On the Promoting Enterprise portal we are talking to the entrepreneurs on the 33 Under 33 list. This Secrets of Success initiative aims to shine the spotlight on a selection of successful young entrepreneurs, documenting their stories in an effort to inspire others to consider entrepreneurship as a career path. Today it is the turn of young Bulgarian Iva Tsolova.
Iva is from Bulgaria and she has a Bachelor of Political Science and European Studies from the University of National and World Economy and a Master of Science in Environmental Technology and International Relations from TU Wien and the Vienna School of International Studies. Her hero is the American businesswoman Leila Janah. She has always wanted to be surrounded by like-minded people who share her vision and values; and another driver for her has been the desire to have the freedom to change the reality around her for the better and not have any limitations. That is why entrepreneurship was the natural path she decided to take.
Tell us about your business
JAMBA - Career for All supports people with disabilities and chronic illnesses in Austria, Bulgaria and Hungary to attain soft skills, English and professional skills in the fields of information and communication technology and artificial intelligence. As a follow-up step, the organisation acts as a bridge between talent and employers so that they begin their professional development and find an inclusive job.
Our project empowers people with disabilities with professional skills and qualifications suited to emerging job fields. We support real social and economic inclusion. Our 360° approach involves all stakeholders: people with disabilities, the business sector, non-profits, academia and the public sector.
Where did you get the idea from?
Two of my cousins have different abilities - one is hearing impaired and the other has cognitive disability. Both are wonderful people who work and lead full and fulfilled lives. They have always been a great example to me. Eight years ago, I had the opportunity to work with hearing impaired people and that is how I met my co-founder Joana Koleva. We observed how motivated people with disabilities are, how much potential they have, and no matter how much they wanted to find a job, most of the time they were rejected. We did research to see if there was an existing project or organisation that offered support to this target group. There was no one in this niche and so the idea of Jamba came about.
How old were you when you first decided you would start your own business?
I started my first company at the age of 21, but even before that I dreamed of being an entrepreneur.
How did you get it off the ground?
The first steps towards the realisation of our project involved many meetings and conversations in which we discussed exactly how to launch this idea, what the milestones there were and what we needed to do to achieve them. Our initial idea was simply to develop a job board where companies could post their job opportunities and, in parallel, people with disabilities could apply for jobs. However, we quickly realised that this platform alone could not be successful as, due to their lack of previous experience and key skills and competencies, they were not competitive in the labour market. So we started thinking about how we could implement the capacity building element and then continued to develop the concept further.
Who did you turn to for help?
We like to say that Jamba is one big family. In the beginning, we started talking to friends and representatives of the NGO, corporate and public sectors in Bulgaria. It was very important for us to get feedback on the idea and people mostly reacted very positively to it. Of course, there was some sceptical feedback, but we took it into consideration and it helped us to improve the idea and our approach.
Describe some of the obstacles you faced as a young person starting out in this business.
Starting a project with social focus in a post-communist country like Bulgaria, where there is still a lot of prejudice against the community of people with disabilities, is difficult. Many times we heard the words "No!" or "Give up!" We have even been underestimated for being women. But despite the challenges, we have always been very supportive and have given each other motivation and courage. Gradually more people joined our mission, which showed us that we were on the right track.
How do you define success?
At Jamba, we define and measure success mostly with the results we achieve in a few different areas. Firstly, the most important metric for us is the number of people our team is supporting - how many people have successfully graduated from our training programmes and afterwards found inclusive jobs in the open labour market. Secondly, we measure the involvement from the side of the corporate sector in the field of diversity and inclusion, their current actions and the long-term change they achieve with the support of Jamba. And last but not least, success for us is also the social inclusion of people with disabilities, which is a consequence of our awareness-raising efforts and a change in the mind-set of society.
What was the most challenging aspect of setting up your business?
When we started working on the project in Bulgaria in 2017, we were pioneers. There was no other organisation or company offering similar services. The main challenge for us in the beginning, on the one hand, was to gain the trust of the talents with disabilities and show them that Jamba is here to help them with real results and impact, not just empty promises.
On the other hand, we had to combat and change the corporate sector's mind-set and prejudices that people with disabilities cannot be successful in their jobs. That's why we focused on showing how much potential and motivation people with disabilities have.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?
The point of everything is the impact we achieve. Imagine for a moment that you're about 35 years old, you've never had the opportunity to work up to this point, you very rarely have the opportunity to meet new people, you live in near constant isolation, and society underestimates your abilities and skills. Now imagine that suddenly a door opens, you get the chance to develop new skills, and then you get a great job where you are valued for the skills you have, you start to feel fulfilled and included. Every single talent we've been able to support over the years has been extraordinary, and it's the joy in the eyes of the people and the new path that opens up for the talents we work with that is our motivation to keep moving forward.
What are the future goals of your business, and how will you go about achieving them?
Over the past two years, our organisation has increasingly focused on preparing talents for future jobs in the technology sector. The need for talent there is huge, and at the same time the sector is very flexible and offers many opportunities. Our team is developing an accessible platform for online training and remote tech positions or freelance projects. The platform will enable talent with disabilities and chronic illnesses in remote rural areas, small settlements and generally people located anywhere to gain knowledge and find flexible job opportunities that will be able to meet their needs and support them in being financially independent.
What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
Everyone starts somewhere and of course there are many unknown aspects, but if you have an idea you believe in, don't give up and don't be afraid. Take the leap and try to make it happen, give it your all, surround yourself with like-minded people, colleagues and partners. If you don't try at all, you will regret it, and imagine if things turn positive and you manage to achieve all your goals and dreams! So just do it!
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- Publication date
- 10 March 2023
- Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs
- Promoting Enterprise - categories
- Secrets of Success
- Promoting Enterprise - tags