Building bridges between Jews for Entrepreneurs and the Polish startup scene

by Richard Lucas

February 2016

I’m writing this post on the invitation of Jenny Belotserkovsky – one of the co-founders of Jews For Entrepreneurs.

The route to this blog post started with a Mixergy podcast  – where I heard Max Shevakov being interviewed by Andrew Warner on, the home of the upstart entrepreneur.  Max was talking about how he had built up and sold his business lending lenses to photographers.(Mixergy is a great resource for bootstrapping entrepreneurs – better than business school –  I gladly pay  $200 for my subscription and also another $400 as a gift to the founder of a recent investment). Once again for those who don’t know about the incredible resources available from the world of English language podcasting   try Googling “x and best Podcasts” where x = something you are into).

I made contact with Max because I have recently invested in Zalamo.com – a software tool for professional photographers. I thought Max could be a good mentor, give us advice about our marketing strategy – when we start going after the US market where he build his business   Max was helpful, is ready to review our US marketing plan once it is created.  I noticed on his Linkedin profile he was a member of Jews for Entrepreneurs. I hadn’t heard of JFE but I have had several conversations with my friend Jonathan Ornstein – Director of the highly successful Jewish Community Centre in Krakow (where I live) about broadening the connection between the JCC and the thriving  Startup scene in Poland.   To know more about the great work of the JCC read and/or watch Jonathan’s TEDx talk, or Chief Rabbi Schudrich’s.   Hear Jonathan’s TEDxWarsaw talk here , Warsaw Rabbi Schudrich’s here  Read about Jonathan and the JCC here

I asked Max for an introduction to JFE which led me to Jenny, who wrote back full of interest and support. Jenny encouraged me with her response “It’s our goal to connect Jewish startup communities worldwide and we are excited to hear about the resurgence of Jewish life and startup innovation in Poland. It would be great to showcase Poland’s innovation with our network. We recently launched a renovated site for JFE Network.  We would be thrilled to add Polish-Jewish startups to our startup vault and share with our community and investor network in Silicon Valley, New York, and Israel.  Every Tuesday, we send out a weekly email with new startups, jobs, and blog posts from tech experts in our community. We can send an upcoming email campaign (9.6k people) featuring Polish innovation. We can showcase Polish startups and feature blog posts from innovators and thought leaders in the Polish community.”

This was just the response I wanted. I asked Startup Poland   (I’m on the Advisory Board) for examples of Jewish Israeli Polish entrepreneurship in Poland. The most prominent fund is Giza Polish Ventures which has many investments in startups. There is a good overview of the Polish startup scene on the Startup Poland web site and an American website called Google is excellent at providing lots of links and articles Passive aggressive Richard often refers people to this website as a starting point, but I don’t think now is the time.

Poland is a country with strong regional hubs. Cities like Gdańsk, Katowice, Lublin , Poznan, Rzeszow Szczecin, Wrocław as well as Kraków where I live and the capital Warsaw have startup activity. Berlin is just over the border too and Polish/German relations are better than would be believable a few years ago. Cheap flights and visa free travel (thanks to the European Union) to Europe and modernized airports mean that getting to London, Paris, Cambridge, Dublin, Milan and most other major European cities is very straightforward.

I’m biased towards Krakow – we have several world class startups here in Kraków – Estimote* world leader in Beacons, Base world leader in mobile first CRM, Brainly – a world leader in social learning. Integer Group is the world leader in final mile drop off pick up logistic and is active in 20 plus countries, Meble.pl is doing to furniture what Dell did to PC manufacturing. There are any number of smaller companies also doing interesting things.

Campus Warsaw has  opened  in 2015. This has put the Warsaw startup scene on steroids. It’s got off to a fantastic start. Previously Google for Entrepreneurs Krakow (GEK) did a great job. Hub.Raum in Kraków owned by T-Mobile. and Colab*.pl (a co-working space owned by members of the Startup community including me) have stepped forward to fill the gap left when Google departed. There is still a fan club for GEK here

The Krakow Startup community chose the hashtag and brand #OMGKRK ! Find links here omgkrk.com and here

There is an  excellent events listing site called Crossweb.pl . I won’t name any specific events for fear of annoying those in charge of the events  I omit.

TED and TEDx are active in Poland. Progressive, internationalist, open-minded people are involved. See their listings here I moderate a TEDx Fans group on Facebook here   I’m the Curator of TEDxKazimierz and a huge fan of the whole movement in Poland and worldwide.

The other community event I am closely connected to is Open Coffee Krakow which works very well indeed – low budget, high impact, useful and productive. Our Linkedin group is here Another group Silicon Valley Network is here  Finally my podcast Project Kazimierz showcases success and interesting initiatives usually connected to Poland.

JFE are going to link back to this blog post in their newsletter, and I encourage anyone interested in networking with them to sign up for their newsletter here

What’s next

In terms of possible outcomes and next steps – I hope this initiative triggers mutually beneficial contacts. Not just at the level of investments, but startups doing business, licensing technologies, buying selling each other’s products and services, outsourcing opportunities and pure research. Please leave a comment or let me know if it does. It’s good to keep track of the impact of actions. Perhaps JFE can visit Poland – members are warmly invited if they are thinking abut it do. Or maybe host a mission of Polish startups to the US. For sure there are people here who would welcome you. People do business with people, and personal contacts can be enriching. Maybe something with the JCC.

I’m not Jewish, Israeli or Polish (though I’ve spent most of my adult life in Poland)**. I am deeply internationalist in outlook and believe that flourishing businesses that create wealth, jobs and pay their taxes are the bedrock of free societies. We need all the prosperity and growth we can in these difficult times to pay for the many pressing challenges that face us.

If anyone reading this wants to get in touch, I cannot guarantee personal help but will do my best to get you in front of the right people. Readers are welcome to make contact via Linkedin

* I’m a shareholder in these ventures.
** since writing this article I’ve applied for and been granted Polish citizenship, for which I am profoundly grateful.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *