Bulgaria, with its strong IT sector, has the potential to become a prolific Artificial Intelligence (AI) market. This is what emerges from a report published by Vangavis, an international innovation company based in Sofia which gathers innovation intelligence and develops collaborative projects in order to support, connect and promote Europe’s ecosystems.
The total European AI market is estimated to be worth more than 500 million euros and is forecast to flourish by a compound annual growth rate of more than 40 per cent in the period to 2026. The growing popularity of AI technologies is creating a start-up wave in Bulgaria, with almost 30 per cent of companies surveyed for the report having been established over the last two years.
Bulgaria’s potential in the AI field will benefit greatly from the development of an ecosystem, which is usually formed around scientific communities, innovative entrepreneurs, investors, large corporates and governmental organisations. This type of ecosystem also attracts large international corporations and companies that invest in and work with these scientists and start-ups. This, in turn, leads to the creation of a large number of new, high-tech jobs and creates a natural link between science and business.
“There are three factors that have been boosting AI developments in Bulgaria in the last 10 years: the immense growth of the software industry, access to venture funding and the growing data science community,” said Atanas Kiryakov, CEO of Ontotext AD, a global vendor of semantic technology.
“The sector has increased more than five times since 2007, both in terms of revenues and employees. Many of the global IT leaders opened R&D offices in Sofia. This created a lot of engineers working on complex IT projects, including advanced analytics over big data. This is a huge difference compared to other countries where the software industry is dominated by cheap outsourcing services,” he continued.
The AI specialists in Bulgaria account for about 500 people and in terms of job offers, about three per cent of the total developer job market is for AI-related jobs.
Regarding the industry focus, the main solutions in Bulgaria are designed for the retail, finance and media industry. Healthcare is also one of the sectors in Bulgaria in which the AI technologies will be of great use. The number of companies in the sector is expected to grow even further as the healthcare ecosystem is developing.
However, companies prefer to see examples of already implemented AI technologies before implementing them.
“What comes first is natural language processing (NLP, also known as text analysis),” said Mr Kiryakov.
But poor access to public big data is still hindering the AI field in Bulgaria and the EU when it comes to training people and systems. Large international companies are reluctant to outsource AI development, fearing they will lose a competitive edge by spreading their knowledge.