Meet Petya Chalakova, a social entrepreneur at the beginning of the journey
It is 2012 and Petya is living in her home country Bulgaria. She has been working in the NGO sector for 12 years as a freelancer focusing on a multitude of projects. She is looking for new opportunities, “something more stable,” as she put it. If there is one thing she knows, it is that a nine-to-five job is not for her. She had enough of those jobs before to know that is not what she wants and so, she decides to start her own business. While ideas and motivation are not missing from her toolkit, she feels that she is lacking knowledge about business and finance. As any entrepreneur would, she takes a proactive stance and starts going to events and workshops to broaden her horizons and her knowledge base. Until one day when she attends an event introducing the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs (EYE) programme. While listening to testimonials of people who participated in the program, this experience gives her the perception that EYE “is about transforming the idea of how [one] sees the outside world and how [one] can deliver” on what they want to achieve.
Even though other responsibilities such as finishing her degree and working full-time took precedent, the EYE program always stayed in the back on her mind, as an opportunity she would like to take advantage of in the future.
Finding Your Match
Fast-forward to 2020: Petya decided to participate in the EU-funded exchange abroad, because she found her match. Petya started her search process thinking that “the environment in the Netherlands for social entrepreneurs is very good. Most of the people who work in social entrepreneurship said that I should go to the Netherlands.”
Her host-company Posibilize, located in Utrecht, is “a platform which realises projects in which limitations are the inspiration.” Their work with people with mental and physical disabilities is closely related to Petya’s work in Bulgaria. This common focus and areas of expertise brought them together. As Petya put it: “In Bulgaria, we are not very inclusive. The environment is quite harsh for people with different disabilities, so I wanted to see some good examples.”
As soon as Petya found Posibilize, the process was quick and easy, despite COVID restrictions. The CEO Ronald Ligtenberg replied to her email, they set up a meeting where they discussed their vision for cooperation and then she travelled abroad to the Netherlands. Petya says that the application process went smoothly because it is well-structured and the EYE intermediary organisations (such as Euclid Network and BCause) are always there to help.
Hitting the Ground Running
Once she arrived in Utrecht for her exchange, she hit the ground running. Next to working on projects by Posibilize, Petya takes time to gain valuable intelligence about entrepreneurship from her experienced host, Ronald. “We have weekly meetings but those are with all the colleagues. That is why [me and Ronald] made this little system. We have face-to-face meetings where I get to ask my entrepreneur questions and he is giving me all the time I need. Sometimes even more because I am a very curious person, I have a lot of questions,” she says smiling. “I see him as a mentor.”
Petya also makes it a point to be an asset to Ronald’s company and tries to make sure that they have a reciprocal relationship. Besides the day-to-day work in the company, Petya helps Ronald by introducing him to potential partners in Bulgaria. She credits the EYE program and its organisers for the possibility to work in such an inclusive and collaborative manner.
Petya says that the biggest benefits of the EYE program are security and freedom. She is a proactive and valued member of the staff without actually being a permanent employee. This gives her the opportunity to explore the organisation and all its structural elements. “Being part of Posibilize I can observe and learn about its business structure and business model. They are even trying to expand so I get to see the whole process.” she says.
“Yes, you can have the huge idea, but you have to start small and just roll with it like a snowball: make it bigger and bigger, and at the end you will have the snowman. But you always need a tiny little snowflake to start with.”
Become a Host Entrepreneur or a New Entrepreneur
Remember, despite COVID the EYE exchanges still take place, whether starting remotely or directly in-person. Take this opportunity, find your match and go abroad with a EU-funded project!