Strengthening the Ecosystems: CEE Acceleration Summit

The region’s first event dedicated to corporate acceleration took place in Warsaw. 

Unicorns are roaming around Silicon Valley, New York City and London, but they’re still rare in the CEE region. To strengthen the startup ecosystem, business accelerators provide support and guidance for startups to help them turn an innovative idea into a multimillion-dollar company.

The CEE Acceleration Summit took place in Warsaw on 26 October at the National Stadium – an event dedicated to corporate acceleration. Representatives from the startup and acceleration ecosystem shared experiences and provided insights on how to increase CEE’s acceleration potential. The summit was an opportunity for participants to learn about funding opportunities, how corporations can help startups to scale up, the development of corporate accelerators in CEE, business angels and investment funds, collaboration between corporations and universities, social innovation, and many other topics related to acceleration.

Organized by multinational consultancy PwC, venture capital fund HardGamma Ventures, creative workplaces provider Business Link, and tech-entrepreneurial eco-system event-organiser Startup Olé, the event welcomed board members responsible for cooperation with startups, business angels, heads of accelerators, incubators, CVCs, as well as universities.

Dariusz Żuk, Business Link and Beata Cichocka-Tylman, PwC Polska

To kick-off the day, Director of PwC Innovation and R&D, Grants and Incentives, Beata Cichocka-Tylman spoke about how startups need an opportunity to grow in a thriving ecosystem. She said more corporations in the region are interested in investing and supporting startups and there are many acceleration programmes in Poland. This event is intended to show how investors like angels and universities can help startups.

Catalin Ticheru, Head of the CEE Startup Ecosystems at Startup Europe, outlined the initiatives by the European Commission to support startups such as networking activities, funding, accelerators and information for students. The goal is to connect key players of the startup scene throughout Europe by hosting events such as Startup Europe Week, promoting entrepreneurship in colleges and strengthening startup ecosystems.

From the Polish Development Fund (PFR), Chief Innovation Officer Eliza Kruczkowska said PFR supports innovation and startups and stated that she strongly believes Poland should be more active and take advantage of these programmes. She said there is talent in Poland, there is capital and so there is a good chance for the country to make the ecosystem stronger. Startups in Poland are quite young, two years on average, and Poland is one of the fastest growing European economies with improving business conditions. Polish unicorns exist – such as Allegro and CD Projekt Red and the Polish VC market is on track for high growth. She also said PFR doesn’t directly invest in startups and is not a government institution, but rather supports businesses with networks and counselling.

Piotr Muszyński, Orange Polska

Travelling back in time, Piotr Muszyński, Vice President of Management Board, Strategy & Transformation, Orange Polska, presented the history of telecommunication innovation from the invention of the telephone to the Internet. He talked about today’s massive connectivity, IoTs, and the unavoidable digital transformation of the future. Orange also invites startups to work with the company to create new telecom solutions. “Instead of a fish, we give them a stick,” said Muszyński. By working with Orange, startups have access to customers and a wide market.

Joining live from California via Skype, General Partner at Rubicon VC Andrew Romans talked about how it’s important not to ignore other ecosystems around the world and take advantage of those resources. What’s the secret sauce to a strong startup ecosystem? Romans said there needs to be culture, geography and history of strong engineering. It’s important for CEE to access its strengths and resources to determine what advantages the region has over others. Having a global mindset from the start also aids in becoming successful abroad.

During the next part of the summit, four companies presented their pitches for accelerator programmes. This included Urban Quest by commercial development company Skanska, BioVentureHub by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, Next Media Accelerator and PwC Acceleration initiatives: Startup Collider (PwC Polska) and PwC SCALE (PwC UK).

After the lunch break, attendees were given the opportunity to choose among different ‘Paths’ based on their interests: Corporate Acceleration, Business Angels and Investment Funds – Capital for Growth, Corporations and Universities, and Social Innovation. The afternoon sessions featured experts from companies such as Amazon Web Services, Intel, CobinAngels as well as speakers from investment funds, startups and universities.

For more about startups in Poland, check out our featured article Startup Spirit

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Written by: Monica Zielinski

Monica Zielinski is Poland Today's online editor and social media manager. She is a Polish-American journalist who also works on international projects headed under Rzeczpospolita. After earning a journalism degree from Southern Connecticut State University in the US, she moved to Warsaw to reconnect with her Polish roots and work in her field.