The Krakow Startup scene: Interview with angel investor Richard Lucas
The startup scene in Krakow is booming and nobody knows this better than angel investor Richard Lucas. The British entrepreneur, an economics graduate from Cambridge, has been living and investing in Krakow for 24 years. We talked about entrepreneurship, the Krakow startup scene and the technology revolutions that lie ahead
Cafébabel: Does Krakow have a chance of being the Silicon Valley of Europe, as some suggest?
Richard Lucas: I think Krakow is in a great position to make strong progress and it has the chance to become a major part of the European startup ecosystem. Krakow has good infrastructure, with its academic and startup communities running a number of initiatives supporting entrepreneurship for young people. It would be nice to say we were going to become a Silicon Valley, but I'm not sure that's very realistic for anywhere in Europe in the near future. Silicon Valley is almost unique, particularly in terms of the amount of capital and the number of funds there investing huge amounts of money. There's nowhere in Europe like Silicon Valley.
As a British entrepreneur who has lived and done business in Poland for 24 years, it’s clear that the situation in Poland for business development is now totally different to how it was just after the end of communism. Back then it was a very poor country with very weak institutions. Since that time several crucial things have changed, including the mentality of Polish people towards running businesses. Now young Polish entrepreneurs are more open to networking, and they are now accustomed to working in a multicultural, international area as well. They're aware that they are capable of being internationally competitive and they’re ready to achieve success in Poland and in any other country as well.
In this time of European crisis, more and more young Europeans – especially students and recent graduates – are seeking alternatives to traditional careers. Many of them are considering starting their own digital businesses. Since you're an experienced entrepreneur and angel investor, who has helped develop many international companies, please could you reveal the key ingredients to business startup success?
Everyone can teach themselves to be an entrepreneur and everyone can be successful in business. Everyone! There's no such thing as a born entrepreneur. However, it requires skills and competences which can be acquired by hard work and motivation. If you're motivated you can do anything. Thanks to the internet, nowadays, aspiring entrepreneurs have great access to information, and the related opportunities that brings, no matter from which part of the world they come. You can quickly learn about business, marketing and promotion by listening to and watching English language podcasts and videos on YouTube that come from people with relevant experience. But then you must do something, because the only way to get experience is by doing things.
Of course, people who consider launching a ‘startup’ must be aware that it's always a risk. Obviously, your idea for a startup has to be a good one, but it's most important that it's well executed. There are a number of programmes like those of AIP or the various accelerator and investment funds like Chance Academy, Hub.Raum, Innovation Nest, Satus in Krakow, Gamma Rebels in Warsaw and Speedup and no doubt others. These give people some money in return for shares in their business, plus mentoring and support. Be aware however that sometimes the investment agreements that are presented to young entrepreneurs really stink. Get someone experienced to look through before signing anything.
Grants are also available from the European Union to help startups. However, in my opinion, the money that really matters is the money that comes from customers, not the money that comes from government grants. It's a false reality that someone has become an entrepreneur just because they've received a grant from the European Union.
Which kinds of project are currently most likely to attract investment- funding?
Everything to do with mobile access to the internet. The second thing is big data - using online readily-available infrastructure tools to process data cheaply. And the third thing is globalisation: it means an access to international markets, not just local markets.
There’s a whole line of issues to do with the benefits of computing and the internet being connected to everything. We're only just beginning to move into that world – the Internet of things. This idea that every device you can imagine potentially can be connected to the internet- whether it's your refrigerator, or your running shoes, or your car, or your lawnmower. Technology is everywhere. Teachers, museums, theatres need technology. Everyone. So it’s important that people from many professions lead the way in innovating and bringing-in new technological solutions. It’s no longer just about people with engineering and programming backgrounds.
Despite there being some high-profile cases of women-led business / startups, it still seems that this is a male-dominated environment. Can we predict that this will soon change?
Indeed, there's a big lack of women in senior positions in business and the startup community. Together with the Aspire Organization and Google For Entrepreneurs, we are inviting Sharon Vosmek, to Kraków.
Sharon Vosmek leads Astia, an organisation dedicated to bringing men and women together to address this problem. If you've got a startup, and there's a woman in your founding team, then Astia will help you find investors.