Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Krakow's mini-boom in IT attracts Polish and foreign techies

Some 70 multinational firms have opened, employing 20,000 skilled workers – Poles and foreigners alike – in Krakow, which some call a small Silicon Valley of Central Europe.
By Robert MarquandStaff writer / November 2, 2012

One of the clearest illustrations of “brain gain” in Poland comes from the southern city of Krakow which is experiencing a mini-boom in information technology – at a time when much of Europe’s tech scene is in a windless ocean.
The global reverse migration – turning brain drain to brain gain in many countries – is obvious here: Some 70 IT and multinational firms have opened, employing 20,000 skilled workers – Poles and foreigners alike.Cisco opened in May, and its 90-person staff will soon climb to 500. Google moved an R&D office hereState Street, Capgemeni and Lufthansa, Shell, Brown Brothers, and Philip Morris, to name a few, are all present.
The hopeful call Krakow a small Silicon Valley of Central Europe. And the buzz here is a magnet for brain gain: It’s a small oasis of Polish bohemia with 14 colleges and universities, and a bar-arts-and-film scene, and – not destroyed like Warsaw in World War II – it retains its Austro-Hungarian architectural charm.
In reporting for The Christian Science Monitor’s “brain gain” project, I met a cluster of young and bright reverse migrants here in a translucent glass-and-steel tech-park. Recent-hires at the British firm Element14, an online interface provider for electronic parts sales, they are part of the vanguard of Poland’s brain gain. Their profiles tell as much about this city’s bright future as the vibrant draw it is at the moment.
Jaroslaw Grabon, a software engineer, was born in Poland, but his family moved to Germany. Now, in an admittedly “wrenching” decision, he’s come back to Krakow, leaving a flat and friends in Munich. He says he got a call from a Krakow headhunter for Shell, and decided, out of curiosity and interest in the country, to move back.
“I felt better in Poland than Germany in ways I can’t easily explain, but it was a big decision. I left the whole family. I sent out 120 CVs and got 80 positive replies.Gdansk was a possibility but I decided on Shell. Then moved here [to Element14].”
Alessandro Lombardi couldn’t get work in his native Italy – but, here, he’s wired-in.
Tomasz Wasilewski worked in Warsaw for a Silicon Valley firm that employed many people like him, offspring of émigré Poles who went abroad earlier. But he was sold on Krakow and moved here, partly because of the Krakow buzz and partly for the experience.
A young Finnish woman, Marianne Kuukkanen, arrived this year and says that the city’s multicultural environment requires looking “more closely at oneself, and I think this has made me more efficient and aware at my job and with others.”
They report that the multicultural work environment, the new business models being employed, and the need to stay current in tech developments pipe a new and different mentality into Krakow.
“Everyone who is here can move somewhere else if they want, to any other site. We are not bound by nationality. Poles who return have a much bigger influence than elsewhere and they know this. It is a factor in their choice. Because it is a smaller setting,” says Wojciech Burkot, of his hometown, Krakow. He, himself, is a part of the Krakow buzz as head of Google’s R&D unit here, a reverse IT migrant who came home after years abroad to wrestling with increasing Google’s search engine speed.
The Krakow setting is key to drawing “people smarter than us that [keep] the company growing … and improving, says Mr. Burkot.
 “It’s all city, city, city,” says Ramon Tancinco, head of strategy and business development in central Europe for Cisco. He spent two years on a team deciding where to locate the office, and landed on Krakow. “We look at regions not countries, and Krakow is at an East-West corridor and in a stable EU country. When you bake in the student population, that’s very strong.”
Indeed, the area is low income and high education – some 400,000 students live in the corridor between Krakow and Wroclaw – giving it a dense population base that overseas firms call “sustainable advantage.” And the city’s old square with its 11th and 14th century churches and charms and endless cafes are not lost on firms. For example, Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter made famous in the film Schindler’s List, is rid of its postwar thuggish character and is a cultural center.
The city’s international draw, too, is key, says Elaine Barnes, a senior manager at Element14. “We need 23 languages in one city. English is the business language, German is No. 2. We looked at Hungary and FinlandSweden, and Poland. The Czech Republic. We couldn’t find the breadth of language anywhere else [but Krakow].”
The ferment of brain gain among European youth and IT wonks and mavens may be in the air. Yet – like visiting any school classroom to “see” education – it is often difficult to instantly quantify something as amorphous as “brain gain” taking place.
Google’s Burkot suggests that brain gain is “incremental in Poland.”
His colleague Tancinco thinks he sees it, though. “The empirical evidence of gain in Krakow is that when I came here four years ago there was one venture capitalist. Now there are six or seven. That is a barometer. Venture capitalists need to see a talent pool of emerging firms with good ideas or they won’t come. You need to see an incubation, a pool of start ups to be the next ‘whatever.’ ”
And, another plus for Krakow’s continued boom is that hasn’t recorded the corporate horror stories heard nearby out of Ukraine or Russia. There is less mafia and corruption. “Go east of here and it is a wilder ride,” says one analyst.
“There is no support for gangsters here, I’ve never been shaken down or been told to give a bribe,” says Richard Lucas, a British citizen who owns 11 companies in Krakow and has been here 21 years.
One bit of learning gained by Mr. Wasilewski, who moved from Warsaw (Poles may seek work overseas but are often reticent to move internally) to Krakow, is about practice. He assumed there was a set of general rules applicable everywhere in the industry he works. But he found out differently.
The US firm he worked for in Warsaw stressed getting jobs done simply. “They wanted us not to make work complicated by adding structure, but to be efficient and nice to the customer. The focus on being direct and pleasant was a big thing to learn,” he says. “That was new."
“But they have a different way of resolving client problems than the European firm I work with now. The Americans wanted me to be a buffer, to dissolve problems. But this European firm wants client problems reported directly to the front line. They say, ‘put us in direct touch, don’t filter.’”
Tancinco from Cisco suggests that Krakow’s advantages are growing geometrically as hires from abroad accumulate here. The bulk of new hires “spent time overseas,” he says, and they add breadth to local know-how and an intangible element that allows them to be effective in a multinational company.
“With a broader perspective, you learn to work around problems, not to take ‘no,’ or to treat petty issues as final … [whereas] working around problems is more difficult if you don’t have a broader view.”
He adds a caveat: “What I haven’t yet seen are professors starting companies. At MIT, everyone has a side business. In Poland, it is still either-or, business or classroom. Silicon Valley is all about ‘And.’"
“But this may change. We’ll see.”

