Google Campuses are popping up in all of the major global tech hubs. There are Campuses in London, Tel Aviv, and Seoul. What many people don’t know is that there is one in Warsaw as well. It is located in an old vodka factory, Praga Koneser Center. They will open their doors later this month. They are eager to work with many of the local Polish Entrepreneurs, VCs, and government as well as people from other CEE countries. In the beginning of 2016, the space will be alive with their first accelerator program, Growth. Campus Warsaw is co-organizing the program with Innovation Nest.
Innovation Nest is the official knowledge partner of Campus Warsaw analogous to what Seedcamp is for Campus London. Growth!, the accelerator is the first program that they are doing as a joint activity with Campus. There will be many other joint programs such as the Spin Entrepreneurship School, and meet-ups for founders. Previous such meet-ups organized by Innovation Nest were about sales, recruitment, and marketing technology.
I had a chance to talk to Adam Komarnicki, the investment manager of Innovation Nest to talk about the program.
With so many VCs in Poland, why do you feel Campus Warsaw chose Innovation Nest as its first to cooperate with?
This question probably should be directed at Google but I believe that there is a cultural fit between both organizations. They liked our vision that we look beyond Poland and the fact that we are already taking our startups to Silicon Valley. And I believe the fact that we are already quite experienced in running acceleration programs was also an important factor contributing to their decision.
What do you hope to learn from this partnership?
First of all Google is a great brand to work with. It's a very efficient and professional organization. We hope this relationship will help us become more visible within the startup ecosystems in Central Eastern Europe and we will be more credible as a partner for other European and American investors. Google also has a great network of mentors which we can involve in our other projects too.. Finally, as we get more connected there should be better opportunities for quality deal flow for our fund.
How do you feel Campus will add value to the Polish startup community?
First of all, there will be one place for people to meet which is very much needed in Warsaw. Campus will offer a very open environment for everybody and thus promote the Silicon Valley Pay-It-Forward culture . I also expect it will be inclusive and welcoming to people who are not yet involved in the startup community but may want to take part in the future. I also strongly believe that Campus Warsaw will help to make the Polish startup ecosystem more international. It will put Poland firmly on the map of European startup ecosystems, hopefully working as a hub for founders from our neighboring countries.
In the accelerator, Growth, Why only B2B startups? Why only SaaS?
We are focusing on B2B startups because it is something that, as a fund we have much experience with and we are building our competences around that market. Besides, a large number of startups in Poland are SaaS in nature, according to a survey by Startup Poland.. For the program, we would like to particularly invite startups that specialize in SaaS and Internet of Things because that is the specialization and preference of two of our partners. Marcin Szelag is one of the top VCs in Europe in SaaS and Marek is getting increasingly involved in the emerging IoT market. It helps a lot that Marek is an engineer by trade and better understands technology (hardware!) and market challenges in that space . We are however open to other models and markets - being B2B and having revenue are the only firm requirements to join the program.
Other European accelerators might talk about revenue, you chose to focus on growth, why?
When we talk about growth for B2B startups, the most important factor is in fact revenue, with other metrics playing a supporting role. Perhaps the difference from other accelerators is that growth is our main focus while other accelerators have broader programs and wider set of objectives.
People from Silicon Valley often criticize European startups for too much emphasis on revenue, how would you react to that?
I am not sure if this is really the case. We believe revenue is the best indicator that they are making something people want. Perhaps in non B2B startups revenue can come later and there are many examples for that, particularly in social media like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram. In B2B, if a startup is making something valuable, businesses will pay for that.
What kinds of infrastructure are available to startups at Campus Warsaw?
The facilities Campus Warsaw available are a well stocked café, co-working space for founders, and conference rooms for meetings and other events. However, the most important is the access to the top tech professionals with many years of experience.
Other than talking to world class mentors, what makes Growth different from other accelerators?
Whilst most accelerators take startups pre-revenue or even pre-product, we are focused on later stage companies that already have first paying customers. Because of that we e chose to have a lighter format of the program, which means there is no need for founders to move to Warsaw, which we know can be difficult for startups at that stage. Of course founders can still can take full advantage of the program being in Warsaw part-time and going back home between sessions to their teammates and family. Another differentiator of Growth is that we take no equity up front for participation in the program. What we do ask for instead is the right to a discount on valuation in their next funding round, if we decide to invest. That way the objectives of the founders and ourselves are well aligned.
On the website you said you haven’t announced the list of mentors, why?
We have a vast network of mentors (over 50, mostly in SV) that we have built strong relationships with, as well as access to professionals from Google. Yes, we could have included the whole long list with pretty pictures however, we did not want to put all the names on the website now as it would have been too generic. What we are going to do instead is to carefully select mentors with the most relevant experience and skills to the problem that the selected startups face. Basically the point is that our selection process not only involves the startups, but but the mentors as well. We are constantly talking to top people and the enthusiasm from potential mentors so far is very good. People are really happy to participate and can’t wait to see the startups that will get admitted to the program.
Sometimes startups choose accelerators because of the network of mentors, so what can you tell about where the mentors are from?
Most of mentors from our network are based in the US and will be available for Skype. When teams travel to SV they will be able to meet them face to face. We will also definitely have local mentors available for help at the Campus too. We are already coordinating calendars, it will be awesome!
Every startup chosen will be eligible to participate in the London and Silicon Valley trip right? Who can startups expect to meet in silicon Valley and London?
Yes, all the startups will be able to go. We already make such trips to Silicon Valley with our portfolio startups and it’s working really well. One such group will be going in November and another in January. The founders will go to Silicon Valley to meet potential clients, mentors and perhaps investors. It all depends on the stage, for example, not everyone is ready to start fundraising, although everyone can start making the right contacts. We will make warm introductions when possible, the rest is up to individual level of founders’ hustle! From our experience founders come back with lots of new ideas, more refined vision and great contacts. Most importantly, they come to embrace the SV way of doing things, a culture which is different from what we have in Europe.
Which investors have you worked with in the past?
We have made several co-investments with VC funds and angel investors based in the Valley. For example, with UXPin two rounds of funding, or investments that were made via our AngelList syndicate. Besides, Piotr Wilam, our managing director, regularly goes to SV and each trip brings new valuable contacts. Google has also offered to help with introductions.
The Growth Accelerator will run from January to mid-March of 2016. More information is available here. I want to thank Adam and the rest of Innovation Nest for their time.