Hub:raum is one of the most popular and successful business accelerators currently active in the region of Lesser Poland. Their office in Poland is the third of its kind, after Tel Aviv and Berlin. For two years they have supported and integrated the start-up community in Krakow and connected young entrepreneurs from all over Europe. Now we decided to ask Jakub Probola, head of Hub:raum Krakow, some questions about the differences between start-ups in Poland and in the West. During the interview Jakub also explained the differences between the start-up ecosystems in Poland and in Vienna and where to get the knowledge and support necessary at the beginning
Natalia Wiśniowska: The Krakow Hub:raum is the first of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe. It must have given you an overview of the CEE start-up scene. Is this a well-developed community?
Jakub Probola: The start-up scene in CEE does have some distinguishing qualities. For starters, we excel in the technology department. We have – from the technological standpoint – great ideas, talented programmers, IT specialists that are knowledgeable about what’s going on at the global stage, who know their trade just as well or perhaps even better than their peers in the West. Unfortunately, the picture is not so optimistic business-wise. We still struggle to translate good ideas into business – it is sometimes the case that a start-up spends a lot of time perfecting a solution without having a clue where it may actually be applied! I can see improvements in this regard though; market research and analyses are conducted increasingly more often.
Do CEE start-ups make a good community? Are they supportive of each other?
What really draws attention is how closely integrated the local communities are. It’s not quite obvious on the level of the whole region. There are strong connections in city communities – say in Krakow, Vienna or Prague start-ups. The members meet at a number of events, share insights and advice and benefit from each other’s experiences. On an everyday basis though, they focus on interacting with the immediate environment.
Start-up founders tend to need a lot of financial and conceptual support at the beginning. What organizations help budding entrepreneurs in CEE?
There are many institutions that support young businesses in CEE. There are angel investors, still not active enough in Poland, but I believe it’s going to change. Venture capital funds are growing increasingly important – the CEE region is very attractive to them. Of course, we also have European funds, which in my opinion are not used too effectively, but the bottom line is they are available and I do believe they will play their part as years go by. Business incubators are also of vital importance, especially in the area of product and project development.
The Polish start-up scene is a well-developed environment. How does it compare to its equivalents from abroad?
There are no big differences between Warsaw, Krakow and other European cities. They all share the same flaw of paying too little attention to the business side of a project. It’s completely the other way around in Vienna – their problems are usually technology-related.
Why do you think foreign investors should choose Poland?
Foreign investors should pick Poland as their investment target (and they do) for a few reasons. We have wonderful specialists who, on top of their qualifications, prove hardworking and ambitious. Secondly, Poland as a market is still yet to fully develop. The prospects are good and Poland serves as a connection between the west and the east. The law is also far from the unfriendliest in the world. The Polish mentality is also an important factor – it is similar to the American or Western European mentality; we are motivated and programmed to succeed. The combination of these characteristics may really convince foreign businesses to invest in Poland.
Krakow is your second seat in Europe. Why here?
Krakow is one of the most important and dynamically developing European centers of innovation. Its well-organized start-up community and a variety of meet-ups and conferences dedicated to emerging businesses and technologies make a perfect platform for our initiatives.
Krakow is among the best places for making business acquaintances, maintaining them and supporting each other on the business side. Lots of universities provide a great infrastructure and serve as platforms for development. It has a big influence on the quality of ideas and concepts.
What should a young start-up entrepreneur wanting to work with you do?
I always encourage everyone to contact us directly – via mail, phone, or at our office in Krakow. Then we can talk about the idea, consider its relevance to what Hub:raum does and whether we are able to support it and achieve synergy through our operators. Those who can provide specific and well-developed business models should use one of our programs, such as WARP, the turbo accelerator for start-ups willing to join Hub:raum Krakow, get financing and conceptual support and, as a result, implement and commercialize their ideas. We’re searching for innovative, interesting and unique projects. We’re especially interested in the area of telecommunications (technologies, apps, services, etc.), digital media, mobile solutions and the Internet. You can apply at the WARP page or here.
What kind of support do you offer?
What we offer is complex support for a young entrepreneur – professional advice, working space and access to the resources of the Deutsche Telekom group. What does it mean in practice? The money for project development aside, the start-up picks a mentor who helps it every step of the way. We’re cooperating with experienced entrepreneurs such as Artur Kurasiński, Marvin Liao, Agnieszka Anielska and Stefan Bielau. We provide the working space in which entrepreneurs can exchange ideas, focus on working, but also rest, drink some coffee, etc. Of course, co-working in our office is only optional, in no way a necessity. Young entrepreneurs don’t have to move to Krakow, they are free to work remotely and benefit through DT’s local operators.
We realize that critical success factors for any company also include promotion, access to the client base or Deutsche Telekom’s advanced technologies in 13 countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The range of DT’s support may include software pre-installation on smartphones or marketing campaigns, as well as the inclusion of the idea or service in DT’s or other telecom’s offers. The possibilities are seemingly endless and chosen after the consideration of each idea separately. We don’t have a single ready product for everyone – it gives all of us the confidence that we can use the project’s potential to the fullest.
What is your program FIT4EUROPE TEL AVIV about?
The FIT4EUROPE TEL AVIV program is aimed at start-up founders from Israel who wish to start/expand their business in Europe. The goal is to create a communication platform for young entrepreneurs to communicate with the European market, whose consumers are just as attractive of a target as their American peers.