This is a repost of an article that appeared on The Christian Science Monitor on November 2, 2012

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Is Poland the best place to start Your Start-up?

Is Poland the best place to start your start-up?

For many in the IT industry, the dream is to set up a tech start-up and grow it into the next Google or Apple. Individual start-up scenes are thriving in EMEA, but from staffing to rent, exit potential to government support, there are huge differences between countries. But which country is right for your fledgling tech company? ZDNet examines some of the major hubs in the region, and what each can bring to the start-up table.

Start-up scenes have long been a game almost exclusively played in the US and Western Europe. But, with multinational tech companies establishing themselves in Central and Eastern Europe, more and more people try are trying to make it big with their own IT companies, making the area now a viable option for new start-ups.
"Just a few years ago there was nothing," says Zuzana Fedorkova, an analyst who also writes for East Europe start-up blog Eastist. "But that changed into excitement, and now there is a lot more excitement. You see communities come together around incubators and accelerators. The scene is really bubbling up."
"For example, Budapest is taking off as a start-up hub. People from there would tell me that the word 'start-up' was not even in their language two years ago. Now the city has a small community. It is catching up."
The start-up scenes differ from country to country, according to Fedorkova. While some countries have one central start-up hub, usually the capital, others are more spread out. "Romania, and especially Bucharest, is growing rapidly," Fedorkova says. "Because there are many companies based there with tech operations and outsourcing companies, the area is full of people who have experience of working for large companies." An entirely different example is the former Yugoslav countries. "Considering the lack of accelerators or incubators, there is a very healthy entrepreneurial mindset there," she says.
By far the largest market for potential start-ups in the region is Poland. "Poland is a funny example. Most would think the start-up community is concentrated in Warsaw, but we also see healthy clusters in Krakow and Poznan."

