms (1-10 workers), 7,3% - small enterprises (10-50 workers), 1% -
medium enterprises (50-100 workers), 0,6% - with 100-249 workers, and over 250 – 0,3%. SMEs are the
fastest growing sector in the Bulgarian economy. They had assured 50,7% of total employment in the private
and the public sectors in 2000, 51,6% in 2001 and 55,8 % in 2002 (62,6% in the private sector and only
13,6% the public sector). In this way they are the main factor for the reduction of unemployment.
The relative share of the SMEs in the formation of the Gross Domestic Product has been increasing
since 1998. This is a positive trend, which reflects the growing importance of the SMEs for the Bulgarian
economy. It has been proved that the SMEs are the first enterprises to react to macroeconomic stability and
to register higher business activities. In 2000, the relative share of the SMEs in the formation of the Gross
Domestic Product stood at 30.0%, in 2001 – at 25.4, while in 2002 – at 34.2%.
A positive trend is observed also in the increasing participation of the Small and Medium Enterprises in
foreign trade. In 2002, the number of the SMEs participating in foreign trade reached 9.4% of the total number
of SMEs, which corresponds to 93% of all Bulgarian companies participating in foreign trade.
3. Profile of the Bulgarian Woman Entrepreneur
According to recent data there are more than 60 000 women entrepreneurs and managers in Bulgaria,
most of them of small and medium-sized enterprises. In total, of the number of newly established companies
over a quarter are owned by women. In addition a number of firms whose owners are male, are actually run
by their female partners.
Here are some interesting facts about Bulgarian women entrepreneurs, revealed in a survey, made by
the Agency of small and medium-sized enterprises in 2002. Women -entrepreneurs are young and well
educated, as a whole. Over 80 % of those interviewed were below 50 years of age, of which 35 % were below
40. The majority of women in business had a university degree (about 55 %), and one-third graduated from
secondary vocational schools.
Women identify the lack of an alternative for professional achievement as a major incentive for entering
the private sector (59 %). Motivational factors like independence and personal realization were identified by
respectively 44 % and 36 % of the female entrepreneurs interviewed, while men rank economic
independence first. It is worth mentioning that the share of women, who start businesses, have been
increasing during the last few years. Before establishing their own company, about one-fifth of the
businesswomen had been unemployed, which is twice the figure for men. It is very likely that unemployed
women were more inclined to start their business than men.
The main source of initial capital for the majority o female entrepreneurs was personal savings,
followed by loans from friends and relatives. Only 7 % of businesswomen received bank credits for the
establishment of their business, but that was also true for men. In 2001, no gender-based barriers to credit
applications were observed. The share of women-owned companies that were provided with credits was 17
%, which was close to the male-owned companies, as 70 % of the interviewed women had not applied for
In terms of financial results, companies owned by women and men do not differ. Their growth,
however, was quite different. Only 18 % of the companies run by women registered growth in 2001, while that
for companies run by men was 33 %. Drop in sales were observed in 59 % of the women enterprises,
compared to 40 % for the men. Probably this was the reason for the lower expectations among women
entrepreneurs for growth and development in the next years. About one-third of businesswomen plan to
increase their volume of production, against half of the men. A comparatively high proportion of women had
taken the decision to retire from business (7 %), compared to men (1 %).
Similar to men, women determine the main factors for successful strategy development as low prices,
quality of production and the introduction of new technologies. A significantly lower level of women considers
new technologies as a key priority -- 31 %, compared to 42 % for men. On the other side, however, women
dispose of equipment more rapidly than men. In 57 % of the women companies, the equipment was
purchased during the last five years, while about 45 % of the men disposed of equipment purchased 5 to 14
years ago. However, the share of women, who had a computer and e-mail was substantially lower
(respectively 50 % and 32 %, against 60 % and 42 % for men).
The main barriers to the business development for both women and men were the low purchasing
power of the population and access to external financing. Women, however, had suffered more often from
strong and unfair competition. They had more problems with the frequent changes in legislation and the
interpretation of the legal regulations. On the other hand, women had less trouble with staff recruitment,
compared to men, which was probably a result of the size and the market orientation of women-owned
The main problems for female entrepreneurs in the start-up period related primarily to licensing and
finding premises (to a significantly greater extent than men (about 10 %). In relation to administrative barriers,
most women point out the negative attitude of administrative officers (73 % against 60 % for men).
Women in business were more inclined to use external services (over 60 % of the companies)
compared to men (45 %). Most often they used legal advice, accounting and financial advice and
consultancy, followed by computer and information services.
