Start-up of the Day: Spaceflow digitizes a platform for tenants and landlords

Czech start-up Spaceflow is introducing technology to one of the most old-fashioned sectors – that of residential and office property rentals. “Our aim is to help digitize life in buildings for their occupants by providing easy access to all services, shared resources and the communication flow in the surrounding areas,” says Lukas Balik, company co-founder and CEO.  Spaceflow was set up 3 years ago by a former economy student and two experts from the real estate sector. “They knew that change was just around the corner. Together we saw that we could make a difference with a technological platform for tenants,” says Lukas. It seems that they were right. Today the start-up operates in 12 countries, including the US, UK, Denmark, Germany, and Japan. Recently it raised €1.6 million in funding.

What exactly is Spaceflow?

Lukas Balik: We are a property technology company. Spaceflow is an app that connects buildings with their tenants. It enables communication between a tenant and building owners or managers as well as with other tenants. The app can help you to book common spaces such as meeting rooms, parking spots or amenities such as a barbecue, or report maintenance issues to the building managers. It can facilitate connections to services in the area, for example dry cleaning, food delivery. Also, it is a hub for further smart building integrations such as smart access.

Are these things really such a problem for tenants that they need a special app to book a parking space or report a leaking faucet?

Firstly, if you, as a landlord, want to attract and keep tenants, you must react to current trends when tenants increasingly want top-notch services and a range of amenities. As a landlord, you can offer them various services, like fitness, wellness, food delivery and so on. Technology can help you to do that. More importantly, landlords can get new streams of revenue this way. Through the app, property managers can streamline payments for services and keep an eye on margins.

What is about the innovation that makes you different from your competitors?

The app has a number of components and modules. For example, we connect our platform with other smart building solutions. To give an example, we can connect it with digital lockers, a parking system or an access system so you don’t need to use physical cards to open the door. Instead, you do that with your phone. Also, we have an in-house team of community managers. This is crucial, because sometimes landlords don’t have the capabilities or the time to deal with new technologies. So, our community managers can help them to bring the project on board and acquire the right content and services for the users. They also help to evaluate what works well, get the right data from the platform and curate the best possible experiences for the tenants.

What was the best moment in the company’s history?

Recently. That relates to our latest investment round with solid partners who helped us scale our platform for the new markets. Another big thing for us is that we have just launched our first project with Allianz. Who, apart from being a major insurance company, is also one of the biggest real estate owners globally. The company has more than 60 billion assets under management. Our first project for Allianz is in their flagship building The Icon in Vienna.

And what was the most difficult moment?

I think it was when the company just started out, when every mistake that you make can hit you quite hard. When we started the first pilot, we chose an external IT company instead of building our own IT team. Yet an external agency is always a step too far. We had to figure out how to put our own IT team together. If you want to build something for the long term and for a global market, you have to be close to your developers in order to be able to design the best features and the best product.

What are your plans for coming year?

Obviously the most important thing is to have as many happy clients and users across the market as possible. For that, we’re strengthening our business development teams in several locations. Our focus in this round is on penetrating the European market and we also want to have our first large projects in the US. I’d love to see a lot of progress within a year. We might potentially be able find partners in the US in the next investment round.

What do you want to do in 5 years?

Our ultimate goal is that Spaceflow will become the standard for every commercial and residential building.

Are you interested in start-ups? Read all articles from our series here.

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Start-up of the Day: Neuron Soundware uses AI and IoT to hear if a machine is damaged

How can you check if an engine is damaged? You can wait until it stops working. Then it is obviously broken. You can take an engine completely apart and examine every single part of it. But then the machine is switched off for a while. You can also listen to the engine while it is working. And this is exactly what the start-up Neuron Soundware does. This company specializes in audio diagnosis of machines. Every machine makes sound while performing its tasks. If there is a mechanical issue, the sound signature of a machine changes. For example, the engine might make extra squeaks, says Pavel Konecny, the company’s CEO and founder. However, Neuron Soundware does much more than what a car mechanic does when they say that something is banging around in the engine. The technology developed by this Prague-based start-up allows you to determine from the engine’s sound if it is working properly. Or if it is close to breaking down. Or even how long it can operate without breaking down. Neuron Soundware uses sound to detect mechanical problems in machines.

CEO & Founder_Pavel Konecny

How do you do it?

Pavel Konecny, CEO: We use a combination of technologies that use Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things to detect changes in sound made by machines in use. We created a system of piezoelectronic microphones mounted on the machine. They sense machine’s movements which we humans can hear as sound. Next, we digitize that signal with our IoT device placed close to the machine. We train the AI to recognize when the machine has any issues and when it works properly. The system learns the machine’s standard movements as well as any anomalies. If the system hears any kind of anomaly, we let the customer about it by email or text message.

At present, we have experience with 16 different types of machines and about 100 IoT devices that have listened to various machines. But it’s not a complete list. We are aiming to add more machines. As each machine type has many different sizes and configurations, we tend to focus on the calibration of algorithms for certain types of machine. If a client comes with a specific machine, we process it on our location, our Acoustic Academy. This is where we collect sounds samples. We record them, test the sensors’ position and after all that, we can add that machine to the list of supported solutions.

There are few companies around the world specializing in acoustic technologies. What is the difference between you and them?

Our competitor from Israel provides a simpler solution than we do. They only focus on production performance and haven’t attempted to address predictive maintenance tasks. When it comes to our rivals from the US, the difference is technical. We are monitoring the machines every second 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their system can read data once a hour. Also, they rely more on traditional techniques when it comes to accessing machines. Our focus is more on learning from data.

What has been the best moment in the company’s history?

When the CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella mentioned Neuron Soundware and what we do in his keynote speech that he held in Prague. He could have chose nany other AI startup, but he chose to speak about us. It really was a show of appreciation for us.

What are your plans for a coming year?

We are moving our focus from designing and building a product to focusing on the efficient delivery of our products. Currently,  we are considering partners for the manufacture of the device and building up standard delivery procedures. We have to learn how to scale up the standard sales and delivery solutions. We’ve just increased the number of people in our sales team and we are building up all the procedures around sales and support of our customers, partners and distributors.

Where would you like to be in 5 years?

We want to monitor hundred thousands of different machines all over the world. That’s is definitely possible. Our study estimates a possible market of up to 200 million machines and about €65 billion in revenue. So there is really plenty of room where we can scale up.

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Start-up of the day: cooling air with air

“That won’t work! It’s like a Harry Potter spell!” – These are the kinds of words he heard when he first applied to one of the accelerator programs. It’s true, their idea does sound a bit like a magic trick, as DAC wants to revolutionize cooling technologies and cool air with air. Yet behind this idea are not Hogwarts’ wizards, but a team of Ukrainian engineers and scientists instead. Each of whom has numerous scientific publications to their names along with several patents. The originator and leader of the project is Oleksandr Razumtsev, holder of 6 patents and author of 25 scientific papers. Pavel Panasjuk (from the Czech Republic) is responsible for business development. And they registered the company in Poland, because ultimately there was a venture capitalist there who believed in the scientists’ idea.

What is the Dynamic Air Cooling system that you have invented?

Pavel Panasjuk, COO: It’s a cooling technology that doesn’t use any chemicals or water. It is about converting energy that is in the air into kinetic energy. So, warm air flows under low pressure through our equipment. Some of the thermal energy is taken away during this process and the air then becomes colder. In a nutshell, we cool the air with air. It sounds kind of like a perpetuum mobile. But it works. In May this year we built a prototype just to prove that it is feasible. At present we are able to cool the air by 60°C. For instance, we can cool 3 sq. meters of 30° C air down to -30°C and we need only 60 seconds to do that.

What’s the reason behind this technology? Is there a problem with the cooling equipment that is currently on the market?

The technologies currently in use are harmful because they use chemicals for cooling which are 4000 times more dangerous for the environment than CO2. Just 250 grams of chemicals used in refrigeration systems have the same climate effect as 1 tonne of CO2 emissions. There are already technologies out there that use water for cooling. But in countries where there are extremely high temperatures, there is always a problem with access to water. Except it’s not the case that we’re solving one problem by worsening another problem. Some countries, as with the European Union and the G7, have understood this problem and have since ratified the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which obligates them to limit the use of chemical substances in cooling processes. Therefore, we must come up with a completely new technology that is environmentally safe and doesn’t use chemicals or water.

What obstacles are you facing?

First and foremost, funding. So far, we have covered about 90% of the costs for the research and production of the prototype with our own money. We received 10% from investors and an investment fund. But now we need further funding in order to be able to progress. We estimate that we need about €700,000 to get the product to the stage where we can offer it on the market. The second issue is people. Our team is prepared for the technical process. But adapting our device to the various markets and industries is very challenging. Therefore, we now have to expand our team with people who understand marketing, patent protection, product design and communication with investors.

What was the worst time for the company?

When we switched on the prototype for the very first time. We almost burned everything down. We built the device from parts available on the market and bought an electric turbocharger. Unfortunately, the turbocharger was designed for cars and not for cooling equipment. When we connected the prototype to the power supply, it was a fiasco. Oil fired out of the turbocharger. It was even on the ceiling. After consulting with the manufacturer, we modified it. That was one of the best times for the company.

What happened next?

Oleksandr called me and told me that everything worked. After 4 years of research and preparation, what our assumptions about our theories turned out to be accurate.

What are your plans for the coming year?

In the first place, securing a patent and preparing a complete patent strategy and expanding our team. We already have Ukrainian and Czech patents, now we want to extend our patent protection. The second thing is the producing a prototype for one of our clients. At the moment our equipment is at TLR4.

We have signed an agreement for the construction of cooling equipment for a commercial space which the client will test out.

Where do you want to be in 5 years?

