ARTICLES 
New small business ventures to Bulgaria
Article by Lucy Cooper, The Sofia Echo, 8-14 July 2005
MELISSA Harpen hadnt planned to come to Bulgaria. A friend in England saw one of the ever-growing number of televsion programmes made about the country and asked whether shed ever thought about Bulgaria as an option as a base for her events management business. No, was the initial reaction. But somehow the idea took root and after months of research, Melissa came over in March this year. Impressed with what she saw, Melissa decided to take the big step of relocating herself and her business here from Spain. One of the first things she did was to hire a lawyer. When it emerged that it was her lawyers husband who had been involved in making the English television programme which had originally sparked the whole venture, she felt that the move was meant to be.
The time is ripe for small businesses in Bulgaria, she says, such as her My Signature events company, which organises and manages a range of events from corporate functions, to golfing, to weddings and product launches. As a former employee of the Economic and Social Research Institute, Melissa was well-equipped to carry out market research before coming to the country. The American Chamber of Commerce, The British-Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and the US, British and Irish Embassies were all very helpful, she says. However, it was difficult to find information on some areas such as golfing or any tourism that didnt involve beach or ski resorts. Many tourists only think of coming to Bulgaria for a couple of weeks in the ski season or for a couple of weeks on the beach in summer, but there is so much more to it than that, and so the country currently remains largely undiscovered and under promoted. It was this lack of information that helped to convince her that there was a need to promote businesses and a need to promote Bulgaria.
With 16 years experience in the business and a CV including PR work for Diageo, Coca Cola, Pernod Ricard, The Sheraton and The Radisson groups, plus experience working in the States, the Middle East, the UK, Egypt, Germany and Spain, Melissa has a wealth of experience to draw on in bringing her business here. She sees an opening in the market for the services she offers and believes that these are somewhat of a new concept here. Although she is bringing ideas from several different countries she stresses the importance of the need to adapt as each country has its own unique culture. This makes collaboration with Bulgarian companies essential and she hopes to be able to work together with existing Bulgarian tour companies to offer alternative packages to the resort holidays which are the staple of the market. Another area in which there is huge potential and with which she would love to work, is the wine industry. Having had experience in this area before, she believes that the Bulgarian wine industry is in need of more international coverage, and also development in terms of offering services such as wine tours.
She is planning to recruit Bulgarian staff soon and also hints that she is planning a big event for the autumn in which she will collaborate with Bulgarian companies. The response from companies so far has been very positive, she says, reinforcing her hunch that this was undoubtedly the right decision. Melissa believes that big opportunities exist for those who have the courage and the foresight to come here and to work with the people of Bulgaria and embrace a whole new world.

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