SUCCESS STORIES

Sofia Urban Challenge: finding agile solutions to air quality

The problem

Sofia, Bulgaria, is Europe’s most polluted capital with high concentration levels of fine particulate matter (PM10) due to solid fuel (coal and wood) for domestic heating, extensive use of private cars, and insufficient infrastructure for public transport. The Sofia Municipality presented its updated air quality strategy until 2020 comprising technical, regulatory, economic, information and educational measures. However, lengthy bureaucratic processes and procedures render implementing promising solutions difficult.

The solution

The Sofia Urban Challenge was an open innovation challenge, supported by EIT Climate-KIC, that showed fast results are possible even within the context of a municipality. Cleantech Bulgaria, with the support of the EIT Climate-KIC community, including EIT Climate-KIC Regional Innovation Scheme partners, the EIT Climate-KIC community spread the call for Sofia Urban Challenge throughout Europe to find the best innovative clean air solutions feasible for implementation. The challenge brought the best start-ups in the EU and beyond to pose solutions to the city’s life-threatening problem. By organizing the competitive pitch event alongside a high-level conference on clean air (SOFAIR) EIT Climate-KIC was able to create higher public awareness of the issue and demonstrated that the Sofia municipality is actively working towards resolving the issue. Additionally, the project showed that cumbersome bureaucratic procedures can be overcome if institutional willingness and cooperation are provided.

The impact

In implementing Sofia Urban Challenge initiative, EIT Climate-KIC successfully brought a publicly financed institution which is a key actor in developing the innovation ecosystem within the context of the Bulgarian capital – Sofia municipality.

Additionally, by combining EIT Climate-KIC’s open innovation pitch event with the high-level conference on clean air SOFAIR, we were able to attract the attention of key representatives from national and international governmental institutions, NGO’s and the business.

A diverse, European innovation ecosystem came together — academia, NGOs, incubators, accelerators. This helped shift the way Bulgarian public institutions think and behave by opening their typical “closed” business model which often prevents them from “utilizing the newest technologies, knowledge, and processes for the benefit of their citizens.

Sofia municipality has confirmed its support and is committed to providing 25% co-funding if our application for Sofia Urban Challenge Phase II is approved. Additionally, Sofia municipality has expressed its willingness to further deploy the solution within the context of the city if the pilot-test we are aiming to introduce proves successful and accepted from the citizens’ point of view. Through the initiative, we were able to provide easier access to the start-up whose main customer is a local authority.

EIT Climate-KIC’s role

Apart from financial support for implementing Sofia Urban Challenge Phase I, the municipality got support in its dissemination practices, as well as additional facilitating assistance. After collaborating with Sofia municipality and understanding the key challenges and air quality needs of the city, establishing a clear roadmap of Sofia Urban Challenge

 
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