Learning from experience

One of Poland's smaller incubators is Invemax. Its CEO Adam Labedzki co-founded the Gdansk-area based operation about six months ago, and has already attracted a small community of some fifteen new companies.
"Start-ups cannot find local investors, while investors have a hard time pinpointing start-ups close to them" -- Adam Labedzki, Invemax
The main reason Labedzki started an incubator was the difficulty he and two friends experienced when wanting to build their own company. "We wanted to bring a taxi application to market of the type that is already successful in countries like Germany and Israel," he recalls."We quickly ran into problems with finding investors, despite the fact that the model was proven in other countries. By the time we found a suitable investor, a larger IT company from Warsaw had picked up the idea. We decided the project was too risky, because we could not compete with a project backed by a large media company."
The experiment taught Labedzki some useful lessons. "It was a good learning experience. I found that the main problem was that start-ups cannot find local investors, while investors have a hard time pinpointing start-ups close to them. So that is why we started an incubator, and it has been growing ever since."
Labedzki's example is typical one for many start-ups, and taking an idea from abroad and adapting it for the home market is both the region's strength, and its weakness. (One of the best known examples of the phenomenon in Poland is GaduGadu, an ICQ-inspired chat program that became an immediate hit in the Polish market.)

The inspiration industry

But that's starting to change. "There is always going to be an 'inspiration industry'," says Fedorkova. "But I think we will see more ideas from this region that can't come from San Francisco."
One example comes from rural Eastern Croatia. One young entrepreneur from the region travelled to Silicon Valley as part of the 500 Start-ups program. "He returned to his hometown and started a business," Fedorkova says. "Matija Kopic developed cloud-based software to help farmers manage stock management using new IT techniques. Such ideas are less likely to come out of Silicon Valley, because there everybody is talking to the same tech-minded people.
"But here we have someone helping people who don't even know where Silicon Valley is. People here are drinking less of the Kool-Aid of 'there is an app for everything'."
At the same time, however, Fedorkova notes that true success stories are few and far between. "But the early stories are coming through, and we get launches that people abroad are excited about. Ultimately, it ought to lead to international success."
Invemax's Labedzki agrees that the region is shifting towards developing its own ideas. "It used to be very hard to find investors who would buy into an unproven concept. Many would think: 'OK, your idea is really innovative, but there has to be something wrong since it hasn't been done in America yet'."
That has been changing since a year or so ago, Labedzki reckons, while Michal Olszewski of the Poznan-based incubator LMS Invest says changes in the nature of investment programs in Poland are also having an effect.
"People here are drinking less of the Kool-Aid of 'there is an app for everything'" -- Zuzana Fedorkova
"Most start-ups get their money from special local funds that are derived from European programs," Olszewski says. Currently, the most popular program in Poland is the 8.1 program. "You don't have to have a good idea. You just need to fill out forms. Many of them would just try to rake in the money without doing anything worthwhile."
"However, that program is coming to an end. The terms get worse each year, becoming more of a loan."
That has a positive effect for Polish incubators like LMS Invest. "Start-ups more and more come to foundations like ours. It still is European money, but the rules are different. No limiting paperwork, but they need solid business plans."
While it makes it harder to gain initial funding, Olszewski notes that such start-ups are more likely to succeed. "I believe in a lean way to begin a start-up. In Poland, it is common that would-be start-ups would come in with a vague idea and they won't even start coding until they get the money. It is something that evolved from the 8.1 program."

The rise and rise of Central and Eastern Europe

So what is the main driver for start-up growth in countries like Poland and this particular part of Europe?  Fedorkova cites the outsourcing industry that has been established over the years. Entrepreneurs usually don't come straight out of university, but have a background at a large company. Also, it provides for a large pool of mentors, especially in a larger country like Poland. "These people have tremendous experience working at large companies doing really specialised things," she says. "You don't find that in the smaller countries I've been to.  You would have a hard time finding someone who can give you in-depth advice on user experience."
Labedzki thinks there the region has notable advantages for start-ups. "First of all, developers here can match for example the Russians and the Chinese in terms of technical skills," he notes. Like Fedorkova, he notes the experience many people have within larger tech firms. "Also, the costs to start a company here are lower than in for example Western Europe."
However, there is still some progress to be made. "Currently, it is more people with projects, rather than companies," Fedorkova says.