According to our plan, in 2 ½ years we will have a finished product which we shall enter the market with. And in 5 years’ time, we want our technology to be recognized by other manufacturers and be used in their equipment. Because we don’t want to just sell our equipment. We want to sell technology that will make this world at least a little bit better.

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Start-up of the day: nanotechnology will help treat intestinal diseases

Illustratie Sovigo

250,000 Europeans suffer from Crohn’s disease. More than 700,000 patients are in the United States. There are also thousands more in Japan, Australia and Canada. In total, several million people worldwide live with the diagnosis of “chronic inflammation of the intestines.” And with its unpleasant symptoms, of which frequent diarrhea is one of the least problematic. The richer a country is and the more northward it is, the more likely it is that its inhabitants suffer from this disease.

Sovigo is a company that aims to alleviate these medical issues with a precise method for targeting disease. It was founded by two biotechnologists: Paweł Mituła and Grzegorz Kiełbowicz. Previously, Paweł used to work in projects within the field of nanotechnology for chemical companies. Grzegorz worked for the pharmaceutical industry. They have now joined forces and want to apply nanotechnology to pharmacy. For their first area of focus, they chose diseases of the digestive system and started out with non-specific diseases of the intestines.

Paweł Mituła, COO

You want to help people suffering from ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, except you are not inventing a new cure. What exactly are you doing?

Paweł Mituła, COO: We are working on a new technology for administering medicines via nanotechnology. We are making nanocapsules which are about 100 nanometers in size. These can be filled with medicinal substances as they’re already available on the market. These nanocapsules become part of the tablet that the patient swallows … and the tablet then makes its way to the stomach where it is digested. So how does a nanoparticle tablet differ from a regular tablet? In the stomach, the tablets are protected with a special coating. Nanoparticles are released from the tablet during the later stages of the digestive process. They subsequently dissolve and gradually release the drug only in the places where the disease is also prevalent. Of course, in order to develop these types of nanoparticles, we need to be very familiar with the disease and understand its specific characteristics.

Why such a solution? Why not keep to the traditional way of administering medicine?

Drugs very often have a lot of side effects. When a patient swallows a regular tablet, only part of the medicine goes to the right place where the disease is. The rest gets spread throughout the body and frequently affects healthy organs. In cases like these, it is often necessary to increase the dose of the drug, e.g. by frequent repetition of the dose. In the end, that means that the total dosage of the drug might be very high. As we can precisely administer drugs that are enclosed in our capsules directly to the area where the disease is, we are able to protect the patient against several negative consequences. We can avoid drug penetration of healthy tissue and reduce the drug dose and its side effects. As well as further improve therapeutic effectiveness by reducing the occurrence of drug resistance. The structure of our nanocapsules consists mainly of bio-compatible molecules which facilitate penetration into cell membranes. Therefore, the effectiveness of the drug is increased via this kind of administration. Moreover, the medication is able to be taken less frequently. The capsule is glued to the medication as if it were “adhesive tape.” This helps the capsule to move very slowly through the affected area and gradually releases the drug as it does so. Thanks to our technology, drugs are already available on the market which can be administered more effectively and avoid any unnecessary side effects.

What is the biggest obstacle for you?

Availability of research equipment. We operate in an extremely narrow field and need very specific equipment. Like, for example, nanostructure analysis devices – microscopes that allow you to see how our nanocapsules are built. Wroclaw, where we have our headquarters, is very well equipped with this kind of apparatus. Yet it is not just in one place, but scattered around various institutions. Therefore, it takes us a long time to carry out research as we are forced to drive all over the place in order to do it.

Are you a fledgling company or can you already talk about some successes?

We have some excellent research results. We have managed to successfully scale up a few prototype ideas. Which is a major challenge when it comes to nanomaterials. I think that if we did our research at a university and published it, we would already have made it into some very good scientific journals by now. The idea itself has stirred up a lot of interest among both doctors and patients in the pharmaceutical industry. The fact that the subject matter is not that easy and yet we have still managed to solve new problems step by step – well that really motivates us. I think that the turning point and a decisive success will be the validation of our critical analytical method and processes for the pharmaceutical industry. Along with any successful initial results from our biological research.

What are your plans for the coming year?

By the end of this year we want to finish the proof-of-concept phase. I’m talking about biological research, which should prove the effectiveness of our technology using biological systems. We would also like to submit a patent application. Only after that will we look for a strategic investor.

Where do you imagine the company in 5 years?

We want Sovigo to become a synonym for modern and groundbreaking oral drug administration systems. In 5 years time, we hope that we will develop 4-6 projects in parallel with each other. Followed up by at least one commercial launch and hopefully several other projects will be in the clinical trial phase. We also want to develop our technologies in the area of nano-pharmacovigilance production lines.

Polish invention combats UV-radiation

The record heat in Europe has also being enjoyed by scientists from Łódź (Poland). Among their own inventions are materials that protect against UV radiation. We usually remember about UV radiation when the sun is out and shining brightly. Then we smear ourselves in sunscreen and cover our bodies with clothes in the hope that we will be kept safe from the sun. Nothing could be further from the truth. Creams and ordinary clothes protect only to a small extent. 95% of UVA radiation from the sun reaches the Earth regardless of the season or cloud cover. It easily penetrates through clothing (even thick clothing), skin and reaches the deep layers of our skin.

The list of damage it causes there is long. UV radiation causes photosensitization. It accelerates skin aging. It causes changes in DNA as well as cancers, e.g. melanoma. And not just that – says Prof. Jadwiga Sójka-Ledakowicz from the ŁUKASIEWICZ – Textile Institute in Łódź. Ultraviolet radiation is equally as harmful to all kinds of objects. Under its influence, paper deteriorates in museums and archives, paint fades in paintings, parchment crumbles.

Almost 100% protection

What if instead of a cotton shirt, you could wear a T-shirt that absorbs that radiation? How about installing roller blinds in an art gallery which are made of fabric that reflect harmful UV rays? It is possible. These kinds of materials were developed at the Institute of Textiles. Fabrics produced by local scientists protect against UVA, UVB, UVC, and their UPF (Ultraviolet Protective Factor) ratio is greater than 40 as well. This means they block almost 100% of ultraviolet radiation.

To be more precise, scientists from the Institute in cooperation with researchers from several other Polish scientific institutions, created two types of innovative absorbers, i.e. special chemical substances that absorb and reflect ultraviolet radiation. They then integrated these into the structure of textile materials.

The first type is organic absorbers which are based on triazine. These are in the form of colorless dyes, which, when added to the color bath process of the fabric, are absorbed by the material’s structure and give it UV-absorbing properties. They can be used with cellulose-based materials such as cotton, viscose, flax or blends with cellulose-based fibers. “It’s not just about clothing absorbing UV radiation. A person in this type of clothing must feel comfortable, should not sweat, the fabric must have enough breathability and include the necessary parameters for releasing water vapor as well as for retaining color when exposed to various wet and dry conditions,” says Prof. Jadwiga Sójka-Ledakowicz. The second type of absorbers are inorganic absorbers. These are based on micro- and nanoparticles of metal oxides (titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and copper oxide) and oxide composites with silica. They are introduced onto the surface of the material either by coating it with a special paste or by aqueous dispersion containing micronized particles from a modifier. The fabric protected this way consequently reflects UVA, UVB and UVC radiation. In addition, nanoparticles inhibit the growth of microorganisms. This type of material may be used to produce roller blinds, awnings, umbrellas, garden furniture or other objects that are meant to protect against UV rays.

Banknotes under UV-lamps

Scientists from Łódź developed the materials as part of a larger scientific project called ‘Envirotex.’ At the same time, a clothing line was created for people who spend a lot of time in the sun, e.g. farmers, builders or sports referees, as well as for people working with bactericidal lamps or who check the authenticity of banknotes. For example, protective gloves for people who check banknotes’ authenticity under UV lamps, protective T-shirts for the teams renovating tram tracks in Łódź, and roller blinds which protected the exhibits at the Academy of Fine Arts. The Institute received patent protection for its absorbers and their manufacturing technologies.

IW has already been granted several licenses for the technologies it has invented.  I hope that products made of our materials will soon be appearing on the market. We do laugh about how climate change – global warming – does raise the interest in these type of materials, Prof. Sójka-Ledakowicz says.

 

Start-up of the day: artificial intelligence for safer rehabilitative therapy

Structural intelligence in combination with sensors could be the future of telemedicine – this is how mission of the Aisens start-up can be summed up. What to do if you invented an innovative technology, but suddenly the market has changed and nobody wants your invention anymore? Adam, Jarosław and Piotr, the founders of the Polish start-up Aisens, have faced that kind of problem. All three of them studied automation and robotics together.

Later, their paths went their separate ways. Adam ran his own business. Jarosław and Piotr stayed at the university and invented new technologies. When they developed sensors for precise drone orientation in space, Adam joined them in order to help transform an invention into a business. However, when the market changed, the founders were left behind with interesting technology, but without any idea how to use it. Then Jarosław’s wife, who is a physiotherapist by profession, offered her help. The founders learned from her all about what problems physiotherapists have to face every day. It turned out that sensors, which were originally supposed to be for drones, is able to be successfully used in the treatment of patients. Subsequently Orthyo was created – a system that aids rehabilitation safely by remote.  Recently the device entered the market after more than one and a half years of work.

What exactly is Orthyo?

Adam Woźniak, CEO: “Orthyo is a set of sensors and an application that is used in physiotherapy and rehabilitative therapy. It has two features. First of all, it supports diagnostics. Currently physiotherapists, occupational therapists and orthopedists just use their eyes in order to assess the mobility of joints and range of motion. Or they use a goniometer, i.e. an adjustable protractor. Its level of accuracy depends on how precisely it is applied to the patient’s body. Orthyo specifies the measurements. After placing sensors on the patient’s elbow or knee joint, the specialist collects parameters about the mobility of the joints. This type of examination can be carried out during the first visit to the clinic, but it can also be done during subsequent visits in order to evaluate the effectiveness of a therapy.”

