On the Baltic Coast in Northern Poland, three cities have joined forces to create a burgeoning startup ecosystem and attract international companies to the region.

Having welcomed tech giants like Amazon and Intel who set up offices and R&D labs, the three towns Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot are becoming an attractive destination for Scandinavian companies just a short ferry ride away, and other entrepreneurs seeking a less competitive environment for their businesses.

Collaboration across companies, languages and cities is key to the Tricity’s success, so three startup experts have collectively shared their insights with Sifted: Marcin Popiel from Black Pearls VC, Agnieszka Cichocka from Starter incubator, and Mateusz Kurleto of Neoteric and head of strategy at Techseed.me accelerator.

“Geography really does matter; Gdańsk is a 90 minute flight away from London’s ecosystem, and close to the German ecosystem”

Marcin Popiel, investor relations manager, Black Pearls VC

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What is the region’s biggest strength as a startup hub?

Gdańsk has a strong ecosystem with one of the best Polish startup accelerators: Space3ac. It has about 30 companies in its portfolio, €45,000 in cash, no equity support, and currently 10 startups from abroad being accelerated.

There are also incubators like Starter, and the city hosts Infoshare Conference — the biggest tech event in CEE. And of course investors like Black Pearls VC.

Infrastructure for startups is another strength, centred around the Olivia Business Centre and O4 Coworking.

Finally, geography really does matter; Gdańsk is a 90 minute flight away from London’s ecosystem, and close to the German ecosystem.

What are some of the daily frustrations?

Gdańsk is one of the best cities to live in Poland — so there aren’t many frustrations — except maybe traffic!

There are many office spaces to rent (not only Olivia Business Centre, but also Alchemia and a few more.)

Human capital is really OK as we have Gdańsk University, Gdańsk Polytechnics and private schools here.

 

Agnieszka Cichocka, startup development manager at Starter incubator, along with Mateusz Kurleto, CEO of Neoteric and head of strategy at Techseed.me accelerator        

In what ways has the startup ecosystem changed over the last five years?

Gdańsk has changed a lot in the last few years, there has been a lot of investment in the city so a high number of global companies have opened offices here and also research and development centres.

This has created new office spaces and coworking spaces, and has introduced many more channels of support for startups and small businesses.

How easy is it to hire people? How easy is it to find funding?

We’re lucky that Poland has a lot of IT specialists and Gdańsk is a tech hub of great software houses. There are a lot of entrepreneurship and tech projects run for students and companies work closely with universities, which makes it easier to hire people.

But of course the market is developing so fast that sometimes finding enough talent is a challenge. The city of Gdańsk itself runs various programmes to attract foreign students, like Study in Gdańsk for students to spend time at a university, and Holiday internship — a programme for students run together with all the global brands in Gdańsk and smaller startups.

In Poland nowadays there is a lot of seed funding so it is pretty easy to find the funding for your first product phase.

What is the social side like?

The social side is truly great. Gdańsk is a wonderful historical city and we’re located on the seaside so people spend time on the beach together.

Beyond the workplace you can find loads of restaurants, museums, theatres and galleries. Some of the most interesting places are the European Solidarity Centre, The Amber Museum and the Shakespeare Theatre.

The Baltic Sea Cultural Centre run their Festival of World Cultures and many other events throughout the year.

Quick-fire questions

Answered by Agnieszka Cichocka (AC) and Marcin Popiel (MP)

Where is the best place to meet people?

AC: Incubator Starter offers great events for SMEs and startups, also Olivia Business Centre and Alchemia are great coworking spaces to meet people.

MP: To do business, it’s the Olivia Business Centre

What is the best event/meetup to attend?

AC: The best event for foreigners is to attend is Meetup Expats in Tricity – you can meet so many people. Also PLUGin Foundation organise interesting meetups, like a practical workshop about implementing AI in your business.

MP: Infoshare

Who are the important people you need to know?

AC:

Tomasz Szymczak – CEO Incubator Starter

Mateusz Kurleto – CEO Neoteric and head of strategy at Techseed.me accelerator

Maciej Halbryt – PLUGin

Aleksandra Dulkiewicz – The Mayor of Gdańsk

Jan Wyrwiński – managing partner at VC Alfabeat

Wojciech Drewczyński – Black Pearls VC

MP:

Marcin P. Kowalik, Black Pearls VC

Wojciech Drewczyński, Space3ac accelerator (and Black Pearls VC)

Grzegorz Borowski, Infoshare

Where is the best location to work?

AC: Przymorze, where most companies are located, next to the University of Gdańsk

MP: Aside from the Olivia Business Centre, there’s also ppnt: a really cool technology park in Gdynia.

Which are the companies everyone wants to work for?

AC: Lufthansa systems, Amazon, PwC and other big corporates

Biggest startup success story from the region?

AC: Airhelp streamlining flight disruption compensation, email marketing platform GetResponse, Uxpin for product design collaboration, Biolumo tackling antibiotic resistance, DLabs providing tools for efficient business workflows.

MP: An old story is the text-to-speech company IVONA, who created Amazon Echo voice and was acquired by Amazon. But a few others worth mentioning right now are:

Another speech-to-text product, Voice Lab, using voice biometrics for security in banking and the Polish Justice System.

Advanced Protection Systems (APS) who commercialised a defensive system against intrusive drones.

Quantum CX who use sensors to detect and promote smiling to improve face-to-face customer service

And I’ll add my vote for GetResponse and UXPin.

Which are the 5 most exciting companies to watch?

AC: Pelixar making unmanned drone and aircraft devices, SpaceForest developing new technology for AI, satellites and rockets, and Samurai Labs using artificial intelligence to eliminate internet harassment and violence.

Which newsletters or websites are the ones to follow?

AC:

Inkubatorstarter

Neoteric’s blog

The Tri-City’s regional portal for news, events, culture, company databases and more.

Which online communities are the ones to join?

AC:

Expats in Tricity

Facebook groups Rozmowy o startupach and Starterowcy

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