Startup madness in Poland: three events in one week and a launch of a new fund

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This week startup contests at Startup Weekend Poznan, E-nnovation and Startup Fest have been keeping entrepreneurs and investors out of the office. For some it may appear unproductive but for Chris Kowalczyk, the founder of HardGamma venture fund and an accelerator called GammaRebels, startup competition is another form of dealflow.

Today Kowalczyk and other investors were judging presentations at the Startup Fest, openly exchanging their opinions in tweets and cheering for the best pitches, instead of keeping the deals private to fend off the competitors.

The competition to find and fund promising companies is indeed increasing in Poland. Seed money supported by EU funding is easily available, according to entrepreneur Kamil Bargiel, the founder of SentiOne, funded by Warsaw-based AI NOT, the non-profit accelerator, and ShareLook, an AIP Seed Capital portfolio company.

Kowalczyk raised 700 000 Euros for his Warsaw-based HardGamma seed and early stage fund after supporting Codility as an angel investor. Codility, the developer of practical coding tests, won both contests: Seedcamp in 2009 and TC Europas in 2010. It is already a profitable business. Now he has just closed ProFound Ventures’ fund of 2.5 million Euros, with the help of the EU money.

In Poznan, the fifth largest Polish city, seed funding is available from the SpeedUp Group. Its investment vehicle Speedup Investments raised 3 million Euros from business angels, and still has money to invest into three more projects. SpeedUp IQbator and LMS Invest, both supported by the EU funding, raised 4 million and 2.4 million Euros respectively. According to Bartłomiej Gola, the managing partner of SpeedUp Group, the fundraising efforts are still ongoing for the new fund, aiming to raise total of 10-15 million Euros.

This week, a new early stage venture fund called Innovation Nest, based in Cracow, has closed its funding round and now has 40 million Zloty (13 million Euros)  to invest into early stage tech companies.

Innovation Nest is co-founded by Peter Wilam. Previously a co-founder of the largest Polish website Onet.pl and an angel investor in Merlin.pl, the Polish clone of Amazon, he is a known guru in Polish tech entrepreneurship.

Wilam’s goal is to support Polish entrepreneurs with global ambitions. Yet many startups appear to be rather domestically focused, since the Polish market is attractive enough to build clones of successful Western companies. Also the language can sometimes be a barrier. For example, the pitches at the StartupFest were delivered in Polish, allegedly leaving the guest of the event, Seedcamp’s Carlos Espinal, baffled and confused. Startup Weekend Poland requires pitching in English, yet it is rather an exception to the rule.

Aside from the choice of language, the Polish startup ecosystem appears to be well developed. The startups can pitch at various events. An invitation-only PitchRally takes place every month, where a keynote address by a featured guest is followed by pitches and networking.

There are also Startup Weekends. Last weekend it took place in Poznan, bringing to life a fantastic idea for a mobile application. Kidd.ly, which is barely a week old, aims to help parents motivate their children to do the chores. The next Startup Weekend is in Poland on the 18th of November.

E-nnovation is the main Polish conference for tech entrepreneurs with international ambition. This week judges named an Egyptian startup, SuperMama, the winner and the recipient of 10 000 Euros and two laptops.

And for those who need to get a shot of entrepreneurial energy on a regular basis, there are Open Coffee meetings in Warsaw every Wednesday.

Then there are specialised tech media blogs such as Mamstartup and Antyweb that cover the tech community, and even a startup mansion, Reaktor.net, a co-working space founded by Borys Musielak, a co-founder of Hackbox Filmaster.

The accelerator GammaRebels is an important element of the startup landscape. It offers 4600 Euros for 10% equity and a three-month mentoring programme. Currently it is preparing teams in the first edition for the demo day, which will take place on the 26th of October. Investors, save the date! Given the TechCrunch coverage during the selection process, the accelerator received many applications from abroad, and now has a Lithuanian startup, Busyflow (a project management tool which combines the best productivity tools into one flow), and even an Indian company, Resmesh (an easy-to-use tool to create a personal website for social and professional identity) in its current edition.

The latest of the startup events, StartupFest, has just announced the winner. Saveup supports impulse purchase decisions by enabling users to take a photo of a product with a mobile phone, and buy the product immediately online. It uses advanced image recognition technology to identify products, and find equivalent in the online stores. The team presented at the Startup Week Vienna earlier this month as one of the top ten startups selected out of 500 that originally applied for the contest.

Now let us see if investors will put their money where their tweets are. See #StartupFest for more insight.