Interview with Chris Kowalczyk, organizer of Bitspiration and HardGamma Ventures Partner

Bitspiration – the conference on new technologies, business and startups, with a special focus on Central and Eastern Europe, will take place on June 12th-13th in Krakow, Poland. The event is organized by Chris Kowalczyk, HardGammaVentures Partner,  in order to boost Krakow as an entrepreneurial hub for Central and Eastern Europe. I had the pleasure to interview him and find out what is the current entrepreneurial status in Poland, what are the trends and how is Bitspiration helping the local (Poland, and entire CEE) startup environment. Read below the entire discussion.

Adelina: How is the entrepreneurship scene in Poland evolving lately (local startups, business angels, VCs)?

Chris: Although the market for VC / startups in Poland is still at its early stage of development, we do have funds, which have global companies in their portfolios. In comparison to more developed markets, the majority of Polish investments are made on seed funds-scale and oscillates around more than dozen up to tens thousands Euro. It’s rarely an amount of few millions of Euro. Even so, funds such as HardGamma advise their companies to go global from day one, not stay only on a local market. To keep that in mind is very important.

Adelina: What are the advantages of the area? How open it is to internationalism?

Chris: One of the biggest advantages of Poland in terms of new technologies development is a very high level of education for mathematicians, computer scientists and designers. Our coders are always in the first, second or third place of worldwide championships in group coding. We have technology parks, we organize startup weekends all around the country and numerous incubators where people can share ideas, learn from mentors and develop their products. So Poland already is a great space to gain knowledge and meet people that can help you create new projects. Are we internationally oriented? Yes. You can meet Internet entrepreneurs from Poland at SXSW, LeWeb or NEXT, cities like Krakow where Bitsiration will take place are very international, with offices of big companies like Google, Motorola or IBM. Come to Poland, you’ll see yourself!

Adelina: And how does it influence the European and global scene?

Chris: The first influence of Polish coders that we can notice easily is that our engineers have a great brand all over the world because they are initiative and talented but at the same time they work for less than American coders. For a company that is looking for someone who will come up with a solution, Polish programmer is a great candidate which is why a lot of big players from all around the world are headhunting in our country, setting up its offices here etc. I also think that Poland is mature enough to come up with a project that would be a global success compared to Skype or Soundcloud. .

Adelina: What does it need for further development? 

Chris: I think we still need to educate young entrepreneurs on how to be able to sell their ideas to the world and pitch them to investors and mentors. I work for international incubators like Springboard and very often see Polish and American people pitching their ideas. Usually Polish people have better projects and interesting technical solutions behind them, but these are the Americans who will get the funding, not them. Just because they know how to make a good presentation, they understand the value of networking and they have good business skills. For us this is still a challenge but I  believe we’re getting there.

Adelina: How is Bitspiration planning to help the development of the Polish startup scene (and perhaps Eastern Europe)? What is its competitive advantage?

Chris: If you go to LeWeb in Paris or SXSW in US, you have thousands of people running around and listening to speeches of invited guests. It’s usually very difficult to have an actual conversation
with the speaker – after his appearance he disappears in VIP lounge. We limited the number of tickets to 150 and instead of a big venue, part of the conference will take place in coffee shops in one of Krakow’s most picturesque neighborhoods. That atmosphere gives every participant a unique chance to meet in person a co-founder of Youtube or an investor from Silicon Valley, talk to him and have a real benefit from the conference. Second big difference is the price. For a conference on similar level in Paris, Berlin or Texas you have to pay around 1000 euro. Ticket for Bitspiration is only 500 euro which gives our friends from countries like Lithuania, Ukraine or Estonia a chance to also come and participate. The third difference is that Bitspiration has this Eastern European accent which is very attractive now for investors from USA or Western Europe. We combine experts from CEE with leaders of the industry form USA, London, France or Germany, which makes a unique mix.

(Tickets still available: http://bitspiration.com/registration-info)