Friday, September 13, 2013

Building Bridges and Accelerating to the Future

By: Paul Chen

When you walk into the Innovation Nest office on Ludwinowska Street in Krakow, one of the first things that hits you is the amazing view of the Vistula River and the Wawel Castle sitting atop its ancient royal throne.  I was led into an enclosed glass box with two benches facing each other and was provided with a cup of tea I requested with two sugars.  Next thing I knew, a scruffy bearded man was sat across me in an unassuming sweater and jeans and a pair of sandals.  One might mistaken this man as some college professor in holiday attire.  Instead, it’s Piotr Wilam, a giant and one of the original pioneers of Polish digital media.   He along with the late Tomasza Kolbusza founded the website in 1995.  However, as a young man, he originally wanted to be a scientist.  That wasn’t to be, he was persuaded to become a businessman instead.  Early on, he was involved in the publication of Polish versions of popular travel guides like Rough Guide and Lonely Planet.  At some point, he became aware of the digital revolution so was born.  Currently it is the second most viewed site in Poland behind the auction site  Mr. Wilam sold his shares of the site a few years ago and became an angel investor. 

A couple years ago, he became aware that the Polish market, although quite large, is not big enough to do anything substantial.  He felt that local businesses needed to go global.  As a result, in 2011, along with fellow Onet executive and investor Marek Kapturkiewicz, founded Innovation Nest.  Innovation Nest is a seed round investor as well as an accelerator program.  It focuses on software as a service projects.  It organizes lean startup customer development workshops for startups.  It also organizes the local Startup Stage event about once every month.  The next one is September 19, 2013.   It offers mentoring to startups and also offers office hours.  It is when anyone with a good well thought out idea can go and get feedback from him or his team of experts.  After some satisfactory stages of development, a startup is sent to Silicon Valley to participate in various camps like Y Combinator to gain experience and feedback.  This collaboration with Silicon Valley is one of the essential elements of Innovation Nest’s operations. 

Currently is has a few projects in its portfolio.  One is, a tool for user experience design which started about a year and a half years ago.  UXpin is closing the funding round with an US investor at the moment.  Another is Cloud Your Car which will launch shortly.  It is a service which allows one to monitor a fleet of cars along with some key data points via the internet.  One can use his smartphone or laptop to receive data from a module which is plugged into the cigarette lighter. 

Mr. Wilam is happy about the fact that Krakow has a very vibrant Startup Ecosystem.  He likes that there is a collaborative atmosphere among the startups.  There aren't many startups that is trying to get one up on another. He also likes that there is a big focus on customer development.  He encourages startups and investors to come to Krakow have a visit and see what we are doing here.  We have lots of untapped talent here waiting to be discovered.

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