The Man Who Moves Mountains
Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency are transforming our industries and digital economy every day, ushering in new changes and possibilities for the future of global tech, business, healthcare, and other verticals. Ambitious individuals are venturing to the heart of the ‘the new internet’ and creating diverse blueprints for the design of our lives on the blockchain. Entrepreneurs in this space are asking the important questions. How may I fill a new need on the blockchain? How may I solve global changes? How may I create a meaningful blockchain project that will have a real impact on the world at large? It’s time to start talking about the long-term changes and the future generation of startups and companies on the blockchain.
I had a chance to sit down with Dr. Plamen Russev and ask him questions about his mission, Webit.Foundation and the global series of events.
Russev is an investor and serial entrepreneur with a global impact. Through the Global Series of Webit events he puts focus on new cities and countries, reshapes the digital maps, creates new digital capitals and new investment destinations for innovation and R&D. Webit latest project Webit.Festival Europe established Sofia as Digital Capital and gathered over 10'000 attendees from 111 countries. He basically builds a small Webit city within the host city. There is no other event which brought so many digeraty, investors and policy makers together in such numbers and level!
Dr. Russev's personal investments are in tech companies in the fields of blockchain, digital health, finance and e-sports. As an executive chairman of the Webit Foundation and a member of the Board of Directors of Endeavor Bulgaria, he is among the philanthropists working towards developing the entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystems and empowering women in business and politics.
Thank you for joining us Dr. Russev. Can you please share the mission of the Webit.Foundation with us?
Russev: Webit's mission is to spread happiness and to improve the state of the world through empowering entrepreneurship, innovation and the role of women in business and politics.
I am a confirmed believer in a decentralized economy. The technological exponential growth hasn't created more value than the price we have paid with one single currency – our privacy. I do not want my children to become prisoners of their own private data. I and our global Webit community are committed to changing this and to introduce the next currency – trust! The trust I believe comes with the decentralized economy and blockchain (and its next emanations) shall hopefully take us there.
Thus a few years ago we have established the Blockchain Global Summit to gather the world's top blockchain experts, crypto, investors and founders. It is one of the Webit.Festival 2018 major parallel summits. The building blocks of the agenda include Smart Contracts, New Economy and Sectoral Disruptors, Governance, Banking and Finance, Crypto Currencies, the Future of Money & Payments, A Decentralised World, ICO Regulation and Governance. The event hosts hottest ICOs pitches in front of global Investors.
How did the idea to create Webit come to you? How was Webit born?
Russev: I believe that the only single reason worth my life is to pursue happiness while creating value for me, my family, my communities, the people on this Planet. Communities are build around common necessities. 10 years ago the world eastern of Berlin and Vienna basically was not existent on the global startup and VCs map. And there was a very good reason for it – there was no ecosystem – no entrepreneurial communities. Many bright young people were basically either in USA / Western Europe or about to leave to join communities which share their necessities. The brain drain was also bringing unhappiness to this part of world – people leaving their families and friends (which is the basis for happiness) for the search of the success. Sacrificing family relations for their entrepreneurial dreams... It was so wrong on so many levels!
These both should go hand by hand, right?
Russev: In such time and environment I decided to come back to my home country – Bulgaria. I was already referred as the “successful Bulgarian” - had already one major failure followed by some exits, had companies in different countries and successful businesses but also felt that happiness for me is where my family is. So I ventured a move back to my home land with idea to help and to make an impact.
What has happiness to do with your success?
Russev: I never do anything that doesn't make me happy! When I got back to Bulgaria the first thing I did was to ask myself and many friends the question – why success and happiness cannot go together in this part of the world. And the answer was clear – lack of opportunities.
So who if not me and when if not now to start creating these opportunities? And Webit was born as a social entrepreneurial project to support the growth of the innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem in the world eastern of Berlin and Vienna and to bring happiness back to the people. Or in other words as per a saying we have in Bulgaria "if the man does not go to the mountain - the mountain goes to the man". We have decided to get into the business of bringing the "mounts" of the tech and innovation ecosystems together and to connect them with the disconnected local ecosystems in order to support their development and to establish new destinations as digital and innovation hubs and investment destinations.
The first project we have started when back to Bulgaria with my wife Aniela was an education institution for professional education – e-Academy was the first in Bulgaria governmentally licensed education institute for digital skills and trained (with diplomas accepted all around European Union) over 1000 experts. A year later we have launched Webit to build the bridge between the developed and developing digital worlds.
Now we work with governments and go to places which need our support in growing the entrepreneurial ecosystems in attracting investors and R&D. We already had Webit events in Istanbul, Dubai, Singapore, New Delhi and now a number of cities are inviting and pitching to have an annual Webit event in their countries around the world. In the meantime the world (and Forbes) started calling the city of Sofia, which many didn't even know it exists few years ago - Digital Capital.
What were the main drivers of such a big success of Webit?
Russev: The quest for happiness and our commitment! We work with governments of different countries and local digital champions to promote location and to help establish the destination as a digital and tech investment hub by connecting the local ecosystem with the global Webit community. We are opening new markets and making people happy by supporting their success. Many say that with the creation of Webit we have created a new type of events which now are mainstream - the multifocus tech and innovation festivals. When started and funded Webit I wasn't creating an event, but a hope for those who needed it and I was trying to give back the dignity and the believe in one's own strength. The first ever Webit hosted 5 parallel summits. There was nothing like this in the world and everybody was telling me that I am crazy and this will be just a waste of my money and good intentions. They were almost right. Over 40% of all 900 attendees of the first ever Webit event coming from 19 countries wanted their money back. They perceived “tech festival” as music event and expected DJs on the stage. This was the level of development of the tech ecosystem in this part of the world 10 years gao. This is how also the world famous Webit parties were born! (smiles) Now Webit hosts over 12 independent summits including Innovate!, Cities 4.0, CyberTech, Global Blockchain Summit, DEMS (Digital Entertainment and Media Summit), Webit.Money, Webit.Health, Mobility, Night Urban Summit to name a few + over 50 meetups; attracts between 10000 and 15000 senior level attendees from all around the world.
You are also supporting startups and scale-ups proving millions as grants?
Russev: Each Webit also hosts the Founders Games – one of Europe's largest startup challenges with over 3000 participating startups. As Webit.Foundation is non-for-profit we provide grants and select the best of the best 5% of all startups and scale-ups and provide them for free with the opportunity to exhibit and pitch for the grand trophy and the 200'000 EUR cheque. Every year we select the Europe's top 150 startups and scaleups and this is the reason over 250 investors come from all around the world to connect and make successful investments. Over 60% of all exhibiting starts get funding within the 6-10 months following each Webit festival.
Do you think Webit can be considered “a new Davos” of the tech world?
Russev: While very kind of you to say, Webit is not built on competitive principals! I do not believe that life is a zero-sum game! We are not competing with anybody! Few weeks ago we have gathered together over 10000 C-level attendees from 111 countries and 1000 EU policy makers together with the EU Commissioner for Digital Agenda and Society, Ministers, Presidents, Members of the European Parliament. This is a good platform for a huge impact of Webit.Festival supporting Europe's innovation through legislation.
People call it magic – I call it commitment and a shared mission with all Webit community members.Webit is as strong as the strength of the tens of thousands of amazing human beings and beautiful minds which are members of our global community. We all share one basic necessity – for a better world. AI and blockchain are just tools and all we need is aligned ethics and values to use them for good! Our goal is impact – to improve the state of the world through empowering innovation, entrepreneurship, and women in business and policy all around the world!
Thank you for joining us Dr. Russev and we wish you the best of success. For more information please visit the Webit.Foundation or www.russev.com