Encouraging Success by Empowering Business Owners   

This wasn’t the first time Ilian had tried to start a bakery. Nor the second nor the third. It was his fourth try, and this time he meant business. When he was seventeen, he had asked his mother to teach him how to make her banitsa, a buttery pastry stuffed with cheese. He knew it was better than anything he’d found sold on the streets, so they decided – why not sell it? However, Ilian very quickly realized that his mother, while an extraordinary cook, lacked business skills. They tried again, only to be evicted when their landlord failed to pay the municipality the required rent. Ilian then decided to go abroad. After working for six months in a bakery in Switzerland, he returned with renewed zeal – at last he had honed his pastry-making skills. So, they opened again. This time the location they chose did not get enough traffic, and they failed to attract regular customers. 
Not one to give up, he came across TSA’s Business Achievement project when speaking with his entrepreneurial friends. 
This program is a licensee of the Workshop in Business Opportunities (WIBO) program, which was founded in 1966 in Harlem to boost economic empowerment. It has since gone on to train nearly 18,000 entrepreneurs, 54% of whom are still in business after five years (more than two and a half times the national average.) Based on WIBO’s track record, TSA piloted the project in Bulgaria from 2015-2017. Two cohorts of 41 participants took part in 18 intensive sessions on how to build and grow a profitable business, conducted by Bulgarian business expert volunteers. 
For four and a half months, Ilian faithfully participated in WIBO’s three-hour sessions and worked hard with his mentor to develop a business plan for the project’s graduation competition. This time, he was ready. On the day of the event, he stood before the jury and carefully laid out each step of his business plan. Impressed, the jury awarded him with the second place prize of 7,000 leva. 
These days you can find Ilian at Sofia’s Sitniakovo market. He spent a year looking for the right place, first assessing traffic, location, and the potential for regular clients. Once he found the perfect spot, he observed it carefully for a week before signing. With WIBO, Ilian has discovered the tools he needs to build a solid foundation. He shares, “I now know how to look at the financials. I know how to attract and retain customers. A good mood and a smile are the most important thing. Each customer deserves an individual approach, and I know how to treat people so that they feel welcomed. Now I want to build a brand name for my banitsa shop and to develop it into a chain with master bakers and salespeople. Everyone loves my mother’s recipe; it’s unique and the banitsa is very crispy.” 
Up at 2:00 a.m. to help his mother bake, Ilian continues his day by reviewing the financials, looking for suppliers, and contemplating how best to develop distribution. By 2:00 p.m., his banitsa is completely sold out. “Only 5% of my baked goods remain at the end of the day,” says Ilian. “I donate them to people in need – a bag of three pastries to this person, a bag to another person, and then they are gone. I am grateful for everything negative I’ve experienced along the way, because it has taught me something I needed to learn. Now I know what I need to do.”