Building an innovation ecosystem in Poland

Building an innovation ecosystem in Poland
By: Dr. Dipanjan Nag, President & CEO of Prediqtus

As I landed at the Lech Walesa airport in Gdansk, it struck me that Poland is a country that is not getting its fair share of attention from the technology world.  The infrastructure combined with the high education level of its citizens ought to raise Poland’s economic influence compared to many other nations in the world.  From the podium at the Innovation Europe conference, another thing struck me: very few people were using a translator to understand my talk –fewer by far than in Hamamatsu or Seoul!  Why, then, is it that Poland has not progressed into an economy of innovation to be reckoned with?

The answer perhaps lies in the fact that there is no consistent policy for performing knowledge transfer or technology transfer in Poland.  The ownership of the intellectual property could either rest with the institution in which the idea was created, or it could belong to the inventor. Either one of these options is tenable, but difficulties arise due to the lack of consistency. If Poland seeks to become a leading world economy that fosters innovation, it is imperative that a consistent system for IP ownership is implemented throughout the country.  Human capital is utilized well in Poland, with Poland being Europe’s go-to source for skilled labor when outsourcing is required. Poland ranks #5 in the world and #1 in Europe! Did you know that? Considering that more Swedish doctors are trained in Poland than they are in Sweden, this should not be altogether surprising. With a country of 38 million, Poland is well poised to breakout of the traditional challenges faced by other European economies.  France, Germany and Great Britain have one problem in common: the pride they invest in the title of “Europe’s leader.”  Pride in your country’s leadership is not necessarily a negative thing; however, when it coincides with little economic advancement, a nearly bankrupt government, and/or a negative correlation with growth, pride can be a dangerous vice.  In contrast, Poland has a vibrant young crowd, 70% of whom want to be entrepreneurs.  The fact that a majority of Poland’s youth is attracted to entrepreneurship is in itself is a huge positive. In most other developed economies in Europe, people want to work for the government with nice, secure, cushy jobs with ample support from the unions. Over-reliance on secure, stable jobs combined with severe risk-aversion within an economy fosters classic mediocrity.

  • So, what drivers have I observed that indicate Poland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is evolving?
  • Highly educated workforce that values education.
    • Both technical education such as engineering as well as life sciences
    • Cost of education is inexpensive as compared to developed economies like US, Japan etc.
  • A workforce that understands English
    • The language of business is English, whether we like it or not
    • Not only understanding of English but also the ability to write in English
  • Cost of living
    • The cost of living and cost of doing business in Poland is substantially less expensive than other parts of Europe
  • Political support
    • Impetus for movement away from Communism and toward an entrepreneurial culture is clearly visible
    • Leadership recognizes the need to move the country forward
  • Economic support
    • As I was sitting at the dinner table introducing myself, seemed like 8 out of the 10 people were looking to invest in Poland or were already investors! This is unprecedented.
    • The government not only has money, but is spending money on development of economic infrastructure. The support for basic research is there.
  • Pool of entrepreneurs
    • It was quite apparent that there is a large pool of entrepreneurs who want to break out of the ranks and be successful
    • Some of the entrepreneurs have already had success outside of Poland. They are back to try new ventures based in Poland and based on Polish technologies.

All of these drivers are moving Poland steadily toward an innovation ecosystem; however, there is still ample room for improvement in these areas:

  • Lack of policy infrastructure
    • The adoption of consistent IP policy is lacking, as mentioned earlier in this white paper
    • Lack of an understanding of the patent system
    • A Polish patent could take a significant amount of time to be granted
  • Not enough tech transfer training:
    • training for university tech transfer systems
    • training of technology transfer professionals
  • Need to increase the amount of translational funding
  • Lack in executive training for entrepreneurs
  • Seed funding provided by the government directed towards small businesses should be increased
  • Lack of risk capital
    • Although, some of that is available from the EU organizations