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My YTILI Experience and Something To Be Grateful For

Written by: Elena Nikolova, Bulgaria, 2018 YTILI Fellow

Placement city: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Elena is a co-founder and CMO of ESCREO – a company on a mission to help people unlock their creativity. She is also a Forbes #30under30 Alumni; Co-founder of Female entrepreneurship Bulgaria; an active participant in the BG start-up ecosystem; and a lover of writing occasionally in her blog Stubborn Penguins Can Fly

Elena's LinkedIn:

My YTILI Experience and Something To Be Grateful For

As 2020 comes to an end, I wonder what Google’s Year in Search will show for 2020. Is it going to be COVID-19, pandemic, lockdown, or social distancing? Or maybe it will be about staying connected, supporting local businesses, and how to be grateful?

Being an entrepreneur myself who is always in the hustle to create “more,” I rarely have time to pause and think about what I am grateful for. Now that this year is coming to a close, I can finally sit down and reflect. There is a lot to be grateful for in my life, and my YTILI experience is definitely on the top of my list. Why? Because it helped me grow as an entrepreneur and as a human being.

YTILI in a nutshell

The Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative (YTILI) is a U.S. Department of State program that supports young European entrepreneurs to develop their business and social ventures. I was selected to participate in the 2018 YTILI cohort.

The program started in June 2018, with a kick-off event for a weekend in Lisbon, Portugal. Then, from July through October, I attended webinars and met other YTILI Fellows from across Europe. The program culminated in a one-week visit to an American city (I visited Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and a closing conference in Washington, D.C.

Why did I apply for YTILI?

In short – I applied for YTILI because I felt stuck. Working 24/7 on my venture, I was starting to lose sight of the big picture. Every day, I faced the challenges of developing my business and struggled to remember why I started it in the first place: What is my drive? And what do I aspire to achieve?

My habit of delivering more than 100% all the time -- staying up late, worrying about what the future holds and how to best manage and support my team -- made me feel burnt-out.

Anyway, we can complain all day long, but this is not what entrepreneurs do. On the contrary – we are resilient. We act, and we disrupt the status quo. When I learned about the YTILI program, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to break out of this situation and find new inspiration.

What’s my biggest takeaway from YTILI?
When I first learned that I was accepted into the YTILI program, I was so excited for the opportunity to travel and to expand my network both here in Europe and across the Atlantic in the U.S. But YTILI gave me so much more than that!

Not only did I meet inspiring local mentors, community leaders, investors, peers, and enrich my cross-cultural knowledge, I also received 10 days of pure mental refreshment. The time I spent in the US temporarily freed me from the mundane obligations I had in the Sofia office, and it gave me a huge boost of inspiration and motivation. It showed me how big the world is, and that the opportunity to grow is endless.

What’s more, following my U.S. experience, I hosted a reciprocal exchange for my mentor, Nicole Muise-Kielkucki from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nicole's trip to Sofia, Bulgaria was an amazing opportunity for me to continue to learn from my mentor and to apply the knowledge I gained from YTILI to my work here in Sofia. (You can read more about Nicole’s trip in this blog post.)

YTILI Fellows Cultural ActivityYTILI is for the fans of “first-timers” - visiting an ice hockey match for the first-time, pitching in front of thousands of young leaders for the first time, meeting the U.S. Secretary of State, and many more. It is for true entrepreneurs – the hustlers, the networkers, the ones who like to break out of their comfort zones. YTILI can also bring you a needed detox and recharge, and help you grow as a person and as a business leader, if you let it.

What am I working on now?

After my YTILI experience, I continued to work on my ESCREO start-up. I also visited Vietnam for a month as a Swiss EP - Entrepreneur in Residence, became a mentor myself and started new projects such as FEB to support female entrepreneurs in Bulgaria.

This year, responding to the difficulties posed by the Covid-19 crisis, my team and I have been innovating all the time -- looking for opportunities where people see challenges. We recently closed a round of 100K EUR to develop new products, expand into new markets like Germany, and transform our company from a product-based business to a productivity and creative solutions-based online platform.

Something to be grateful for

I believe in serendipities. It’s not a coincidence that now, at the end of this crazy year while being stuck at home, I am taking a trip down memory lane to tell my YTILI story. I can revisit and relive the great moments and friendships that YTILI brought me. They last forever.

YTILI is something I am forever grateful for.

So tell me, what do you think Google’s Year in Search will be at the end of 2020?