“One of the reasons I am so bullish on Poland is because Poland is where Israel was at in the mid-1990s," says Dominik Andrzejczuk, an entrepreneur-cum-evangelist for the Polish tech scene.
Andrzejczuk, who has left Silicon Valley for his native Poland to help jet-power its tech industry, is not the only one who believes Poland could become Europe’s next tech superstar nation, following the likes of the UK, Germany, and Israel — Polish tech executives and business leaders are equally bullish.
And these advocates of Poland's booming tech industry have reason to be upbeat.
The foundations are already there: steady, long-term economic growth in Poland has encouraged streams of skilled émigré tech workers to return to their native country to work side-by-side with Poland’s widely admired young STEM students and workers (a high percentage of which are female).
Meanwhile, the Warsaw skyline is now filled with offices belonging to Google, Meta, and accountancy giants while Poland’s fintech and video games industries are flourishing.
Poland’s tech success stories
In recent years, Poland has become well known as an outsourcing giant, housing international firms’ IT and human resources, but it also has an array of standalone tech company stars.
Blik, a “Polish Paypal”, with 15 million users; Cinkciarz, Poland’s first large-scale currency exchange, and TenderHut, a software developer, based in the town of Bialystok dubbed “Silicon Forest”, are just three examples of its thriving tech scene.
It is perhaps no surprise that the entrepreneurial streak of many of today’s Polish tech leaders was spawned by witnessing first-hand the fall of Communism and its aftermath.
Blik CEO Dariusz Mazurkiewicz cites payments as a particularly fertile area in Poland.
“In recent years, the landscape of Polish startups has seen a remarkable surge in innovation, particularly in the field of payments.
“I would even add that the level of advancement of the payments market in Poland, especially in terms of mobile banking solutions, is significantly higher compared to those in Western Europe.”
Polish startup ecosystem “rapidly evolving”
Mazurkiewicz adds that the Polish startup ecosystem is “rapidly evolving”.
“Thanks to our qualified IT specialists, support through accelerators and incubators, and growing interest from both domestic and international investors, we're fostering an environment conducive to innovation,” he says.
“Nevertheless, there are challenges ahead related to securing funding, building global networks, and regulatory support, all of which are crucial for international expansion.”
Poland ahead of Western Europe
Piotr Arak, director of the Polish Economic Institute think-tank, points to Poland’s “very developed” overall financial services market.
“Our financial services market is very developed. The banking system was ranked by Deloitte 6th in the world in its Digital Banking Maturity index.
“UX of an average Polish bank is a couple of years ahead of what is available to the average West European. Banks in Germany, France or Spain are behind the curve.”
While most investment is directed at major Polish cities like Krakow and Warsaw, the lesser-known Bialystok, Poland’s largest city in northeastern Poland, has hopes of becoming a tech hub in its own right.
Dubbed the “Silicon Forest”, Bialystok is situated in the Podlaskie region, which can point to the strengths of its higher education institutions, R&D facilities, and agri-food sectors.
“We are all engineers and business people here,” Robert Strzelecki, CEO, TenderHut, located in Bialystok, told the Sunday Times.
Strzelecki says the startups located in Silicon Forest are collegiate and community-minded, borrowing programmers from their rivals or hiring students from Bialystok’s universities when needed.
Poland’s VC scene
After a strong 2021 and 2022, industry figures show a near year-on-year halving of funds flowing through the Polish VC market in 2023, down from €550 million to €283 million.
This can be partly attributed to the global downturn, as well as a long-standing delay of investment funds from one of the country’s most significant investors, PFR Ventures.
Broadly speaking, the Polish VC market is new, with an absence of legacy players.
But Andrzejczuk says the VC market is now maturing, elevating from predatory, deal-making to a more founder-friendly approach.
One complaint, highlighted by Piok, is the high-level of public funds invested in the market in recent years.
"This leads to some accusations of too much 'easy money' on the market, which makes it too easy to raise funds even for not so good ideas.”
Hoping to invigorate the VC market, Andrzejczuk says he is heading up to New York, speaking to financiers, with the lofty aim of putting together a private fund consortium of up to $2.5 billion to “help to revitalise the VC market in central and eastern Europe".
Poland the new Israel
Israel has established itself as one of the world’s top tech hubs over the past decade, a melting pot made up of a highly educated workforce including immigrants, acclaimed universities, government support, a high concentration of VC firms, and a unique culture that fosters innovation.
Andrzejczuk sees obvious parallels between Israel and Poland, pointing out that Poland is now where Israel was in the mid-90s before its tech boom exploded.
Parallels include both nations boasting a culture of entrepreneurs and a high density of highly skilled workers, including a disproportionately high level of highly skilled female engineers.
Likewise, Intel's recent $4.6 billion investment to create a new semiconductor chip assembly and testing facility in Poland, creating 2,000 jobs, is reminiscent of a similarly big-ticket investment from the US giant in Israel in the late 1980s.
With so much to shout about, it appears Poland is on the cusp of becoming a tech powerhouse. Yet, there are challenges aplenty.
For example, Andrzejczuk points to the lack of Madison Avenue-style savvy salesmen in Poland, to complement its STEM workforce.
Arak, meanwhile, says Poland still has some “unrealised potential’ given its 38-million strong population and the potential size of the economy.
A further challenge could be an unstable Polish government, in light of its recent election result.
Currently, Polish opposition parties have all rebuffed overtures by prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki to help form a coalition government wrecking his already slim chances of staying in power.
But Andrzejczuk, who is CEO and founder of deeptech startup, The Quantum Data Center Corporation, is undimmed in his belief that Poland is on the right path to becoming a tech giant nation. And many in Poland and across Europe agree with him.
Lead image: wirestock