Women-entrepreneurs view public attitudes towards them as negative. Nearly 40 % of the women state
that people envy them and even hinder their work, whilst the equivalent fi gure for men has been 30 %. One-
fifth of women feel that their work was approved of by society, which is close to the share of men.
Social attitudes towards entrepreneurship are a part of the business environment and for that reason
are of great importance to women entrepreneurs. According to the survey, a comparatively high share of
businesswomen state that people are indifferent to their problems and success. Lack of support and interest
has been a serious problem for the entrepreneurs, which they face in their everyday work and which
discourages them. During the last few years, social attitudes have been changing and the estimation of
women-owners of newly established companies proves that the shares of positive and negative attitudes
have been equal. We do hope, that the Business Woman of the Year National Competition has a big role in
4. Promoting success and innovation of women entrepreneurs at the domestic and international
To encourage women entrepreneurs, to publicize succes s stories, and to be able to gain the approval
of the society for their efforts, and to develop role models “Nie Zhenite” (We Women), the first independent
women’s weekly after the fall of communism in Bulgaria (established in 1990) initiated the organization of the
so-called “The Business Woman of the Year National Competition” held annually since 1991.
For years the competition has been under the patronage of the First Lady of Bulgaria, who bestows
herself the award to the first lady in business. The ceremony has established itself as a prestigious social
event and enjoys wide media coverage. The panel of judges selecting and nominating the winners and
runners-ups comprises eminent public figures and celebrities. In 2002 and 2003 Mrs.Lydia Shuleva, Deputy
Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy chaired it. This year for the 13 edition of the national competition
it was chaired by Mrs. Hristina Hristova, Minister of Labor and Social Policy and includes also Mr. Bojidar
Bojinov, President of the Bulgarian Chamber for Commerce and Industry, Mr. Angel Despotov, President of
the Agency for small and medium sized enterprises, and Mrs. Maria Baeva, Editor-in-Chief of NIE Zhenite
Weekly, the organizer of the competition.
For the past 13 years there have been about 250 participants in this competition from all over the
country and from all the areas of the economy, even in some considered as “male’s” businesses as machine
building, building, production of alcohol, banking etc. To create closer links between them and on their
request we, the journalists from “Nie Zhenite”, initiated the foundation of the Club of Women Entrepreneurs
and Managers in Bulgaria in May 2003.
The co-founders of the Club are more than 60 businesswomen from all over the country and from all
areas of the economy. Member of the club is also Mrs. Lydia Shuleva, vice prime minister and minister of
economy, who before becoming a politician was a very successful businesswoman. The godmother of the
club is the First Lady of Bulgaria Zorka Parvanova.
All the runners up and especially the winners in the Business Woman of the Year National Competition
show the same competitiveness not only in Bulgaria, but also when exporting their production abroad. This is
the case of our last winners, whose experience and successful export strategies follow.
5. Lessons learned
What motivates Bulgarian businesswomen in getting involved with the international market? First of all
they are citing the limited interior market, so to succeed they have to look for other opportunities to sell their
production. In addition foreign market creates conditions for establishing new links and joint ventures with
companies from the developed countries, for fund raising in order to enlarge their activities and introduce new
Unfortunately they consider that Bulgaria does not have a complete working strategy for encouraging
export, except some partial measures, with one of them being the VAT exemption for export of certain goods
and services. In addition the customs procedures are often regarded as sluggish.
The high cost of domestic debt financing and the lack of specific encouraging schemes for Bulgarian
companies pose an additional burden on them. And even with the high unemployment rate they still have
problems in finding qualified personnel, which is the result of the non-effective system for qualification. In
addition export -oriented businesswomen have to search mostly themselves for their eventual clients generally
at the international fairs.
In order to stimulate export-oriented firms women in business propose the following measures:
• Better access to credit (lower interest rates and longer gratis periods).
• Priority given when applying for EU funded projects compared to companies, which operate only on
the local market.
• Assistance from the commercial attaches at the Bulgarian diplomatic missions abroad in order to
establish business relationships and to participate in international fairs.
• Creating international information databases for the activities of women in business.
• Establishing closer links between export-oriented businesswomen – for example Balkan and
international business seminars, or founding a Balkan Association of Women Entrepreneurs.
Annexe 1 : Examples of successful Bulgarian Businesswomen
A. Mariana Pecheyan-Krasteva – Business Woman of the Year Award for 2000 and President of the Club of
Women Entrepreneurs and Managers in Bulgaria
Mrs. Mariana Pecheyan-Krasteva, M. Sc. in Econ., is procurator of VSK “Kentavar” Ltd. The firm owns 2
machine-building factories, including a dressmaker’s workshop for occupational clothing. VSK “KENTAVAR”
Ltd. has its own Trade Mark and Service Brand. The firm is active in two directions: trading and
manufacturing. Traded are more than 100 000 items.