And the second feature?

We enable safe telerehabilitation. Patients nowadays often either don’t do their exercises at home at all, as they don’t remember them or are afraid that they will hurt themselves. Or they exercise incorrectly and actually worsen their condition. Thanks to our device it is possible to record a series of exercises for any given patient at the clinic. We somehow personalize the therapy this way. The patient puts on sensors at home and when they exercise they see their avatar (e.g. their virtual hand or leg) on the screen. They are then able to compare their movements to the model movement and correct themselves if necessary. After completing a series of exercises, they can send the results to the server for the therapist.

The best moments for the company have been …?

The very first one was when we received a grant of 180 thousand PLN for the development of the idea after just giving a PowerPoint presentation. The second time was when we got to go to the  Startupbootcamp Digital Health accelerator in Berlin. There were 3,000 entries from all over the world, and we made it into the top ten. That’s when we stopped having second thoughts. The third time was when we signed a deal with an investment fund. Then other people started to believe that we were capable of building much more.

The most difficult time for the company?

There are always difficult moments. Sometimes the financing from investors didn’t keep up with our plans. The certification process for the medical device was not easy either, but finally we managed to complete it.

What are your plans for the next year?

By the end of the year we want to validate our business model. We expect that we will be selling Orthyo Pro kits to clinics and from that patients will be renting Orthyo Home sensors for their homes. This year we would like to sell a few dozen or so sets to clinics in Poland and have a few hundred or so patient rentals. In the next 12 months we would also like to approach foreign markets. We are already holding talks on these matters with foreign partners.

What do you want to achieve in 5 years?

We want to be a fully-fledged, self-financing company that operates on several continents and has its branches in several countries around the world, and have a portfolio which includes more products based on artificial intelligence and sensors.

 

All of our articles on start-ups can be found here.

 

 

Start-up of the day: satellite data for precision-engineered farming

SatAgro: Space technologies for small-scale farms.

Innovation in agriculture is a serpent that eats its own tail.

That’s why a revolution must take place – says Przemysław Żelazowski, CEO of the start-up company SatAgro.

Przemysław Żelazowski is a scientist. His studies in Poland have provided him with an understanding of environmental conservation. During his doctoral studies at Oxford, he learned about the potential benefits of satellite-based monitoring. Working in Rome for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization introduced him to agriculture issues. Nowadays, he combines these experiences in his start-up SatAgro.

Together with Krzysztof Stopa (the head of the CTO research center in Poland), he created a product that allows even small-scale farmers to monitor their crops with satellite images and to make the switch to precision farming.

Your product is a satellite information system for farmers. In plain language, what is it exactly?

Przemysław Żelazowski:
It is an easy-to-use application for farmers that firstly gives them real-time information from satellite images about the status and the diversity of the crops in their fields. Then it provides instructions for agricultural machinery, e.g. how to fertilize or sow. To be clear, we don’t offer rigid solutions such as how many kilograms of fertilizer should be used for every part of the field. We offer a flexible tool which the farmer can easily customize in order to suit their situation. For example, if the agronomists see in that the first satellite images show that wheat is not growing so well in one section of the field yet is faring much better in another section, the farmer might prefer to concentrate their efforts on the weaker growth areas. That’s how they can subsequently fertilize this area of the field more intensively. But if it is too late in the season, then they are not likely to invest that much in the weakest part of the field. A way to do this is as follows:  the farmer answers a few questions and based on this information, instructions can be made with our software which takes the various crop conditions into account. A dosage chart is created that is tailored to the specific requirements of the crops. These instructions are compatible with machinery that is being used. In certain cases, such as with John Deere equipment, agronomists are able to download data from a satellite, automatically create instructions for fertilizing multiple fields and send these by remote control to the machine’s terminal, all within a matter of minutes.

What problem does SatAgro resolve?

In the era of climate change, innovation in agriculture is like a serpent that eats its own tail. The Green Revolution in agriculture during the 2nd half of the 20th Century has resulted in a huge increase in efficiency. Yet conversely, there are plenty of adverse effects as well: soil degradation, chemical contamination, loss of biodiversity. There is a risk that biodiversity will be lost as a result of chemical contamination. There is also risk that the whole system is unstable, as the latest IPCC report points out. That is why we need new agrarian technologies. Precision farming is one such method. It enables farmers to optimize the dosage for their resources, e.g. fertilizers, pesticides or phytohormones, thereby reducing their environmental impact. However, I won’t hide the fact that this is only part of the solution to the challenges that agriculture is facing. This is what we can do to help and we do it very well, but the chemical composition of pesticides or crop properties are quite beyond our scope.

There are already companies on the market that use satellite images for monitoring crops. How are you different from your competitors?

First of all, we are good at automating all the processes and we have created a system that allows a great number of users to operate the system by remote control.

Secondly, we are open to working with small-scale farms, including with what we have mentioned above. Usually such technologies like ours are designed for farmers who have hundreds of acres of land. We also offer services for smaller farms, and we have prices that are more in line with mass production rather than exclusive rates. From one hectare upwards is the size of a field that can be monitored.

 What are the biggest obstacles for the company?

Market education. When I talked to business owners in 2015 and showed them the prototype, I came across as a loony from outer space. Now it’s gotten much better. Farmers are already more familiar with these technologies and they are more comfortable with them. We have more and more competition, which also serves to educate the market. At the moment, we’ve got no complaints about the number of people who want to get on board.

What have been the best moments so far?

When we signed the first contracts. It was a great feeling after 1, 5 years of working on the programming to finally be able to present the prototype. And to hear from the CEO of a large farm that he never thought that something like this was possible – and that it was created by a Polish company too! This was a key moment, as we were all exhausted from our work. We got some great positive feedback and a huge boost from those first few customers.

What are your plans for the coming year?

First of all, we want to enter into the field of water management in a major way. We have been preparing our application for a long time now and the time has come this year for us to show it to the world. The second thing is that we are working with the support of the European Space Agency on a monitoring system which can be applied on a regional and national scale. It is crucial that we are able to quickly identify and respond to threats such as drought or frost. As far as our business operations are concerned, we are planning to enter new markets in those areas in the European Union and North America. Last year we devoted our time to preparing the SatAgro so that the service could easily be launched in other countries in the future. So, now we have to find customers there.

What do you want to achieve in the next 5 years?

In five years time we want our service to be widely available and to be known as a useful think-tank. We want to generate information quickly about what is happening to crops and how to manage them and be responsive. Personally, I want us to create tools that increase awareness of plant cultivation which forms the basis for our nutrition as well as our food security.

 

 

Start-up of the day: Forget Siri and Alexa. Now meet Edward, a portable AI sales assistant.

Edward is the “child” of Tomasz Wesołowski and Bartłomiej Rozkruta. Previously, they both ran their own software development business and produced software on commission. Then they noticed that clients did not want complicated programs and difficult interfaces. Ideally, they should simply be able to talk to a computer. That is why Tomasz and Bartek are working on a solution in their latest company: ” This AI works fast, is pleasant and easy to use, and underneath they have algorithms that automate some of the most common tasks”.

Who is Edward?

Tomasz Wesołowski, CEO and co-founder Edward AI: Edward is a portable smart sales assistant. This is a mobile phone application, which during the day tells the retailer what to do next and also does some of the typical things for them which no salesman likes to do. Such as filling in data, filing reports, making notes, keeping an eye on the contact with the client. For example, after a meeting with a client, Edward will ask for a memo to be dictated to it, then record it in text form and extract key information from it.

What’s the matter with Edward?

People have less and less time to use traditional computers, and retailers are particularly affected. They are constantly on the road, at meetings with clients. Plenty of things are going on around them, so they may easily forget about something. The last thing they want to do at the end of the day is to open up their computer and type in all the things that happened. That’s why we make life easier for them with Edward. Our assistant tells them what to do, some of the things it does for them. Therefore, at the end of the day, the retailer will automatically have more time for their customers and for themselves.

Edward_screeny_en

What are you better at than the competition?

We operate in a narrow market segment. Around the world, we have identified around 10 other smart sales assistants. What distinguishes us is that we are not dependent on one language. At this point, Edward “speaks” Polish and English, but we could easily have it be translated into other languages.

And furthermore, Edward is flexible. This is not a program that works the same way within every organization. Yet we can quickly personalize it depending on the specific requirements of any given company. For example, in some companies there is a requirement that after each conversation with a customer, the retailer should mark the categories of products they have discussed and make a note. Edward does that. In other companies, there may be no requirement to submit reports after each conversation, but salespeople may have to focus on meetings and fill in a special questionnaire during meetings. Then, for example, the questionnaire can be filled in by dictating it to Edward.

What are the biggest obstacles you are facing?

Educating the marketplace remains the biggest obstacle. Creating an innovative solution must also create a market for it. Therefore, our work with customers often consists of having to explain to the customer what artificial intelligence in sales means, what are its possibilities, what value it will bring for them, why they should be interested in it at all. It’s like working at the core of a client’s needs. For us, this is the biggest barrier, because before it gets to the point of sale, we have to work very hard on educating people.

When did you feel proud of your achievements?

The feedback that we receive from our customers tells us that what we do makes sense. From time to time, Edward asks its users how they like working with it. That is why we know that more and more customers see value in this product. We’re very happy about that.

What are your plans for this year?

First of all, we want to increase the number of customers. For the time being, we focus mainly on the Polish and Indian markets. Maybe we’ll go into Britain. We are talking to a prospective representative right at this moment.

There is a lot of interest in Edward, especially among large clients such as banks and insurance companies. We are here to serve them.

What is your goal in the next five years?

We want our platform to become the standard when it comes to retailer’s work. We want to have a strong presence in Poland, because it is our main market, and to be present in markets such as Australia, Great Britain and the United States.

