The apple of the Polish government’s eye are start-ups. With a 700-million euro programme Start In Poland the authority has ambitions to make Poland a start-up hub for Central Europe. This is the second of two articles about the innovation climate in Poland.

WARSAW, 18 november 2018 – “The 4th industrial revolution cannot take place without politicians” – said Jarosław Gowin, the deputy PM and the Minister of Science and Higher Education introducing in 2016 a 3-billion PLN (around 700-million euro) Start It Poland Programme. The Polish authorities’ intentions are clear. They want to use all tools they have to make Poland a main hub for start-ups in Central Europe and to help commercialise innovations developed in young Polish companies. A crop of initiatives were created for start-ups, both Polish and foreigners willing to relocate their business activity to Poland. These initiatives include accelerators, money for venture capital funds, and changes in laws to benefit new companies, just to mention a few.

The most important, however, was to have state-owned companies, which still play a significant role in Polish economy, cooperate with new companies. One of the biggest problems for innovators in Poland is the lack of an initial client. The Law and Justice (PiS) government decided that the State Treasury must invest in innovation created by start-ups. All of a sudden large enterprises, even those without any history of cooperation with external innovators, set up corporate venture capital funds and hired technology scouts, or just simply joined accelerator programmes and started implementing innovations.

Huge demand

For example, 66 companies from various sectors that took part in the recently finalised ScaleUp 66 accelerator programme implemented around 150 innovations developed in the accelerators. “It turned out that there is a huge demand for solutions from start-ups and in the course of the programme corporations and young companies learnt how to cooperate and establish relations. It is also a huge success of the programme” – explains the press office of the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology.

However, there is a darker side to state control. Both people in start-ups and in companies admit off the record that making innovations in such a way is sometimes like painting the grass green. As the ministry demands state-owned companies to invest in start-ups, a company will find a start-up and sign a non-binding agreement with it, but not being sincerely interested in implementing new technology. “We are only necessary for companies for PR events”, complain founders. The staff carousel in the highly politicized State Treasury firms is of no help either. Frequent changes at the positions of directors (in some companies, directors have changed several times over the past three years) cause decision deadlock.

A change in mentality

Despite the changes in the Polish innovative ecosystem, they have not been seen on the innovation scoreboards, not yet. ¨To see tangible effects we need to wait a couple of years”,  says Krzysztof Klincewicz, professor at the Warsaw University. “But it seems that during the past few years there have been serious changes in the mentality of the business sector. Even the lowest tech company makes it a matter of honour to speak about innovation. Many companies are starting to cooperate with start-ups, and many people are being hired for the R&D positions. High-level mechanism processes have started, which are gradually copied at lower levels. This is a thing that the PiS government has managed to do.”

What has happened to the Just Drive app mentioned in the first part of the series? Well, it failed. In fact, after one day the app was closed down. Both companies accused the other of breaking business agreements. Nevertheless, both firms are performing rather well. Orlen launched its own app, very similar to Just Drive. And the website of the start-up shows that it has new clients. It seems that the failure of politicians’ model transaction hasn’t stopped Polish businesses from innovating.

 

(This is the second of two articles about the Polish innovation eco-system)

Katarzyna Zachariasz-Podolak is a Polish journalist and editor in chief of InnovateCEE.

 

Foto: Start-up Bioseco produces a system that protects birds from colliding with windturbines and airplanes at airports