This is a repost of an article that appeared on ZDnet on November 16, 2012

Monday, July 29, 2013



There are very few new ideas. Whatever idea you have come up with, someone else is already working on it, because most ideas and companies emerge from the zeitgeist or the climate of ideas we live in. And even the "newest" technologies have been envisioned by artists and writers before they become products and companies. At present, companies are being built based on concepts imagined by science fiction writers fifty years ago, sometimes more. 3-D printing and robots are not new ideas, although each application might be new.
A practical manifestation of this is the refusal of venture capitalists to sign non-disclosure agreements. Although inexperienced entrepreneurs think that's because VCs steal ideas, that isn't the reason. Rather, they don't sign because they see too many similar ideas and would be violating their NDAs all day long if they signed them. In addition, VCs are already in a business they presumably like. They have neither the time nor the inclination to drop what they are already doing for your untested idea.

For this reason, your co-founder should be someone you know well, rather than someone you've met at a Startup Weekend or a networking event. You are going to learn some pretty big lessons about her as you go through the process; it would help to know in advance what her goals are, what her track record is, and what her work habits and ethics are. Companies often flounder because of emergent differences between partners.
At some point, the interests of founders often diverge, and a really good relationship will be the only thing that keeps the company together. Oh, and here's another tidbit: when you start a company, you run a big risk of losing your real significant other, with whom you will spend dramatically reduced amounts of time. Marriages are often sacrificed to the company if the spouses aren't clear on the amount of effort involved in running a startup.

Most people are risk averse. They'd rather do nothing--if that feels familiar--than try something new. If you build it, they won't come, except for a small and passionate group of early adopters. Those people like to try new things--and many of them will try anything if they can be first to try it. Those people are a gift from heaven to you, and you must treat them with the utmost respect. Even if they want to drag you down a rathole with their suggestions, do not piss them off. They can be your evangelists. The other side of this coin is that they'll probably move on to the next shiny object before you have built your market. Because they love anything new, they will not always stick with you.

That's why everyone doesn't lose weight, put solar panels on their homes, and track their fitness with an app. The science of behavior change is new, and we are still not sure what motivates people to change even dangerous and counterproductive behavior. (Though rituals help--Ed.) Think seat belts, which took generations to take hold. You almost have to wait for the old guard to die off and hope they've taught their kids to do what they won't.
Often it takes a real scare to change behavior; some people quit smoking after the heart attack, but others do not. You still see people on the street pulling oxygen tanks behind them and lighting up a cigarette. If you are doing something that involves making people change habits, be prepared for a slow uptake, even though potential customers will admit they need a change. Take electronic medical records, for example. They've been around for more than twenty years, but until President Obama paid physicians to implement them and threatened to stop paying them if they didn't, the percentage of physicians who went electronic was only about 8 percent. And that is despite the fact that doctors knew they were paying rent to store rooms full of paper 
records that could be transferred to the cloud.

When you start to add people beyond the founding team, there's always a big shock. Employees are not motivated by what motivates you. They have their own goals. Sometimes those goals align with yours (helping bring pure water to villages in Africa), but sometimes they don't. Most people who prefer to be employees need structure and motivation. You will have to figure out what motivates them. Sometimes it's money, but not always. Often the motivators can include working from home, flexible hours, long vacations, reimbursement for education, or even being able to bring a dog to work. Don't get angry at them for wanting a life.
Start with these five lessons. When you’ve got them memorized, come back to me. Then I’ll talk about the money.

This is a repost of an article that appeared on  on June 24, 2013

Polish Startups Must Look Beyond Home

Poland has the ingredients to build a strong startup economy, but do its entrepreneurs lack ambition?

