Global Vision, Local Focus – How Warsaw Is Working toward Startup Success
Head Coordinator for Entrepreneurship and Social Dialogue, City of Warsaw
CEO, Startup Hub Poland Foundation
arsaw has big plans for the future. Already a major political, economic and cultural center, Poland’s capital city has now set its sights on becoming a startup hub. “We’ve set ourselves the goal of becoming a center for entrepreneurship in Eastern Europe by 2040,” says Karolina Zdrodowska. “Many of the activities in our 2030 Warsaw Strategy roadmap are working towards this.”
Located at the heart of Central and Eastern Europe and home to big-name multinationals such as Google and Oracle, the city is already a great place to start a business. Entrepreneurs benefit from good transport and ecosystem connections to hubs like Berlin and Prague and to talent markets like Central and Eastern Europe, and in particular Ukraine. The city also boasts excellent educational institutions but without the exorbitant salaries, rents and cost of living of other major European cities, which helps startup funding go further. And while homegrown investment funds are a relatively recent development, Poland is making up for lost time with a mushrooming VC community.
“We have a great academic offer that draws innovative, talented people,” says Karolina. “We aim to get them to stay after graduation, and we think they’ll be glad they did. When we measure satisfaction levels among Warsaw ecosystem members, eighty-two percent say they wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
A steady supply of top STEAM talent has also contributed to boosting the city’s standing as a regional leader in biotech, ICT, cybersecurity, cloud computing, data science and machine learning. But it’s not resting on its laurels. “There are five sectors where we want to become leaders,” says Karolina. “We’re already strong in business services and green municipal economy, and we’re working to add creative, agri-food and bioeconomy to the list.”
In line with these aims, the City has been working hard in recent decades to create a startup-friendly environment where entrepreneurs can access support and networking and find collaborators, talent and investment. To date, it’s produced names like DocPlanner, Allegro and CD Projekt Red as well as leading scientists involved in collaborations with NASA and the European Space Agency. “Our benchmarks in terms of innovation hubs are Tel Aviv and Stockholm,” says Maciej Sadowski. “That’s what we’re aiming for.”
We want to create a network of local connections, so entrepreneurs feel they are working in a local environment and can not only rely on the help of the City but also develop their business locally.
To achieve its goals, the City has established a multidisciplinary working group featuring representatives from local government, accelerators, incubators, coworking spaces and associations to share information and promote initiatives that support entrepreneurs. It also organizes events such as the Warsaw Startup Nights to bring entrepreneurs together with international businesses. The Warsaw Booster accelerator and regular Technology Reviews also serve to strengthen ecosystem cooperation and connect startups to potential customers by connecting them to representatives from established companies and municipal departments. “Cooperation between the private sector, the third sector and the City is really good here,” says Maciej. “We get a lot of support, we have a fully open and very honest dialogue, and full access to Karolina and her team.”
In terms of physical spaces, there’s the Zodiac Business Pavilion, an economic showroom for Warsaw businesses; and the Smolna Center for Entrepreneurship, a one-stop advisory for entrepreneurs that helps with everything from registering a company to accessing local institutions and training. In line with the City’s creative sector ambitions, the Targowa 56 Center of Creativity offers affordable rental space and free lectures, workshops and training. It’s open both to companies and residents of the local underprivileged neighborhood. The aim is to foster connections with the local community and ensure business activities focus on local issues and benefit the local economy. “We want to create a network of local connections,” says Karolina, “so entrepreneurs feel they are working in a local environment and can not only rely on the help of the City but also develop their business locally.”
Looking further afield, Warsaw collaborates closely with the City of Dusseldorf and the Vienna Business Agency, and the city’s companies and business institutions are regular participants at initiatives like the Digital Demo Day tech fair and Startup Woche Dusseldorf.
“There’s so much going on here now,” says Maciej. “A few years ago when I was in California, people told me, ‘Maciej, Europe ends at Berlin. There’s nothing east of Berlin.’ And now I see them coming here, so it looks like their maps have expanded a bit.”