 

 

How can Poland increase the number of women in science?

How can we increase the number of women in science? Don’t just create programs for women. These conclusions have been drawn from the experiences of the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP).

The FNP is one of the most important and prestigious organizations who finance scientific research in Poland. Its motto is “support the best so that they can become even better”.

When a researcher in Poland becomes an FNP laureate, they may hear the words “wow!” from their admiring colleagues. The FNP runs programs for researchers during various stages of their careers and has been supporting women scientists for nearly ten years. Justyna Motrenko, who was responsible for providing support for pregnant women scientists in previous years and is now the head of the panel for awards and scholarships, tells us how the approach to women’s issues has been evolving.

Professor in physical chemistry Robert Holyst

Why does the Foundation for Polish Science support women scientists?

Justyna Motrenko, FNP: Because women are dropping out of science. In Poland we have a comparable number of doctoral students – both women and men. Typically, however, men continue on with their scientific careers after they have defended their doctorate. Whereas women more often tend to abandon theirs. Or their professional development slows down in contrast to their male peers. This happens typically at around the age of 30, i.e. when people decide to start a family and children start arriving. This affects the careers of women more than it affects men. As a foundation, we strive to make sure that science in Poland is the best that it can be. Consequently, we take steps to ensure that when people leave science, that this is not due to non-substantive reasons and that women, who are great scientists, do not have to quit their science jobs.

Since when has the foundation had these schemes for women?

We started 10 years ago, when the ‘Pomoście’( Bridge) scheme was launched. Although I would like to point out that from the very beginning these are not exclusively schemes for women.

There were two factors to the ‘Bridge scheme’. The first one consisted of programs for women – for scientists who were pregnant and whose scientific work involved hazardous conditions. Women were offered ways to hire stand-ins for dangerous technical work, and they were free to continue their analytical or conceptual work. It seemed to us that by doing so, they would not be held back in their scientific work.

The second factor was the so-called ‘return schemes’ for parents, women and men who want to rejoin the workforce and return to their scientific work after a break due to pregnancy or child raising.

Magdalena Niemira, researcher Medical University of Bialystok Białystok

Did it pan out that way? Was there any interest in such support? The “Bridge” is no longer being implemented.

Actually, interest was huge. We had over 700 return scheme applications during 8 recruitment drives conducted over 4 years. Over 100 women and 1 man benefited from these. 63 women received support during their pregnancies. As it turned out, the schemes for pregnant women did not fully translate into scientific work, because maternity and parental leave then followed.

On the other hand, as far as the return scheme was concerned, the format turned out to be too restrictive. That is why we have extended the conditions and now we are running the ‘return’ scheme for young doctors who want to get back to research work after a break which was perhaps related to parenthood or to employment outside of school.

It is more the case that our programs are evolving. We have seen that situations in the different fields of science are wide-ranging. Personal situations of scientists are diverse, and the reason for the break is not particularly important. The important thing is that the scientist wants to return to their scientific work after their break.

That said, science is very meritocratic. What matters are measurable achievements. There is a danger that the special scheme for young mothers will be considered less competitive than the other general grant programs. Therefore, we are moving towards taking into account the needs of women and young parents in our other programs. We would like this to be a universal principle. For example, in the ‘Start’ scholarship program for young scientists, we have announced an increase in the age limit up to the age of 30 for those candidates who have taken maternity or parental leave.

Schemes that allow people to return to work after maternity leave are just one aspect. The second is the creation of tools that support women’s careers in science. Including assistance for those who govern universities and who strive for equal representation of women and men in managerial positions yet who have problems finding candidates with suitable competencies.

Dr Katarzyna Matczyszyn, Associate Professor, Advanced Materials Engineering and Modelling Group, Faculty of Chemistry, Wroclaw University of Science and Technology,

Where should we look for them?

On Academia-net.org, for instance. This is a database only for women scientists. It distinguishes itself by the fact that it is impossible to subscribe to it by yourself. You have to be nominated by one of the grant institutions operating across Europe.

We are a partner of the portal. We nominate women, including the successful applicants of our programs, and we use the portal to look for assessors and experts, among others.

What are the Foundation’s conclusions after 10 years of supporting female scientists?

I see two important factors. Firstly, that we need help for young parents – scientists – and support for childcare. Secondly, it is important that the work climate should be favorable to those who return to scientific work. That breaks should not be considered odd, and that the scientist should be able to return and have time for a recap and a run-through. I know that it is difficult to influence something such as the work climate, but the more people talk about this, the better. People who have experience outside of science are valuable because they bring new perspectives and ideas. Perhaps then gender equality in science will finally be discernable at the next career stage in the statistics.

Start-up of the day: Freezeye finds eye diseases

In Toruń (Poland), scientists hope to provide doctors with a tool for fast diagnosis of human diseases. That is why they are building a device to “freeze” the image of eyes.

– The eye is a unique organ. It is the only place in the whole human body where there is direct and non-invasive access to blood vessels through the retina. Therefore, the eye can be a good place for early and non-invasive diagnosis of cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis and hypertension -explains Dr Anna Szkulmowska, She is CEO and co-founder of AM2M company (http://am2m.com.pl), a spin-off from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. Not only that, there is also scientific evidence that we can see the beginnings of neurodegenerative diseases by observing the movements of the eye, she adds.

However, in order for this diagnosis to become an everyday reality in hospitals, doctors must have access to high quality images of this organ. Then, just as an orthopedist assesses a broken leg with an X-Ray, a cardiologist could assess whether patient A would soon have a heart attack, and a neurologist would see if patient B was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Anna Szkulmowska wants to provide a tool for creating these images. Together with her staff and physicists from the Nicolaus Copernicus University, she is working on FreezEye Tracker, an ultra-fast biomedical imaging stabilization system.

Frozen retina

Eye trackers have been in use for nearly a century. Most often it is a type of camera or other sensor which observes the position of the pupil or cornea, i.e. the most external parts of the eye. They are used by specialists in many fields, from marketing specialists, to assess whether the audience liked the new advertisement, to neurologists, in order to communicate with patients with severely paralyzed patients.

FreezEye Tracker’s got another job to do. First, it will observe the retina, which is the deepest part of the eyeball. Secondly, the device is supposed to be a solution to the main problem faced by all those who deal with visual imaging. This concerns the poor quality of images caused by natural eye movements. These subtle movements, which the eye makes all the time and which we are not even aware of, cause images made by optical devices to be ragged with errors. Which makes it difficult to make a diagnosis.

– “During our last project, we wondered what would happen if we were to “freeze” the eye for a while, so that the physiological movements would not interfere with the registration of the photo. Hence the idea for FreezEye, because the device ‘freezes’ the image,” says Dr. Szkulmowska.

The scientists from Toruń achieved the effect of “freezing” by combining two methods of imaging. First, FreezEye determines the trajectory of the eye movement. To do this, it captures 1200 retinal images in one second. For comparison, similar devices available on the market for eye examination produce 20-30 images per second. FreezEye Tracker alsoproduces a lot of images but they are also very small. They’re just fragments.

– “The biggest challenge was determining how much smaller and poorer quality these images could be, so that they would still be suitable for further calculations of the movements” – adds Dr. Szkulmowska.

Then the movement data generated from the small images are factored into the algorithm for the development of a large image. The final result is a “frozen” retinal image, i.e. a large, high quality image that is suitable for diagnostics, which takes the eye movements into account.

Diseases seen in the eyes

Image stabilization is so high that even single blood vessels can be seen. Therefore, the scientists hope that is just another step forward in the ability to detect diseases at a very early stage, when they are just beginning to develop.

“-When doctors are able to examine one specific vessel in the retina and return to the same spot after some time, it will be possible to observe very small changes, e.g. changes in elasticity, changes in wall thickness. This could be a clue that something is wrong with the patient,” explains the scientist.

Neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s disease can also be detected from the very outset. According to some hypotheses, the eye is a kind of brain drain. When the myelin sheaths in the brain start to deteriorate, the eye may start to move differently. The physicists from Toruń hope that FreezEye Tracker will help to observe these characteristics of eye movements. – Then it will be possible to classify that if the trajectory of motion is such and such, the patient is healthy. If the trajectory changes, it means that there is a neurodegenerative disease starting in the patient,” says Dr. Szkulmowska.

Next year, real time

FreezEye Tracker is still under development, but the scientists have succeeded in the most important thing for them. – We showed that our idea was the right one: the device works, we already take photographs with it,” says the physicist.

For the time being, you have to wait a little while for the retinal images, because the device does not work in real time yet. Toruń’s scientists must first do more reseaarch, and the finished image is developed in post-production. There is also some other technological work to do, but that’s all set to end next year.

– We assume that by the end of 2020, the device will work in real time. On the basis of preliminary analyses of data from patients, even if only from healthy people, we will know or at least suspect what properties of the blood vessel we intend to observe – says Dr. Szkulmowska.

And then?

– “I imagine that we ought to manufacture a number of these devices and place them in several good clinics in order to collect as much data as possible. What parameters of the image should be combined with the medical conditions, and determine in practical terms which application will be the most useful,” – says Dr. Szkulmowska.

But that’s a job for the doctors.

 

 Need more inspiration? Check all our start-ups of the day!

Start-up of the day: intelligent lighting for greenhouses

Greenhouse owners get double the benefit if they use our lighting systems. Firstly, they pay less for electricity. Secondly, they get higher yields. This is according to the founders of the Plantalux start-up.

Plantalux is a family start-up. Originally, father (Jacek Lachowski) and two sons (Jakub and Rafał) had been working with LED lamps. By chance, they found out about a competition for crop lighting that was set up by one of the agricultural institutes. They built a lamp in their grandfather’s garage and sent it to the institute. After six months, they heard the news: they had won first place. Under their lamps, the plants grew the most, and energy consumption was the lowest as well. The family followed up on that win and founded Plantalux. Today, this Polish start-up lights up greenhouses across hundreds of hectares in Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Macedonia, Israel and Canada.