By Ben Rooney

WARSAW—With its population of about 38 million people, you could describe Poland as the smallest large European state. Spain ranks just above it with 46 million citizens, and Romania is on the rung below, with 21 million.
This may explain why Poland's startup community has yet to make an impact on the European scene. According to Tomasz Czechowicz, Managing Partner of MCI Management SA, one of Poland's leading venture capital and private equity companies, the problem is that the population is just about big enough to support a reasonable-sized local company, and this dulls ambition.
"Most of the products we see are focused on being a national champion," he said. "Not on being regional champions, not on European champions, not on global champions. Too many products are addressing the Polish market only."
Smaller countries have no choice but to think globally from the start. Tiny Estonia—with a population of around 1.3 million—has produced a raft of global startups, such as design software company GrabCAD Inc and retail software provider Erply Ltd. Larger countries can support sizable local companies and then take them international, as Berlin-based Rocket Internet GmbH has proved with companies like its fashion retailer Zalando GmbH, with its €1.15 billion ($1.47 billion) revenue in 2012. It is the countries in the middle—too small to be big, too big to be small—that are caught.
Poland has the ingredients to build a strong startup economy. According to Radosław Czyrko, managing partner of Xevin Investments Sp. z o.o., a Warsaw-based venture capital firm specializing in seed and early stage funding, "We are a very entrepreneurial country. I saw a report that said 27% of adult people want to open their own company in the next three years."
Poland has also traditionally possessed engineering talent, said Arek Skuza, CEO of iTraff Technology Sp. z o.o., a Poznań-based startup working on photo recognition for mobile devices. "Having Polish engineers gives us a label in the U.S. that we can build things, that we have great skills."
The lack of computers under the Communists helped. "Students had to write their programs out on paper," Mr. Skuza said. "That meant people had to learn well because there was no way of testing it."
The country also has money, much of it from the European Union. In 2011 Poland attracted €14.4 billion in EU funds—some 4.08% of GDP—and over the next seven years Poland will be the biggest beneficiary among all member states. As a result, said Kasia Godlewska, founder of Absolvent Sp. z o.o., a job service, getting seed money isn't hard. "There is a lot of money, most of it comes from Europe."
The problem, according to a number of entrepreneurs, comes in later funding rounds. Michał Brański, co-founder of Grupa o2 Sp. z o.o., an online media site, and himself an angel investor, agreed. "One of the stronger pain points in the Polish startup scene is getting to Round A. Getting seed funding is easy, but most of the angels and seed investors fund only a short runway, they give funds to develop the technology, but they lie to themselves that the business will develop by themselves. It is not true. That is why most Polish startups struggle after a half year."
But Mr. Czechowicz, of MCI Management, refuted this suggestion. "There are about 20 early-stage funds that can do Round A funding," he said. "[There are] about three to five funds that can do Round B. That is about one billion Zlotys [$295.6 million] for the growth financing and venture capital financing at the moment."
Instead, he laid the blame firmly at the feet of a lack of ambition among Polish entrepreneurs. "With a national champion you can get an exit of only about €10-20 million. With this kind of valuation you can only do one or two rounds maximum." To raise bigger rounds, companies need to address bigger markets to attract bigger valuations. He said startups should aim to be at least regional players, using Poland's links across central Europe.
Everyone agrees on the need for time. It is easy to forget, looking at the high-rise buildings that are growing across Warsaw's skyline, or the number of 4x4s that drive down the wide boulevards, that the country has barely had a single generation as a market economy.
Entrepreneurs rattle off a list of problems: highly bureaucratic, setting up a company takes too long, labor inflexibility, lack of experienced business mentors, a lack of business acumen, an education system that doesn't support entrepreneurialism.
But in the same breath, all agreed on how fast things were changing; whereas once it took months to start a company, now it was weeks, smarter investors who understand venture funding are appearing on the scene, and there are increasing number of venture-capital firms.
What worries some is the country's dependence on European funds. With funding secured for at least another seven years, that has bought the country time. Marcin Zaborowski, the director of Poland's Institute of International Affairs, said this should be used to support innovation.
"In the new [financial] perspective, a greater emphasis should be put on innovativeness. The government should pay much attention to this matter," he told the Polish Press Agency earlier this year.

This is a repost of an article by Ben Rooney, the Tech editor of the Wall Street Journal European edition. 

