‘For cities to remain liveable, multistakeholder cooperation is key’ – Q&A with Tzvete Doncheva

An extended Q&A with Tzvete Doncheva Investor Relations and Platform Manager at Proptech1 Ventures . 

What is your most surprising prediction about cities?

It is not a surprising prediction but a fact – the world’s population is steadily growing (and will reach 9.8 billion people by 2050). At the very least, cities will need to house a lot more people (70% out of the number outlined before) – yes, this will bring opportunities for greater economic growth, but also raises the flag about combating pollution, one of the greatest present-day challenges urban environments face (2/3 of global emissions come from cities!). In tackling it, and for cities to remain liveable, multistakeholder cooperation will be key. This can be expressed in public-private partnerships; cross-collaboration between industry, start-ups, academia and of course, investors. In this equation, venture capital has a big role to play.

To illustrate, let’s look at a specific example – waste management. In the developed world, alongside population growth, the daily amount of individual waste generation is expected to increase by 1/5 by 2050. When to the formula, we add a societal shift towards on-demand/on-the-go behaviour – and a ‘throwaway culture’ – we aren’t only talking about an opportunity for new solutions to manage waste more efficiently; ways to better manage waste become an absolute necessity.

On the earlier point about the public-private relationship, China’s 2018 ban on waste imports forcefully led to an intensified drive by Western economies to purify their waste streams and to rely on local recycling solutions. When such solutions don’t exist, then the need to build and the gap innovative start-ups can fill becomes both urgent and apparent. What we have seen is the creation of new innovations in the space that can increase recycling rates.

And how do those solutions scale? Here comes venture capital, and firms (like PropTech1) that could fund those type of innovations early. This is why in industries yet on the path of digitalisation (such as real estate), large corporations tend to consider (if they have not already) partnering up with established, sector specific venture funds – who can help them both access and filter those type of innovations (on top of providing a financial return). And how this feeds back into the public sector, is through organisations that are facilitating the exchange between industry (across the entire value chain), such as for example ZIA German Property Federation.

Alongside more multistakeholder cooperation, we will continue to see an influx of innovation in the creation of entirely new concepts, neighbourhoods and developments, aimed to specifically fight pollution. What Copenhagen has set out to achieve– becoming the world’s first carbon neutral city is impressive – and sets a precedent for other European cities to follow. And even in its strategy, alongside energy supply and retrofitting real estate, waste management (going back to my original example!) is put at the very centre. To thrive in the age of (digital)disruption, cities will need to leverage tech innovation – which is as much about capital and technology, as it is about people.

Who is the person that most influenced the way you think about cities and technology?

Two leaders who have helped me guide the complex ‘smart city’ landscape (getting to grips with the problems that need solving, becoming aware of the status quo and how important it is to engage with innovators) have been Eman Martin-Vignerte and Rikesh Shah. I got to know both while working at Bosch’s urban mobility co-creation hub in London – an entity that fostered this cross-stakeholder collaboration I outlined earlier.

The incredible guests at my #EcosystemGiants series – which include the founders of some of the now most successful early stage venture firms in Europe – have also been extremely influential in the way I came to think about technology (and understand early stage investing).

What 2-3 books/podcasts would you recommend?

  1. As core to my day-to-day is fundraising (and for a first-time fund), a favourite podcast of mine has become Sami Kaji’s Venture Unlocked.
  2. On the psychology note, I do like the 10 Percent Happier Podcast. I find the journey of its host particularly interesting – a former ABC News journalist who experienced a panic attack live on air and survived to tell the story.
  3. Other than this, anything by Naval Ravikant is an absolute must-read/listen.

Mindful I’ve only pointed out resources by men – as I frequently talk about the need for more diversity in venture, an article on the state of the industry (and what should change) which I recommend anyone to read by my friend Isla Munro and her co-founder Ben Hoelzl is linked here.

Where is the best place for new ideas?

Ideas mean little without execution 😊 If the question refers to where to find inspiration – places can vary from nature, a good book, listening/talking to a person, with life wisdom to share. New ideas are born in a flash (the ‘Aha’ moment); and if not acted upon in time, they can disappear just as fast – without ever being brought to life.

Who inspires you?

People who beat all the odds against them, achieving what was previously thought to be beyond their capabilities. Those who go out of their comfort zone to push boundaries, and in turn create a path for others to follow in their footsteps. In venture, a great example of a person like this is Soraya Darabi, a fund manager and co-founder of early-stage firm TMV. I think her journey to date and her character is beyond inspiring 😊

Who else? The women, building start-ups from the ground up while raising families – and who give a whole new meaning to grit in entrepreneurship. Many of these heroes, we’ll not hear about – but I can shed light on the following:

  1. Tessy Antony De Nassau – a philanthropist, entrepreneur, angel investor (and a supporter of other women in business!)
  2. Mikela Druckman – founder of the startup, Greyparrot, building a company (culture), product and fundraising, on top of becoming a mother
  3. my own grandmother, Tsenka – who is completely self-made (and taught), raised two children, went on to lead the accountancy office for one of the largest private companies in Bulgaria in the 90s, before opening her own firm (which she still runs to this day – at age well beyond 70).

I hope this visualises an overly repeated point from me about relatable role models – and how important it is for young people – or just juniors in any sector, to have visible role models, and in proximity to them, who can set the example of what can be achieved – and dismantle the perception/limitations of what is considered possible.

What are the skills we’ll need in 10 years?

Empathy. In a world dominated by technology, artificial intelligence, and well robotics and machines, it will be even more important to be human.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

One? Tough! If I must put in the wisdom accumulated in my (albeit) short career in three actionable tips for younger readers:

  1. Believe in yourself. You’ll be surprised how many of the ‘senior’/more experienced people around you hardly have a better idea of what’s going on 😉 Who’ll second guess a person who exudes confidence? Interlinked with one of the biggest challenges nowadays – the people who are the loudest are not necessarily neither the smartest, nor the best leaders but that’s a whole other story.
  2. This brings me to the most important realisation which I do wish someone had pointed out to me earlier on: You don’t get what you don’t ask for – plain and simple. No one will baby you and try to accommodate unspoken requests. The world we live in is too dynamic to leave anything to chance.
  3. Take the risk. However scary they may seem in the very moment, the comfortable choices will cause more regret than the uncomfortable situations your grit has put you in in the long-term.
  4. And last but not least (bonus!), don’t take advice from people you wouldn’t want to trade places with 😉


What is your call to action?

PropTech1 is one of Europe’s first fully ESG-compliant venture capital funds, focused on early stage Prop/ConstructionTech. They are active across the entire continent (HQ in Berlin, offices in London, and with a commitment to expand further into the Nordics) – aiming to build a properly European venture capital platform for real estate innovation. Their vision is to be the bridge for both LPs and founders in the PropTech ecosystem – helping investors scale their digital transformation efforts, and entrepreneurs expand into new markets (ie from North Europe into Germany, the UK).

If you are a founder, building a PropTech business the PT1 Ventures team should know about, reach out to Klara Ritter, geo-lead for the Nordics and if you are an organisation, seeking to find out more about the way PropTech1 supports shareholders in being at the forefront of the digital transformation taking place in the built world, connect with Tzvete Doncheva.


Connect with Tzvete on LinkedIn

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