Jakub Lachowski, CEO and co-founder of Plantalux

What is your product?

Jakub Lachowski, CEO and co-founder: Plantalux is an intelligent lighting control system for greenhouses which uses LED lamps from our production line. These lamps emit the exact amount of lighting required for each crop. The thing is, each plant has its own particular characteristics. If we provide it with light just from within the spectrum it needs, we can maximize its growth with minimal energy consumption. Take tomatoes and herbs, for example. Tomatoes are plants that climb upwards. For this type of plant, we use infrared lamps with a very low ratio of blue to red. We also simulate sunrises and sunsets. We get the plants to grow at a lower height and get more tomatoes and less green matter this way. In turn, when growing herbs, we provide a brighter light with a greater proportion of blue. Then we achieve faster growth and more green matter, because this is what breeders want.

What kind of problem do you solve?

We make more money for our clients. High pressure sodium lamps (HPS) are typically used in greenhouses. Their main disadvantage is that they consume a lot of energy. On average, 1000 watts are installed per hectare of greenhouse, and the annual cost of lighting such a 1-hectare greenhouse is about 2.5 million PLN (about 600 000 euros). We are cutting costs by up to three times with our LED lamps! There is also the advantage that with LED lighting, we are able to accelerate photosynthesis and production. Not only do we reduce the bill, but we also increase the yield.

How does your product differ from the competition?

Most manufacturers work with Osram or Philips LEDs. We have our own diodes, and our lamps have a longer life. We have also introduced a consultation service, i.e. we talk about how to grow plants with our lamps. A plant is a living organism and even a positive change can turn out to be either good or bad. In addition to the new light source, you also need to know what temperature amplitude to set, how much CO2 to release, how to fertilize, what humidity should be used, how to ventilate.
The cherry on the cake is our latest lamp. It can be used independently for different crops, because its structure has different spectrums, which can be controlled in real time by the app.

What were the most difficult moments?

The beginning. We made the first lamp. We had confirmation from the university that it was working. We approached our first client with it, and she said: “I don’t believe in university. Which colleague of mine uses your product?”
We told her that it’s not on the market yet. “Oh, yeah. Well, come by if anyone I know uses it.” It’s the same with the other clients. And so, we bounded from door to door and everyone asked us the same thing: “Which friend of mine uses it?” Nobody wanted to be the first to buy it. It took us about six months, I guess. Finally, we showed up at the expo and we managed to win our first client; only then did we start making sales.

Which achievement are you particularly proud of?

Some time ago we came up with the idea of moving towards developing a lighting control software application. We launched this type of lamp with an app on the market. We traveled with it around the world for half a year. Then it turned out that one of the world’s leading companies also introduced a control system. I was really proud that a small company from Poland invented this product, and that top manufacturers are also going in this direction.

What are your plans for the coming year?

In July we are opening a company in the USA and expanding our presence in Canada – we have signed two contracts with distributors. We also want to have a stronger position within the Dutch market, and we are considering more countries in Europe.

This year we are also building our own experimental greenhouse. Now we’re going to go in three directions: not only are we going to produce equipment and make our own apps, but we’re also going to test them. Due to the fact that we are small, we can pivot relatively quickly and improve hardware, something which is very difficult for large corporations to do.

What do you want to achieve in the next 5 years?

In 5 years, we want to be highly visible on the Canadian and American markets, because these markets are rapidly developing in terms of new technologies in agriculture. In Europe, on the other hand, we want to be seen as experts in the field of lighting.

Founders: Jakub Lachowski, Rafał Lachowski
● year founded: July 2016
● financial info: The start-up was set up with the support of EU grants. Two investment funds have invested in the company. Additionally, external investors have invested in the company.

How many employees? And are they hiring?
15 permanent employees. About 30 people work in the production season. They are looking for people for R&D and sales.
Ultimate goal in a few words:
To be a strong presence in the lighting market in Europe and North America.

Need some inspiration? All our Start-ups of the Day can be found here

Start-up of the Day: device checks the health of a fetus anytime, anywhere

“Taking care of a child is considered by everyone to be a basic necessity. We serve this need.” Says Patrycja Wizińska-Socha, the CEO and founder of the medical start-up Nestmedic. Patrycja Wizińska-Socha graduated in biotechnology from the Wrocław University of Science and Technology and completed her doctorate at the Wrocław Medical University. She wanted to work in telemedicine. When her friend lost her baby just before the due date, Patricia decided to create “Pregnabit” – a service which allows pregnant women to check the health of their fetus, anywhere, anytime.

What exactly is Pregnabit?

Patrycja Wizińska-Socha: This is a telemedical system for testing the welfare of babies. It is made up of a device, i.e. a portable cardiotocograph (CTG), a platform on which data from patients is transferred, and a telemonitoring centre where midwives and physicians continually analyze all test recordings. The patient carries out the CTG test on their own, at any time and place, and within a few minutes she receives feedback on the results.

Patrycja Wizińska-Socha, CEO of Nestmedic

In what way is your product better than rival devices?

Our solution provides professional medical equipment combined with medical service. We have gained all of the necessary certificates and we examine the same parameters as other good quality non-portable CTG equipment does; i.e. the heart rate and movements of the child, uterine muscle spasms as well as the mother’s heartbeat.

We distinguish ourselves by the fact that we do not just leave the patient with the results. These are immediately analyzed by the medical staff at the telemonitoring center. If everything is all right, the patient quickly receives a text message from us with that information. If there is an abnormality or if something is not clear, the telemonitoring center’s medical staff will immediately call them for a medical consultation and recommend appropriate steps. Sometimes we call an ambulance for a patient who is using the Pregnabit system, if they are in need of urgent medical support.

What motivates you to do this work?

We want to make people’s lives better. I am a realist and I know that every child cannot be saved. I also know that thanks to modern technologies, it is possible to help many of them. And that is very important. All those sleepless nights, broken weekends, no vacations -all this to save as many children as possible. After 5 years of work and the transition from an idea to commercial applicability, we are convinced that all these efforts have made sense – we really do save children’s lives.

What are the biggest obstacles for the company?

Funding. The launch was very difficult. For almost two years I had been looking for funding, grants and investors. I was a doctoral student at the time and the trust in me as a young person -without an academic title, without a permanent team -was limited. Even from institutions that grant grants to scientists. Eventually, we managed to find the first investor and the company was launched. However, raising funds for the rapid development of the company and for foreign expansion, still plays a very important role.
The expectations of financial investors in Poland are very demanding when it comes to innovative start-ups. In a sense, we still are a start-up. We already have an established product, nevertheless it needs to be constantly adapted to the needs of specific foreign markets. Not everyone understands that. That is why we are now talking mainly to foreign investors, because they have a more open approach to innovation.

What are the greatest milestones for your company?

When we first found out that our involvement had made the birth of a healthy child possible! There was a problem during that particular pregnancy, as the baby was wrapped in the umbilical cord. If we had not notified the mother of what was happening, her pregnancy could have ended in tragedy. What a wonderful feeling of great joy that was for the whole team and an incredible impetus for developing our work further.

And the moment when MIT Technology Review awarded us the title of Innovator of the Year was also very important to us. That gave us wings too!

What are your plans for the coming year?

We are focusing on three areas. First of all, foreign expansion and sales. Now we are entering the Finnish market and starting to collaborate with the University Hospital in Helsinki, the largest in Finland. We’ve already made our first sales to Nigeria. We have defined additional foreign markets and have prepared strategies for entering them.

Secondly, product development. We are constantly introducing new features. In addition, we are already thinking about other products that will help care for women before, during and after pregnancy. We have a strong technological team; we see a lot of needs around us and we strive to do our best to handle these appropriately.

The third thing is funding. We are currently finishing negotiations with a German investment fund. This will enable us to further our development.

Where do you want to be with the company in five years’ time?

We want to break even and start generating revenues so as to facilitate the dynamic development of Nestmedic. We plan to be a global company with a wide range of telemedicine products, including an IT platform with algorithms which enable remote monitoring and analysis of reports. We want to develop appropriate business models for our products and set new standards for healthcare. We have the ambition to enter the main stock exchange market abroad rather than in Poland.

Information about the company:

– Founders: Patrycja Wizińska-Socha and Anna Skotny
– Year founded: 2014
– Financial info: the company is financed through several sources. There have been sales revenues for the past two years. In addition, several private investors have invested in the start-up, received grants for R & D products and is listed on the stock exchange (new connection).
– How many employees? And are they hiring? There are 10 permanent employees at Nestmedic along with several subcontractors and employees of affiliated companies. The affiliated company is the Medical Telemonitoring Service, where midwives and physicians are also employed.
– Ultimate goal in a few words: To be a global telemedicine company with a wide range of products.

Links:
the company
the device
Patrycja’s profile at Linkedin 

 

More about start-ups of the day here

Sharp rise in patent applications from Central Europe

Last year companies and innovators from Central Europe filled more patent applications at the European Patent Office than in the previous years. Poland became a regional leader. The country posts its strongest growth in patent applications in four years.

Last year the European Patent Office (EPO), received 946 patent applications from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, according to the EPO Annual Report 2018. This is a growth by 20% compared with previous year and well above the average growth rate of the 38 EPO member states (+3.8%).

Also read: innovation is moving East

Also read: Siemens passes Huawei as most innovative

More applications from Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia

Patent applications filed by Czech inventors grew by 17,5 %. In 2017 the EPO received 242 applications from Czech Republic. A year earlier it was 206 applications. Overall, transport and organic fine chemistry are the technical fields in which the most patent applications are filed at the EPO, followed by pharmaceuticals and civil engineering. Among central European countries Czech Republic has the highest ratio of applications to population (22,6 applications per 1 million inhabitants)

Companies, scientists and innovators from Hungary submitted 120 patent applications. Top three fields were: medical technology, organic fine chemistry and biotechnology. In 2017 the EPO received 95 applications from Hungary, what gives growth of 26,3%. Number of patent applications from Slovakia increased by 22 %. The Slovaks filled 50 patent applications in 2018 and 41 applications year before.

