What do these objects all have in common: a movie projector, bulletproof vest and a television set? All of these objects were invented by the Poles (yes, the Lumière brothers weren’t the first).
Poles invent game-changing appliances and devices; a rising number of skilled workers from Western Europe are trying their luck in Poland. Therefore, it would seem logical that Poland is the most innovative; richest country in the world and those skilled immigrants would do anything to live the Polish Dream, right? Well, not so much. Reality reveals a slightly different picture. What isn’t Poland ahead of the innovation game? And why should the West care about changing the status quo?
Poland doesn’t have the appropriate infrastructure that would allow it to invest in high tech. And only these investments pay off in the long run, states Kamil Wyszkowski, the United Nations Global Compact National Representative. „Poles are very risk-averse, especially when it comes to investments in high-tech.” First off all, as Kamil added, Polish investors aren’t following global trends in investment. They have a short-sighted view on investment: they would like to make money, not business.
And the Polish government isn’t making the situation any better. It has much more important things on its agenda than working on the creation of an innovation-friendly infrastructure (like fighting other political parties). The fall of Communism might have taken place a while back, however the ruling elite are still caught up in the same way of thinking. Communism wasn’t exactly big on individualism or innovation, for that matter.
However, despite that, the Polish start-up scene has experienced a rapid growth, as Poles have innovation running in their blood. The vast majority of investment is done with the blessing (and money) from the EU. However, EU programmes prove to be, in most cases, a waste of money and talent. Poles, instead of focusing on creating innovative solutions, they think hard how to fulfil the criteria created by bureaucrats. The EU offers favours criteria fulfilling. Just like Polish business.
Venture capital representatives in Poland are very sceptical to entrepreneurs’ ideas. Lack of trust results from limited financial resources. Polish entrepreneurs are supposed to come up with the idea, fulfil a long list of criteria and be patient. Really patient.
A befriended entrepreneur (who prefers to remain anonymous) has recently been unsuccessful in securing funding, despite (or rather, because of) his brilliant idea. His solution is so out of the box, that investors are afraid of potential risks. He lost a lot of time knocking on any doors. I have often heard of start-up ideas being rejected due to innovativeness. By the way, the aforementioned entrepreneur is currently in talks with American investors.
Poland doesn’t seem to have its priorities in order and isn’t big on innovation. Many Poles have left the country since 2004: both blue collar and white-collar workers, who don’t see the point in fighting against the system if they could put their talents into practice elsewhere. That Poles are hard-working, everyone seems to know. But their creativity has been going unnoticed. Therefore, Poles need managers who would take the cream of the crop under their wings (and open up their tight wallets).
Let me share an anecdote encapsulated in a recent widely circulated Facebook post in Poland. Łukasz Srokowski recalls a task he gave to his students in his recent workshop. The post reads as follows:
“Give the participants jigsaw puzzles of your choosing and tell them to assemble an aquarium out of it. Soon they will realise that the patterns are completely different and they will try to make an aquarium using puzzle pieces. (…) It is noteworthy that the script didn’t foresee any other way of aquarium construction. When I spoke to the exercise creator, I got to know that all British and German groups built an aquarium using puzzle pieces.
What did my Polish participants do? One group made up an ‘aquarium’ word out of the puzzles. The other one took the puzzle sack, filled it with water, and put one puzzle piece inside claiming that it was a fish. The last group made a frame inside of which I found fish made out of the remaining puzzle pieces.”
If the West has been outsourcing work to Poland (according to the 2014 Tholon report, Poland is the first country of choice in Europe for outsourcing) and has been happy with the results, the West might as well invest in Polish start-ups. It’s high time Europe had a respectable Silicon Valley equivalent. Given Polish traits, that is creativity, motivation and perseverance, Europe might soon up their start-up game. However, a series of investments need to be made. So, who is the first in line?