Friday, July 26, 2013


Just about every other month in a office near the Main Train Station in Krakow you will find a gathering of programmers and web developers competing for the ulitmate bragging rights to proclaim that his favorite programming framework is the one that will rule them all.
The Sponsor:
HackKRK takes place in the offices of the Base, a firm providing CRM services to medium size firms and is growing rapidly. The company is based in Chicago but they have their R&D division based here in Krakow. You might have seen their recruiting adverts before your favorite Youtube videos. The lead organizer is Piotr Nedzynski, a operations manager at the company.
The Event:
The premises is that developers and programmers using such framworks as JavaScript, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Clojure and Django gather and are given a set of tasks to write coding for. There are two ways to win, first to 10 points or most points by the end of the night. Did I mention free beer and food. One participant said that it would be the "perfect party for students".
That Escalated Quickly
Since its launch in January 2012, the event went from less than 10 participants to over 100 as of the latest meeting. The idea for such an event came from the many coferences attended by the organizers. Roman and Mariusz, employees of Base and members of the orgainzing committee said that they were involved in various competitions and decided to bring the idea as well as the collaborative atmosphere it created back to Krakow with them. They wanted to show that coding and programming is not only for work it can be a platform to socialize and have a bit of compeitive fun at the same time. At the moment, this is the only event of its kind in Krakow.
They Come from Far and Wide
During the event I talked to many very interesting participants and asked them how did they involved and their impressions, here are a sample of some replies:
  • Xava, a web developer from Argentina said that he found out about the event during a phone interview with Base and was having a good time while programming with Kohana.
  • Adrian, a computer science student at AGH Univeristy of Science and Technology, got the idea from a school forum thought the event was a revolutionary way to turn the IT community into one that cooperates through competition.
  • Natalia, a back-end developer and a coach for Webmuses, would like to see more girls involved in programming and coding. She just decided that it was something she wanted to do. She felt that it would be great if more girls would break through the traditional societal roles and get into IT.
  • Jeffery, a graduate IT student from Taiwan found out about the event through a IT website, thought it would be a wonderful way to network and to learn more about the IT life in Krakow.
  • There was even an eco-living collective from Studzionka, a village about 100 km from Krakow. Their motto is "Your Framework is Doomed!". The quartet thought the event would be a fun way to meet people and experience programming in a collaborative and competitive atmosphere.
My own Impressions

Overall I thought the event was a wonderful way to see the Start-up community from a more technical point of view. There are other meetings where a competition was the main program. Here, the competition was only part of the program. It was nice to see people so passionate about a certain framework that they would even do it in the after work hours. I think that is one of the more unique aspects of the Krakow Start-up community. It is more organic and collaborative.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

K’Sup 1.2

Hello readers, this is the second edition of K’Sup the Official English Blog of the Krakow Start-up Community.  Hope you had a nice week.  Last Thursday 18.07.2013, I attended the 16th Krakow Open Coffee at the Google offices on Pasaz 13 on the main market square of Krakow.  Open Coffee (OC) is a breakfast event organized by the Hive53 Start-up Collective.   They are the same ones who organized the Summer Swarm last Tuesday.   OC is usually run by; Richard Lucas, the business Angel; Aliaksei Kubei, a Belarusian Programmer; and Marta Rylko, a student at AGH.  The meeting is usually catered with good tea, coffee and sometimes muffins.   The participants are usually entrepreneurs running a start-up, business leaders looking for a project to support or people with ideas looking to collaborate with like-minded people.   It is held every other Thursday at 8:00.  Participation is free.  You just have to bring an open mind or an interesting idea. 

For the first hour, participants are allowed to make a pitch for their projects, ideas or companies.  Everyone who would like to make a pitch or give a status update is allowed about two minutes for their presentation.  Then the second hour, the participants network to start some collaborations. 

These companies made their pitches this meeting: An educational service
Sigmapoint: Mobile developers
Crossweb : Website for start-up events
Ultrafluent: Language learning service
Notatek: Service selling university lecture notes An organizer for programmers

I talked to Piotr Nedzyski, who works at Base a startup dealing with CRM.  He is one of the organizers of  This is an event where programmers get into teams and try to solve a challenge using different coding languages.  The next meeting will pit Python vs. Ruby on Rails.  The event is organized every two months and it is free.  They call it Web-tech for fun.  There are some nice prizes but the most important prize is bragging rights.  The next one is on 25th of July, 2013 at 6pm.  He encourages everyone who has an interest to sign up.  I wasn’t able to get a more clear picture of what kinds of challenges and an example of how some team were able to solve the problem.  Hope he will share some of the results later. 

I also talked to Nich Holden, a games industry entrepreneur and creative director from the UK.  He is currently involved with a startup called Game Advocates.  They are a group of volunteers offering „micro-BPO” services to small and creative companies.  They will deal with sales, marketing and bureaucracy aspects of the business so the creative types can focus on what they do best.  At the moment they are still in the incubating stage.  They are hoping to go live soon.  They are looking for developers of B2B and social network services. 

