Kiril Petkov: We are working with a Nobel Laureate
in the fight against ulcer disease.
By Alexander Krastev
The founder of ProViotic Kiril Petkov gained a degree in Economics and Finance at the University of Vancouver and an MBA in Harvard, where he was among the top 10% of most successful students. He has worked for one of the global leaders in frozen food trading, McCain Food. He is one of the creators of the so-called Harvard courses at Sofia University.
What did you learn from your first job?
At McCain I learned how a successful and structured business looks and how complex processes, involving many people, are managed. I learned not to be tempted by the safer route. But there I also understood I don’t like to work for other people’s businesses. So, after four years, I was ready to start on my own, and after the MBA magistrate at Harvard I started looking for investors for my projects. I turned down a few job offers in big companies, hedge funds and international organisations and decided to use private capital from investors in New York to return to Bulgaria.
Why did you do that?
Living abroad, I was returning every summer to Bulgaria and doing really well. Seeing that most of my Bulgarian colleagues from Harvard were top students, I realised that we are doing a good job abroad. And I was wondering – why with all the possibilities of our geographic position, fertile land and natural resources, plus the fact that we are a part of the EU and we have free movement of workers, we are still lagging behind the rest of Europe in terms of population growth and poverty? I was taught that the economic development of a country is determined by 2-3% of its inhabitants, and the rest follow them. I told myself, I can be one of those people who are creating a positive wave in Bulgaria. Moreover, the sense of independence here seemed to me really attractive, and our economy is a bit like untouched land – wherever you start digging, there is a greater chance of being spotted and accordingly the effect is greater. Last but not least, I like the idea that in Bulgaria we can create products with high added value to satisfy world markets. I believe that the standard of living in a given country depends on the companies that succeed in expanding their operations internationally. Local businesses create quality of life but only by shuffling the already existing resources of the economy. And there is also the reputation of Bulgaria – I know from personal experience that if you sell a successful product in New York, you’re making a much more positive wave than if you buy limited time on CNN with a cliche message. Because of all these elements I came back and have not regretted it for a single moment.
How did you come up with the idea of ProViotic?
By chance. One of my friends from Harvard opened a big business selling juices in New York. He needed something to reduce the risks from pathogenic bacteria. And at the same time friends from Sofia were working with lactobacillus bulgaricus. I connected them and created a business around a resource which was already in Bulgaria – we had our bacteria, we had the knowledge about it, we went through the Harvard Medical School for results reliability and finally we linked it with a client with a really good brand in the US. Then we hired Bulgarian scientists – wonderful young people such as Dr. Rossi Tropcheva, who declined an almost 20-times increase in her salary and work in Harvard, or Dr. Raina Fichorova, a professor in Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School. And we created ProViotic, the world’s only biovegan probiotic. Oprah Winfrey started taking it, Novak Djokovic, as a vegan tennis player, also became a client. The Wall Street Journal then wrote about us and things took off.
And these world celebrities are ambassadors of the brand?
In fact yes, Oprah herself has included ProViotic in her journal as one of her favorite 10 products. It was not even in a particular category – there were things from shoes to perfumes … and our bottle. We did not pay, we do not have the connections. For the US market it is of utmost importance to have such people, who are talking about your product. It is enough for it to be mentioned twice to result in growth for the business. Now, for example, we are also working on a TV commercial for England with a Bulgarian advertising agency. But we advertise carefully because it is expensive.
In general, for any of the foreign markets that we want to join, we first try to make adverts and do PR around news from the company. This is exactly what happened with the Wall Street Journal – after we spread the results of a new Harvard Medical School study for ProViotic, one of their journalists wrote a fairly well read article.
What next for ProViotic?
One of the people we are proud to work with is Dr. Barry Marshall, a nobel laureate who discovered that peptic ulcer disease is caused by the bacteria helicobacter pylori and not by nerves or hot peppers. It was amazing that this person was interested in our product, and we are currently doing research with him and Prof. Borislav Vladimirov from ISUL about whether the Bulgarian bacteria in ProViotic may act as an inhibitor of helicobacter pylori. Our goal is to create a non-pharmaceutical product with medical implications, which can replace antibiotics.
With a Bulgarian gynaecologist we are developing a bio product with various good bacteria that can replace strong antifungal agents. Recently, we did a study with 30 women. We’re working on clearing harmful chemical ingredients in different meats as we replace the insertion of nitrates in sausages, which even in small doses may be lethal. We have seen that people are increasingly interested in what they eat. Pure food and clean labels are becoming a wave, but with what we have already done, we have a competitive advantage.
Where do you see the company in ten years?
I will be glad excell in my niche, which may be small, but I’d like us to be a world leader in it. For example, this is the niche of biopreservatives that do not adversely affect the human body. Then there is the whole area of healing devices replacing chemical products that have a lot of side effects.
What do you think would be the effect if Bulgarians abroad have a tool for active interaction?
We have a fantastic diaspora, and we barely use it for spreading success. For example, Dr. Fichorova, who I have already mentioned – very few Bulgarians had contacted her despite her positions in Harvard.
We are now building a new laboratory at Sofia University for Innovations in Natural Sciences and Dr. Fichorova said that when we succeed, she will personally try to link the lab with Harvard Medical School. Our goal is to be ready by the end of the year, and if that happens, we can start an active exchange – sending people there, while American experts come here and give lectures. Even just that – knowing who is in our diaspora, who are at key positions in different markets, is important. They are usually loaded with positive patriotism and would cooperate, the point is to make the connection.
Visit ProViotic at www.proviotic.com