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More than 30,000 Bulgarian entrepreneurs have created or expanded existing businesses using finance from Hebrosbank, the country’s ninth largest bank. That figure is set to further increase with the help of a new €6mn loan from the EBRD under a joint facility with the European Union that supports small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across central and eastern Europe.

The loan is being complemented with €388,000 from the EU to support staff training and to ensure successful implementation of the loan. These amounts are part of the EU/EBRD SME Finance Facility, a programme to promote SME growth and development in the new EU member states, plus Bulgaria and Romania.

John Chomel-Doe, director for Bulgaria at the EBRD, says Hebrosbank is an important partner for the Bank because of its strategy to support the SME sector in Bulgaria. One of the main challenges entrepreneurs face in countries from central Europe to central Asia is access to finance. Across its 27 countries of operations, the EBRD, with partners like Hebrosbank, helps thousands of entrepreneurs gain access to finance. By supporting SMEs in Bulgaria we are together supporting the growth of the country’s private sector and, ultimately, its economy, says Chomel-Doe.

Gautam Vir, chief executive officer of Hebrosbank, says the EBRD loan – the second such loan his bank has drawn from the EBRD – reflects Hebrosbank’s decade-long and successful strategy in supporting SMEs in Bulgaria. Vir adds: “This project is important for Hebrosbank because it reflects the confidence the EBRD has in our bank, its people, its strategy and its role in promoting the Bulgarian economy by supporting entrepreneurs. We believe that with our 58 branch network and modernised banking systems we shall significantly boost the growth of the country’s SME sector.”

Vir adds that Hebrosbank’s vision for 2004 is to be the best service provider for SMEs and retail customers and a recent customer satisfaction survey indicated the bank is on target to achieving this goal.

The SME Facility was launched in 1999 under the Phare Programme – the main channel for the EU’s financial and technical cooperation with the EU accession countries – with the EBRD, to encourage the growth and development of SMEs by providing access to loans, leasing and equity finance from local financial intermediaries. The budget earmarked for the Phare Programme as a whole is about €1.5bn a year.

The EBRD is the largest single investor in Bulgaria, with more than €848mn invested in over 46 projects.