The two factories of the firm are:
1. “VSK-KENTAVAR - IZ DINAMIKA” Ltd., which is certified by ISO 9001:2000 and by the Allied Quality
Assurance Publication (AQAP - 110) of NATO. The plant is specialized in metalworking and woodworking
tools and their technological equipment.
2. “VSK-KENTAVAR - ZMM” Ltd. - a factory for bench drilling and milling machines, column-drilling
Personnel (2003): 450.
Turnover (2003): 5 million euro.
Export (2003): about 70% of the own production - to EU countries such as Germany, Italy, France, Great
Britain, Sweden, Portugal, and Finland.
B. Veska Tzvetanova – Business Woman of the Year award for 2001 and member of the board of the
Mrs. Tzvetanova is co-owner and general manager of “Apollo” Ltd., a private company established in 1994.
The firm owns 2 factories for hunting, fishing, police and military apparel. “Apollo” is the only East-European
company licensed by W.L, Gore&Associates for the production of specialized Gore-tex clothing. The two
factories of the firm are certified according to the standards of W.L, Gore&Associates and have their own
design center. “Apollo” is also active in trade with hunting weapons, munitions, clothing and equipment, as
well as police and military clothing.
Personnel (2003): 240
Turnover (2003): 3,5 million euro.
Export (2003): about 70% of the own production. Hunting and fishing apparel mainly to Great Britain, Italy,
France, Poland, Finland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine. Police apparel - to France and Germany.
C. Bozhana Apostolova – owner and manager of “Janet 45” Ltd. Publishing House, and member of the club.
Mrs. Apostolova is also owner of “Nie Zhenite” (We Women) weekly, which organizes The Business Woman
of the Year National Competition.
Founded in 1992, in 12 years “Janet 45” has built one of the best state-of-the-art printing houses in Bulgaria
for advertising materials and books. Mrs. Apostolova is the image of the self-made woman. She holds an MA
in Bulgarian literature and is a famous poet, as well as an author of eight books. Mrs. Apostolova set up and
expanded her business by investing in new technologies, modern equipment and qualified personnel. The
high quality of her publishing and print production has received many national and international awards. In
2003 the World Forum for Book Design in Germany has awarded the award for graphic design to one of the
artists of “Janet 45”.
Personnel (2003): 65
Turnover (2003): 1,5 million euro.
Export (2003): about 23% of the own production to clients in France, Great Britain, Germany, Moldova,
Georgia, Macedonia, and Armenia.
D. Svetlana Panayotova – Business Woman of the Year award for 2002 and member of the board of the
Mrs. Panayotova is co-owner and commercial director of “Elite Tours” Ltd., the representative of one of the
biggest European tourist companies - “Thomas Cook” AG in Bulgaria and offers hospitality to almost 200 000
foreign tourists in Bulgaria annually. Thomas Cook AG has been operating in Bulgaria since 1968 (under the
name Neckermann). In the past 5 years the company has invested about 100 million euro in reconstruction
and modernization of private hotels and 10 million euro in the privatization of 6 hotels at the Black sea coast.
In 2002 two of the hotels used by Thomas Cook have received the international award “Primo” for high quality
Personnel (2003): 106
Turnover (2003): 7 million euro.
Export (2003): about 100% to clients from Germany, France, Great Britain, etc.
E. Eugenia Popesku - Woman Manager of the Year award for 2003
Mrs. Popesku holds an M Sc in Electrical Engineering and is co-owner and manager of “EP -Commerce” Ltd.,
a private company established in 1992. The firm is active in manufacturing and trade. It is the main
shareholder of many factories in Bulgaria and Romania. Most important of them are: “Transwagon”, a plant
for carriages, “Cord SA” – the only plant on the Balkans and one of the biggest in Europe for steel cord,
“Progres” – the most modern pig iron foundry ????????, “Natalia” – for the production of fabrics. “EP
Commerce” owns also a huge storage facility at the Romania harbor of Constantza. In the past two years the
firm has invested over 4 million euro in renovation and modernization of “Cord SA”. Partners in this project are
Pirelli, GCR Group and Cord&Wires Machinery.
Personnel (2003): 2000
Turnover (2003): 34 million euro.
Export (2003): about 70% of its own production to Germany, France, Great Britain, the Balkan countries,
Poland, Italy, Sweden, Ukraine, Sri Lanka etc.