Poland: regional leader in number of patent applications

2018 was a very good year for Poland. Patent applications filed by Polish inventors, companies and research institutions grew by 19.7% in 2018, one of the highest growth rates among European countries. It is the second consecutive year of strong and above-average growth, following a decline of 30.6% in 2016.

“In terms of patents, 2018 was another very positive year for Poland. With strong growth for two years in a row, we now see a positive upward trend that is based on double-digit growth in a dozen different key technology fields. This is a very good message, as industries with high use of intellectual property rights, including patents, strongly contribute to the economy in terms of employment, growth and trade. The contribution of academic institutions to Poland’s patenting activities is a particular strong point.” said EPO President António Campinos.

Polish key technologies: thermal processes and transport

The fields of ‘thermal processes’ and transport (where many patents in the automotive sector are filed) were the technology sectors in which the most European patent applications were filed from Poland (39 each), and each accounted for 7% of all Polish applications at the EPO in 2018. Strong growth was recorded in computer technology, ‘materials, metallurgy’, mechanical elements, civil engineering, and pharmaceuticals. Of the 15 most important technology fields in Poland, twelve showed double-digit growth.

High demand for patent protection across Europe

Demand for patent protection continues to grow. The number of patent applications filed with the EPO grew by 4.6% last year, reaching a new high of 174 317. 47% of all patent applications at the EPO originating from the 38 EPO member states. Asian companies also held their ground, with the combined share of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea rising moderately to 22.6%. The US remained the top country of origin, accounting for 25% of total filings, followed by Germany, Japan, France and China.

European countries exhibited an overall positive trend. With the exception of France and Finland, all of the EPO’s top 20 countries of origin posted growth in 2018.

source: EPO

The text was first published at www.innovatecee.com

Zylia: the recording studio in a microphone

Professional music recording is like a relationship status on Facebook: it’s complicated. A Polish start-up has invented Zylia, a device, that reduces this multistage process to just two clicks.

For amateurs, Zylia looks like a tiny soccer ball with a bright stripe. “Another funny gadget”- one might think. However, for the individuals connected to the music industry, such as musicians, sound engineers or even recording studios, Zylia is a game changer. This incredible ball is the world’s first portable recording studio and it can transform the professional way of recording music.

“Musicians always have problem when recording music. It’s not a matter of finance or apparatus, but of time and knowledge. There are always problems occurring on how to set up multiple microphones and how to mix sounds “- explains Tomasz Żernicki, Zylia co-founder and chief technology officer.

Żernicki is an audio expert: he received his PhD in digital audio processing, contributed to audio compression standards and – like almost all his colleagues – he is amateur musician.

“Musicians prefer not to focus on recording music too much. We want to dedicate ourselves to creating music. We thought it would be an amazing idea to have one simple device that records music, mixes music it and does all the technical stuff” – he states.

Just two clicks 

It seems that Zylia has turned out to be the device the founders longed to have. Let’s say there is a piano quartet: piano, violin, viola and cello. The musicians just simply place themselves around Zylia. Every instrument should briefly be recorded separately so the device knows where they are positioned. Then, the whole quartet can participate. One click, the device starts recording. Second click and Zylia stops.

After, the device automatically prepares the final recording and the user receives a complete stereo track. “The recordings sound amazing, as it also takes into account the positioning of the people in the room, so someone being positioned closer/further from the microphone is not an issue”- adds Żernicki.

But if the ensemble prefers to mix tracks manually, this is also an option. The musicians can decide what they want to be heard on the final recording: all instruments or only viola part? Perhaps they would like to quieten the piano slightly and move a cello to the back to hear the violin more prominently. Perhaps they believe it’s a good idea to mix together cello and piano? Or instruments aside, want to catch a little more reverberation of the room? The users might even delete selected instruments from the recording. This could be a useful opportunity when a cello e.g. plays out of tune or if the pianist wants to make “an instrumental karaoke”.

How it operates

Zylia is a microphone and software in one. To be precise, it is a set of 19 microphones in spherical enclosure that records 360-degree sound, whereas the software part (Zylia studio) is accountable for the sound processing.

“We represent sound in a unique way, since the sphere surrounding Zylia can be divided into tiny segments. Therefore, as a user, you have the option to decide what it is what you would like to hear, the whole sphere or fragments of it” – explains Żernicki.

After recording, users receive several tracks. When recording musical instruments, they will receive recordings of each individual instrument.

“Then, the system equalises the volume based upon the tracks’ sound level. For this process, sound engineering and mixing techniques are being used. Zylia’s CTO explains there are many possibilities: “For example the option to have the vocal recording in the middle and the guitars all on one side.”

“No, you can’t”

Zylia started out as a research project. Six years ago, the founders received a grant to develop a system for virtual sound stage reconstruction using wireless sensor networks. Eventually, the developed system turned out to be too complicated to commercialise, but this is how they came up with the idea to combine all the technology into one device. Back then, this was a dream. The Zylia founders have repeatedly heard it could not be done.

Fortunately for the company, there were a few people who believed in the project. These were mentors from German and Danish acceleration programmes (EuropeanPioneer run by Etventure and Next Step Challenge run by Nupark Denmark) who helped transform their scientific project into a commercial business model. It took them almost three years before the final product was released. The company produced 10 functional prototypes and tested them with more than one hundred music professionals, all over the world. At the end of 2018 Zylia emerged on the market.

There are three significant groups purchasing Zylia. Firstly, musicians of various styles, but many of them performing folk music and bluegrass. Secondly, people who prepare audio records for movies, games, videos etc. The third group consists out of people who work with the ambisonics method. Ambisonics is a full-sphere surround sound format invented in the 1970s, and has made a comeback in Virtual Reality and 360° movies.

Audience closer to artists

Zylia was created to keep the musicians’ energy alive. Now, its founders want to go a step further and bring artists and audiences closer together.

“Imagine that while being seated in your room, you have the ability to experience a concert of your choosing. That you can even choose to be positioned among the crowd or on stage, hearing the musicians’ interaction. Now our aim is to create this technology, that will record live concerts from several positions, so it can be enjoyed by the audiences” – says Żernicki.

Sounds impossible? Well, they said Zylia could not be done, and look at it now.

 

Sea Data helps preventing coal dust

YetiBox sensor in Port of Gdynia (photo with box and view at the harbour)

When a ship loaded with coal enters a harbour, soon the entire area might be covered with coal dust. A start-up from Gdynia, Poland, has an idea how to prevent that.

Last year’s summer was rather hard for citizens of Gdynia, a port city in Northern Poland. For many days, clouds of black dust hung over the city centre; dust was covering streets, settling on cars, rushing into flats through tilted open windows. This black dust came from coal stored in a harbor nearby. Townspeople were furious, local media covered the issue broadly, Gdynia authorities set controls on the port and the port authorities had to justify themselves profusely that they did all they could to restrict the amount of dust given off.

Air pollution in harbors

The problem with dust that Gdynia had this summer is not unique. It happens in harbors with bulk terminals where dry commodities such as coal, coke, ore but also grains, feedstuff or biomass are kept. The problematic part isn’t even storage but the moment of reloading. When items are poured from a ship into a wharf their particles rise up to the open air and under unfavorable weather conditions, they are carried across the entire area.

To solve the problem, Gdynia’s port authorities turn to the start-up Sea Data. This new Gdynia-based company has developed a system to analyse and predict air pollution in harbors.

“On the current market, there are mainly separate monitor and analytical measurement systems. We wanted to create a complete solution that can do both. Our platform can not only monitor air status but it also analyses the situation and Artificial Intelligence algorithms based on the weather forecast can predict air pollution at a selected day and time”,  explains Piotr Siedlecki, co-founder of the start-up.

Measure, analyse, predict

YetiBox sensor in Port of Gdańsk.
YetiBox sensor in Port of Gdańsk.

The system consists of two parts: a custom made sensor box (yetibox) and software in the form of an analytical platform (yetiSense). A set of sensors installed in the port and a nearby area can register the level of suspended particles PM10 and PM2.5. Data from the sensors are sent to the analytical platform every 10 minutes 7 days a week. This gives a picture of the current air quality. Data is presented on maps and interactive diagrams. If permitted levels of pollution are exceeded, the system detects the source of pollution and sends alerts to the port authorities. But the invention can do more than that. The platform also collects other data such as current weather conditions, weather forecast and data from sensors belonging to other institutions, for example to environmental agencies. The algorithm based on machine learning analyses all information and estimates the risk of polluting air at a selected time.

Briefly speaking, Sea Data’s invention gives harbors insight into the worst and the best time to reload dry commodities.

“Let’s say that a dispatcher in the harbor knows what day the ship arrives and wants to plan reloading on a particular day. But if our algorithm shows that on that selected time the risk of air polluting will be high, the dispatcher knows he needs to reschedule reloading. This way he can avoid the situation of dust being carried to the city “, explains Piotr Siedlecki.

What to measure

At the beginning, the start-up wanted to develop both the hardware, the sensor box, and the software part. However, recently they stopped working on hardware and concentrated only on the analytical platform. Why? The reason is simple: money. To develop hardware to a stage that it can be sold on the market requires lots of money, much more than a new start-up has. The Polish law doesn’t oblige industrial companies to monitor air quality, therefore investors in Poland are not interested in supporting work on sensors.
The start-up founders emphasize the fact that they wish to get back to the hardware part in the future and now an advantage of their solution is a fact, it’s not restricted to one type of sensors and one type of pollution. “We are able to integrate our platform with a whole range of measuring instruments available on the market and then we can measure any substance, for example Sulfur dioxide, Nitrogen dioxide or toxic gases. It only depends on what clients want to measure”,  says Piotr Siedlecki.
The Sea Data’s solution is currently installed in Gdynia and Gdańsk, two out of the three largest harbors in Poland and the company is in conversation with other harbors, including foreign ones.

