From Startup Weekend organiser… to Community Leader… to Techstars Associate. How Maciej Jankowski from Poland has truly embarked on the Entrepreneur’s Journey.
Maciej Jankowski first became involved in developing the local startup/tech community in his hometown Szczecin (Poland) in 2007, when he started organising Netcamp meetups. Events grew quickly and 3 years later became a base to launch Netcamp Foundation, a local NGO supporting development of startup ecosystem and tech education.
It wasn’t until April 2011 when Maciej met Jarek Białek who took part in Startup Weekend Eindhoven a few months before when he was inspired to organize SW in Poland. He was very impressed about the benefits it gave to entrepreneurs.
After Startup Weekend Warsaw, Maciej in Szczecin in October 2011, he decided to co-organised the 3rd Startup Weekend in Poland. He decided to organise the first Polish-German event, in order to start a cooperation with the Berlin startup community. This way a great way to show that the nationality of founders is not important when solving technological problems and creating new companies. The winner of that event–Scatchup– won all 3 categories, then raised around €200k seed investment from HackFwd after just 6 months moved to Berlin.
Maciej was already hooked to the wonderful world of Startup Weekend. It was after his second event, that he realised the most important thing to him was the impact the events had in fostering local startup ecosystems. It is a fact that most of the teams after a Startup Weekend event split up. However, many participants stay involved in the community and often get involved in other projects with people they worked with during the event. In the 2nd edition of Startup Weekend Szczecin, a young team from Wroclaw received a special award from some of the mentors, and were invited to an acceleration program in Gdansk.
Despite the first event’s success, the next Startup Weekend event in Szczecin took 4 years to happen. The problem was building a new organising team, as Jarek, one of the lead organisers, had moved to another city. The next event therefore took place in 2015, and in the meantime, Maciej organized Nethack and other city focused hackathons, whilst also focusing on building the TEDx community in his city.
In September 2016, Maciej got accepted as Techstars Associate in the METRO Berlin Program, he travelled to Spain to speak at a conference there, went on to Warsaw to attend the Techstars Europe Unsummit, and ended up starting his exciting new journey in Berlin a few days later.
“It’s a really intensive program, especially for founders,” he said. For Maciej in particular it was also intense as he was participating in three Techstars programs in parallel–coordinating Startup Weekend Szczecin – Smart City/IoT back home, working as an associate in Berlin and becoming a volunteer for the pilot of the Startup Next mobility edition with Ford. Those 2 months were very busy for him –working 15 hours per day both helping founders and also leading his Startup Weekend team, making the two hour drive back to Szczecin each weekend to meet with them.
During the METRO program in Berlin, Maciej was very surprised because half of the associates team were from the US. They had moved just to join the program. A really important take away was to see how entrepreneurs from different countries build startups and the sort of problems they want to solve based on their local communities. It really doesn’t matter if you live in Canada or Australia when it comes to the way you build your startup.
An interesting part for him was being involved in the mentor madness sessions–2 full weeks with mentors talking with founders to give their advice and feedback. Maciej loved the vibrant feeling of Berlin, the startup ecosystem and many startup events gave him a global perspective on Startups and what’s going on in the startup world.
One of Maciej’s favourite moments was one of his first successes in the program. Every Thursday there was ‘social thursday’– in the METRO program each associate had to organise one of them. When it was his turn, he organised it based on the feedback of the participants and it turned out to be one of the best social thursdays, playing pool and integrating in one of Berlin’s awesome clubs. Another highlight was standing on stage during demo day in a big cinema room full of 600 people: founders & associates were invited to go on stage being recognised for their work.
When asked what advice Maciej would give to anyone wanting to become a Techstars Associate, he said that if you are an expert on something or simply love working with startups and are open to learn then this is a great starting point. “I was involved for many years in the Startup ecosystem so I think I got some extra points for my Startup Weekend initiatives and other things I had been doing for startups, which showed the managing team that I had the passion and some work experience to support them.”
For Maciej the biggest take-away from the experience was extending his network, meeting many cool people in Berlin, and seeing how a Techstars accelerator works from the inside. “You can of course read a book like ‘Do More Faster’, but a much better way is to get a real life experience and participate as an associate. For me it was also kind of a hack –how to get accepted into a TS accelerator without being a startup that has to build a really strong team, a great product, have a traction, and compete with hundreds of other great founders all around the world. I got a very similar experience as an associate, so that was a good choice for me.”
When comparing the difference between Berlin and Poland in terms of startup activity, Maciej noted important differences on how talent is accessed in tech. In Poland we have some of the best developers in the world but most of our founders have mediocre sales/marketing skills and not enough experience on how to scale startups globally. In Germany or the UK the situation is the opposite. There is also a lot more money raised by Berlin startups –with bigger rounds than in Central and Eastern Europe.
Number of accelerators, many corporate-backed and access to seed funding was another main difference, which was more international in Berlin. Germany still has a lot more success stories than Poland does, and when talking about the whole ecosystem there is a culture problem –not just for Poland but for the whole Central and Eastern Europe region. There is still a lack of openness and trust to talk about what you are doing, your ideas with other people, whereas in Berlin people are much more open and willing to talk and network.
Maciej has now moved back to Szczecin and as a co-founder of Startup Poland is working on a new startup support program with the local government. His goal is to attract more VC money to the region. He is considering opening a local pre-acceleration program that could be a good link to cooperation with the Berlin startup ecosystem.
When he was asked what comes to mind when someone says the word Techstars, he said “I think it’s all about community/network of open-minded people that believe in this #GiveFirst attitude of helping each other. Even if the founders are doing something similar,they are not competing against each other, if they see they can share knowledge and help others. That’s a big differentiator of Techstars. The Give First mentality which is what I love the most.”
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