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The Krakow Startup scene: Interview with angel investor Richard Lucas

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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.​RaumIn­no­va­tion NestSatus 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.