“Poles can do it” (How companies are working for a greener future)

zonnedak zon zonnepanelen solar panel

WARSAW, 11 December 2018 – Now the Climate Change Conference is held in Katowice, the question may be raised how Polish companies are working for a greener future. If anyone would know, it would be Agnieszka Kozłowska-Korbicz, who invented and ran a GreenEvo Programme in the Polish Ministry of Environment in 2008-2015. Currently, she is Director of Energy and Environmental Sector in CEC Government Relations. We spoke with her at the time of the Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland.

“We are going to talk about Polish green technologies? I have a story for you. Once one of the municipalities in Poland needed to buy solar panels to a hospital. They wanted to buy the best one available on the market. What do you think, which one did they choose?”

A German one, I guess.

Agnieszka Kozłowska-Korbicz - She invented and in years 2008-2015 she ran a GreenEvo Programme in the Polish Ministry of Environment. It was a competition for the best Polish green technologies and a acceleration programme. Currently, she is Director of Energy and Environmental Sector in CEC Government Relations
Agnieszka Kozłowska-Korbicz

“Yes, German because for an ordinary Pole German technology is a good technology. When they bought it, it turned out that it was, in fact, Polish technology: invented in a Polish company, produced in Poland but sold in Germany under a German brand. This story shows that there are a few sectors where Polish green innovative companies are really strong.”

Could you give me some examples?

“The first example is solar panels. In Europe, we have the highest standards and the best products. Companies such as Hevalux, Sunex, En Sol and others sold their products under German and French brands. It was possible only because they had great quality and great price.

Another sector is low carbon construction. One of the most exponential players on this market is a Polish company IZODOM 2000. They’ve developed their own ecological breezeblocks and use this technology to build passive houses all over the world. They are able to build not only a passive small house with a design that may be appropriate for the pickiest clients but also an eight-storey office building.

Another example from Poland is an M3system company. They have a very interesting construction technology: first, they cut huge structures out of the polystyrene, as huge as a part of the house, next they glue them together. It’s a little bit like they build a house as if it is a jigsaw puzzle. Their constructions are light, wind and storm resistant and very stable because they can be easily stabilised at the bottom.”

Are they liveable in our climate?

“It is perfect for any climate, even an extreme one. If it’s cold outside, it is warm inside because thanks to their technology, heat doesn’t leave the home. The other way round, when it’s hot outside and pleasantly cold inside due to air conditioning, the heat doesn’t go inside the building.

Another sector is energy efficiency. A leader both in Poland and abroad is a company called Promar. They specialise in energy efficiency in public buildings. What they do is that they enter the building, do the audit, then they install their sensors in the building, connect all utilities and they manage them remotely, so the use of water, electricity etc. is lower and suit to this what is happening in the building. For example, in the afternoon, when people leave the building, the temperature inside drops. In the morning, when people come to work, the temperature rises. The temperature can even drop during the day in a single office if a person leaves it for longer. At the end of the month, the utility bill is much lower.”

Is there anything else?

“The water treatment plants and technologies to reduce water usage should also be mentioned. In Poland, we started to build sewage farms later. This caused that our technologies are more modern and better. It was a knowledge transfer from the West. After it was adopted to our local conditions, our technology surpassed the western ones.

I’ll give you an example from Beijing. Before the Olympics in 2010, the Chinese authorities wanted to build a sewage plant and water treatment plants in the Olympic village. Many companies from all over the world applied for this project, but all of them wanted to build the infrastructure from scratch. That would be an enormous investment, huge cost and it would take time, which the Chinese didn’t have. The Chinese chose the offer made by a Polish firm Biogradex. The Polish company just installed a few modern solutions and it modernised the whole area.

Polish strength is also hazardous waste treatment. For example, there is a company Qenergy that can produce energy from everything they get in their hands – starting from a plumage to wood waste.”

They simply burn it all?

“Not really, because they treat each material differently. Most importantly, they do not close themselves off from one type of waste but they try all types of waste to achieve the highest parameters of energy.

Also, a number of interesting initiatives are emerging in the electromobility sector. I’m not only talking about technical solutions but also about innovative ideas such as e-car sharing. Recently Tauron (a Polish energy holding company) and ING bank have launched common carsharing. Ultimately it will function that during the day the cars are driven by Tauron and ING managers and after working hours cars are available to the public. Cars have their “second life” in the city and everyone can drive them.”

Why are those sectors the most innovative?

“There are two reasons.
When it comes to some sectors such as water treatment it is a result of transformation. Water treatment is a good example. Due to the communism, Poland was cut off from technologies for a long time. When the first credits from the West were available, companies were buying western technologies but they had to be adapted to the specific Polish conditions. This is the reason why our technology made a huge leap forward and many companies have developed their own technologies.

In case of solar panels and all these solutions that can be done yourself, it is proof that “Poles can do it!”. These are our “garage stories”: dad-engineer invented a device, he hired the first son, after he hired another son. When their solution was working they were hiring other workers and finally, it turned out that their firms are developing and have potential. To a large extent, Poland’s accession to the European Union helped companies a lot because it was easier for them to sell on western markets.”

Where are the clients for the Polish green technologies?

“The majority of companies sells abroad. The Polish market is not ready for such solutions and there is not enough incentives for an ordinary Pole to buy such innovations.”

What about incentives for companies to develop green technologies?

“Still, there are not enough of those incentives. Of course, there are so-called thermomodernization programmes and programmes to increase energy efficiency but I find them too small to revolutionise the entire sector. Maybe the energy prices will force households to move towards RES, this scenario appears to be plausible.

Of course, governmental agencies such as the National Center For Research and Development or The National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management run dedicated programmes but they lack structural approach. For many years I ran GreenEvo. It was an Accelerator for Green Technologies and its aim was to support the most innovative and green solutions. Unfortunately, the programme was closed in 2015. Now there are attempts to re-launch it but we have been waiting for results for a year. Unfortunately, there aren’t any. The Polish Ministry of entrepreneurship and technology tries to find solutions to help this sector, but still, this exists only on paper. Systemic support is missing. In my view, a vision is also missing. There are many different programmes for start-ups but a result of such programmes is that another app, rather than an industrial technology, could solve the environmental problem.

I think companies make more use out of the EU support and the Horizon 2020 together with foreign partners because it gives them a new experience and they can do projects across Europe.”

Innovations you’ve just mentioned have been developed over the past years. What about the future? Do the companies still want to follow these paths or can you see other directions?

“Speaking about RES, the important thing is the progressive availability and even-lower price. It is important both for households and small local initiatives.

In the project of Poland’s Energy Policy, the emphasis is placed on photovoltaic. Thus this sector is likely to grow faster. Certainly offshore and technologies relating to wind farms at sea are going to be developed. We can see an enormous trend in electromobility. Recently huge factories of fuel cells for electric motors were built in Poland. The Koreans see Poland as a place to develop electric car technologies. One might say that Poland can be a bridge for Asian companies to enter the European market.

Another important branch will be hydrogen technologies. Many Polish companies are interested in this issue. For example, lately, JSW ( Polish coal mining company ) has been working out how to use hydrogen from mine and to take up the new business challenge to create a new industry branch. These are important steps that are being taken by our entrepreneurs and one should support. Briefly speaking, a raw material that was supposed to be a waste, is to be used in the production of electric cars.”

Agnieszka Kozłowska-Korbicz – She invented and ran a GreenEvo Programme in the Polish Ministry of Environment in 2008-2015. It was a competition for the best Polish green technologies and an acceleration programme. Currently, she is Director of Energy and Environmental Sector in CEC Government Relations

Locky: forget about forgetting to lock the door

WARSAW, 1st December 2018 – “Did I lock the door this morning?” Have you ever asked yourself this question? Or maybe you’re always asking other key questions like, “where did I put my key?” or “did I leave my keys in the door?” A device invented by the Polish start-up Locky will let you forget about these questions.

The company has created Locky, a smart home security system. “We make a smart key,” says Dariusz Lipka, CEO and co-founder of Locky.

SENSORS AND ALGORITHM

In fact the device is a special key overlay connected to a mobile app via Bluetooth. There is no need to change or modify the door or the lock, or to change your daily routine. You just place the key you use in the overlay, install the app, and the device is ready to go.

How? The system’s heart is a set of sensors hidden in the overlay and a special algorithm. “The sensors collect data regarding key rotation and movement in the lock. The algorithm analyses the data and determines whether the lock was closed or opened. Then the information is sent to the app,” explains Dariusz Lipka.

If you forget to close the door or take the key out of the lock, the app will warn you. It also helps to find lost keys and sends a notification any time someone enters the house.

USER NEEDS

Locky is in the middle between a smart lock and a key tracker, which are currently available on the market. A key tracker, usually based on GPS data, can only locate lost keys. Smart locks are much more developed. These are digital locks which can be opened and closed remotely by electronic devices. They give the owner control over who can enter the house and they can send alerts regarding security. Thus they offer more features than Locky does, but as the start-up’s CEO stresses, smart locks are not their direct competitors.

“Smart lock users and our users have different needs. We don’t want to replace the smart locks. We want to be an alternative to them,” says Lipka.

As he stresses, a smart lock is the best solution for people who need remote control over their property. Locky, however, is for those who are afraid of being hacked, for example, or simply don’t want to digitalise their locks.