I have been attending OC for a few months now.  I believe this is a nice idea.  Although it is not the only business-related breakfast meeting around, what sets this one apart from the others is the casualness of the atmosphere.  They made me feel welcome from the first meeting.  You did not have to be some big-shot, you just have to want to get involved.  My only criticism is that other than one or two physical product pitches, most of the presenters are people connected with the IT or the BPO sectors.  I would like to see a more diversified portfolio of participants.  I believe that with more diversity, there mighht be some possibility of rather unconventional solutions to many problems.  If you know any young business people of any sector, looking for help or partners or just a job, please encourage them to attend the OC.     

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

K'Sup 1.1

K’Sup Vol 1.1 (17.07.2013)

Hello readers, welcome to the first edition of K’Sup.  My goal is to provide you an English language based blog on the events as well as highlight some of the enterprises who are trying to get their spot on the map.  My goal is to archive the on-going activities at the same time do some trend-spotting.  I hope you will find K’sup both informative and inspirational.  The name K’Sup is a combination of K for Krakow and S for start and UP and Krakow.  ‘Sup is colloquial for what’s up in American slang. 

Ok, a little background information on me.  My name is Paul Chen and I am an American who has been living in Krakow for the past year.  I am currently teaching Scientific and Technical English at AGH.  I originally got involved in the start-up community through my attendance of TedxKrakow in 2012 and a chance meeting with Richard Lucas.  Mr. Lucas is a business angel here in Poland who is involved with many start-ups.  I started attending the Open-Coffee meetings where I met many ambitious self-starters.  I think that this is the very beginning of something very interesting and someone should archive it.  Poland has a lot of potiential and there is a whole generation wishing to make a change .

Last night at the Stage was Summer Swarm which was organized by the Hive53 community.  It was the fifth meeting of „the Swarm” series.  Good thing for me that the presentations were done in English.  The goal of these events is to try to educate and inspire young entrepreneurs by hosting talks of professionals who have been successful in their field or to let some start-up make their pitch.  And last night we had both. 

The first presenters were Kasia Bojanowska and Joanna Socha of Unerdwear.  Kasia was a designer and Joanna was an architect who decided to pair up and start a clothing line making boxers for nerds and the fashionable.  Unerdwear as you might have figured out was a rearrangement of the letters from the word underwear.  They will be launching an e-shop soon.  During their presentation they reflected on some important lessons from their journey in producing their products.  Among those are:
  • Be pro-active cut out the middle man
  • Always ask questions, people are generally happy to help you
  • Some sectors of the Polish economy haven’t made the jump to the 21st century yet, so you will need to call them and make appointments.
  • Collect and keep your ideas for a rainy day
  • And...ask what is the added value.

In the next weeks they are off to New York City to get some more ideas and inspirations.

The second presenter was Krzysztof Gonciarz . He is a graduate of Department of Cultural Studies at the Jagiellonian University.  He is currently an internet content producer for websites like Youtube.  He has had a string of successful vlogs (video-blogs) on Youtube since 2007.  His vlogs currently has over 10 million views.  He initially started with talking about video games but then something strange happened.  He posted a prank known as Gimbus, which is the Polish insult for a silly school boy, and it went viral.  It featured a guy simply doing silly things.  It was the subject of many memes and got more views than his more serious videos.  So he rolled with it and became a Polish Youtube star.  Not too long ago he developed another character called Kaciarz, which means a fraudster in Polish.  This time it featured an assertive businessman giving advice to people of how to be awesome in life and make money.  It went viral, this time it went viral among the coporate class.  He is currently in the process of talks with a major Polish telecom.   He advised us to:

·         Be an influencer

·         Reinventing yourself is a key way to remain relevant.

·         Use your customer/viewer feedback as a way to improve your business/vlogs.

·         Involve your viewers or customers by asking questions

·         Don’t stay in your comfort zone for too long

·         And ... don’t take yourself too seriously.   

After each presentation, there was a short Q & A session.  And at the end of the event, participants had a chance to network and discuss matters further with the presenters.  I felt that this Swarm was very interesting and many lessons were learned.  Keep your eye on this space for an announcement of the next Swarm.  Next time I will be covering the Open Coffee event at Google on Rynek Glowny this Thursday.