UNIVERSAL OVERLAY

Work on the device took over a year. The most difficult part was not the sensors or the algorithm but the mechanics. “We didn’t want to create a product designed for one market or one type of key. We wanted to make a product with mass applications, that would fit all markets and all key types,” says Lipka.

They almost pulled it off: the Locky overlay is compatible with 90% of keys available on the market. As it has a universal docking system, things such as key bow (the part turned by the fingers) size or where the hole is placed are not important. There are only three limits. The  key can’t be thicker than 3 millimetres, longer than 77 millimetres and the bow of the key can’t be wider than 30 millimetres.

THE WAY TO THE MARKET

In recent months the start-up has exhibited its device at international construction fairs, including those in Bologna and Dubai. The CEO reports that there was substantial interest, mostly from construction companies and door producers from Western Europe and Asia.

Now the company is about to start mass production. To finance it they ran a crowdfunding campaign at Kickstarter. Within 2 hours they had raised all the funds they needed. Still, however, they are looking for an investor to act on a larger scale. The plan is to have Locky on the market in March 2019.

How did Locky’s story begin? One morning one of the co-founders was late for work because he had to turn around through heavy traffic to rush back home. All of this because on his way to work he asked himself one question: “did I lock the door this morning?”

 

 

Polish innovation (2): top-down approach seems fruitful

Start-up Bioseco produces a system that protects birds from colliding with windturbines and airplanes at airports
The apple of the Polish government’s eye are start-ups. With a 700-million euro programme Start In Poland the authority has ambitions to make Poland a start-up hub for Central Europe. This is the second of two articles about the innovation climate in Poland.

WARSAW, 18 november 2018 – “The 4th industrial revolution cannot take place without politicians” – said Jarosław Gowin, the deputy PM and the Minister of Science and Higher Education introducing in 2016 a 3-billion PLN (around 700-million euro) Start It Poland Programme. The Polish authorities’ intentions are clear. They want to use all tools they have to make Poland a main hub for start-ups in Central Europe and to help commercialise innovations developed in young Polish companies. A crop of initiatives were created for start-ups, both Polish and foreigners willing to relocate their business activity to Poland. These initiatives include accelerators, money for venture capital funds, and changes in laws to benefit new companies, just to mention a few.

The most important, however, was to have state-owned companies, which still play a significant role in Polish economy, cooperate with new companies. One of the biggest problems for innovators in Poland is the lack of an initial client. The Law and Justice (PiS) government decided that the State Treasury must invest in innovation created by start-ups. All of a sudden large enterprises, even those without any history of cooperation with external innovators, set up corporate venture capital funds and hired technology scouts, or just simply joined accelerator programmes and started implementing innovations.

Huge demand

For example, 66 companies from various sectors that took part in the recently finalised ScaleUp 66 accelerator programme implemented around 150 innovations developed in the accelerators. “It turned out that there is a huge demand for solutions from start-ups and in the course of the programme corporations and young companies learnt how to cooperate and establish relations. It is also a huge success of the programme” – explains the press office of the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology.

However, there is a darker side to state control. Both people in start-ups and in companies admit off the record that making innovations in such a way is sometimes like painting the grass green. As the ministry demands state-owned companies to invest in start-ups, a company will find a start-up and sign a non-binding agreement with it, but not being sincerely interested in implementing new technology. “We are only necessary for companies for PR events”, complain founders. The staff carousel in the highly politicized State Treasury firms is of no help either. Frequent changes at the positions of directors (in some companies, directors have changed several times over the past three years) cause decision deadlock.

A change in mentality

Despite the changes in the Polish innovative ecosystem, they have not been seen on the innovation scoreboards, not yet. ¨To see tangible effects we need to wait a couple of years”,  says Krzysztof Klincewicz, professor at the Warsaw University. “But it seems that during the past few years there have been serious changes in the mentality of the business sector. Even the lowest tech company makes it a matter of honour to speak about innovation. Many companies are starting to cooperate with start-ups, and many people are being hired for the R&D positions. High-level mechanism processes have started, which are gradually copied at lower levels. This is a thing that the PiS government has managed to do.”

What has happened to the Just Drive app mentioned in the first part of the series? Well, it failed. In fact, after one day the app was closed down. Both companies accused the other of breaking business agreements. Nevertheless, both firms are performing rather well. Orlen launched its own app, very similar to Just Drive. And the website of the start-up shows that it has new clients. It seems that the failure of politicians’ model transaction hasn’t stopped Polish businesses from innovating.

 

(This is the second of two articles about the Polish innovation eco-system)

Katarzyna Zachariasz-Podolak is a Polish journalist and editor in chief of InnovateCEE.

 

Foto: Start-up Bioseco produces a system that protects birds from colliding with windturbines and airplanes at airports

 

 

Polish innovation ecosystem slowly evolves in the right direction

Piotr Orlikowski presents his cartesian robot in front of Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish PM
After three years under the rule of the right-wing Law and Justice, the Polish innovation ecosystem is doing fine. Even better than one might expect. This is the first of two articles about the Polish innovation ecosystem.

WARSAW, 17 November 2018 – It was supposed to be a model transaction. Orlen, a Polish state-owned fuel company and one of the largest enterprises in Central Europe, began a cooperation with a start-up called Just Drive. As a result, an app for mobile payments at Orlen’s petrol stations was launched. Start-up media in Poland widely spread the word about the partnership. Within 24 hours, the app was downloaded by 2,000 users. Success seemed to be guaranteed.

Until recently, this kind of cooperation between a huge Polish company and a start-up was unimaginable. The last few years, however, have been a time of dynamic changes in Poland’s innovation ecosystem. This process had already started under the previous government of the Civic Platform (PO) and Polish People’s Party (PSL), when grants were poured into companies to run R&D projects, into founders to set up start-ups, and into universities to build state-of-the-art R&D infrastructure. When the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015, the country already had all the elements of an innovation ecosystem, some of them better developed, and some of them less so. Unfortunately, the system as a whole didn’t work properly.

It’s the Innovation, stupid

The new government has made the word “innovation” one of its flagship slogans. However, the beginnings were rather unfortunate. On the one hand, an inter-ministerial Council for Innovativeness was established. Both the Minister of Development and the Minister of Science and Higher Education became deputy prime ministers, and after the government reconstruction in 2018, a separate Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology was formed. It was certainly the first time in Poland’s history that R&I policies had had such a prominent position on the government’s agenda.

Nevertheless, some actions led to the belief that the existing elements of innovation policy would become a victim of the revolutionary impulses of the ruling party and its tendency to centralise the economy: the government cancelled some programmes regarding innovation; heads of the main agencies supporting R&D projects were changed; and politicians began announcing initiatives to create national innovation, such as Electro Mobility, a programme with the goal of Poland becoming a European leader in electro-mobility, with one million electric cars on the roads and its own model of electric car to be designed and built from scratch by 2025. These are stunning expectations, considering that today, Poland is among the countries with the lowest number of electric cars and charging stations in the EU.

Evolution, not revolution

However, after three years under PiS rule, it has turned out that despite these brash announcements, Poland’s innovation policy has not experienced a revolution. To the contrary, it has kept on going like before.
“Many positive elements of the innovation policy from the previous government are now continuing. R&D projects are still supported with grants and financial instruments. Support for start-ups has been intensified. Government agencies responsible for supporting research and innovation projects still use objective criteria and standards developed in previous years,” says Krzysztof Klincewicz, professor at Warsaw University and a European Commission expert.
Moreover, the process of creating an innovation ecosystem has sped up, as the PiS government has started patching it up.
“It is extremely important to ensure a proper framework for innovation by implementing friendly regulations to support innovations and constantly removing obstacles to innovators,” says the press office of the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology about Poland’s priorities.
Tax incentives were the first to be fixed. Introduced in the last year of the PO-PSL government, R&D tax relief was very modest, thus only 528 companies used it. The PiS government has twice increased it significantly. Today all entrepreneurs leading R&D works are allowed to make a double deduction of R&D-related expenditures from the tax base, and the catalogue of costs eligible for deduction is broad. The result? The number of companies using the incentive doubled and it seems that this year it will increase even more.
Furthermore, the work on Innovation Box has started
“It will consist of more favourable fiscal treatment of income from IP commercialization which is a result of R&D works conducted by the taxpayer,” explains the press office.
The detailed regulations are under consultation at the moment and should enter into force at the beginning of 2019.

Support for companies

Another Achilles’ heel of the Polish innovation system is a lack of cooperation between industry and academia. Under PO-PSL government, multiple steps were taken to enforce the cooperation, including innovation vouchers, grants for R&D projects performed by scientific- industrial consortia or R&D funding schemes proposed by the business sector. As a result, the largest part of the NCBR budget (the main R&D funding agency in Poland) was distributed to consortia.
The PiS government refocused its attention on support for individual companies. Old instruments were limited and the new ones were added. For example the programme “Top 100 Innovators of the Economy” was launched, which enables firms’ R&D staff to visit foreign research institutes and companies in order to improve their R&D management skills; the programme of industrial doctorates was introduced, which enables companies to hire a PhD candidate and the candidate can carry out doctoral projects at the enterprise. It’s a novelty in Poland as previously PhD could be developed only in academia.
The biggest change, however, is the cooperation with start-ups. The new funds were established to co-finance the Venture Capital funds or to create corporate VC within the large companies.
“We’ve discovered that we need innovations in Poland. Even people at the top have started to believe in it. I must admit it was difficult to speak about innovations with some people from the previous government. They seemed to distrust that the ability of the economy to be innovative matters. I expect that with the new incentives from the next year we will have a large number of R&D centres or international companies that start to move their R&D expenditure to Poland. It may turn out Polish innovation rockets ”, says Krzysztof Klincewicz.

(This is the first of two articles about the Polish innovation eco-system)

Katarzyna Zachariasz-Podolak is a Polish journalist and editor in chief of InnovateCEE.