The Master Class CEE is “on the road” again


After the coronavirus stopped our travelling for two years, we resumed with the MC CEE 2022-23 our classic format including two field trips to cities in CEE. The first of our 4-day field trips led 23 students and the MC CEE team to Warsaw (27.2.-2.3.) and confronted us with a diverse set of insights.

At our partner university SGH, we discussed the “Future of AI” with Prof. Piotr Ploszajski. He argued that the great question of the 21st century will be which black box we shall trust as the coder does not know how and why the machine came up with a certain result. ChatGPT is for him a “mental Thermomix” and if the chatbot is to be ‘more human-like’, then people have to be even more ‘human’.

The visit to the 74,000m2 prime warehouse of Inter Cars in Zakroczym, the #1 in Poland and CEE and #2 in EU in automotive spare parts distribution, impressed us. 2,600 employees from 18 nationalities operate the daily deliveries to 240 IC branches and 300 European deliveries in 3-shifts. The facilities houses 78 reloading gates and 13km of conveyor belts but as the nearby construction site indicates is not sufficient anymore. Inter Cars stands for a continuous growth story in the last decade and an increase of more than 20% in the last year alone. And the firm has not entered Western Europe via direct investments yet where Vice-President of the Board, Krzysztof Soszynski, sees a lot of growth potential in a fragmented industry.

At PAIH, the Polish Investment & Trade Agency, we learned that inward investment to Poland is keeping up and the investment attractiveness of Poland was not tarnished by the war in Ukraine. Western firms are bringing themselves in good positions for the rebuilding of Ukraine and want to use Poland as a springboard for the market entry. Konstantin Bekos, head of Advantage Austria in Poland, Austria’s export promotion agency, told us that Poland is the 6th largest export market for Austria. Surprisingly, Poland is the 7th most important market for Austrian tourism. The 600 subsidiaries of Austrian firms such as Raiffeisen Bank International, Mayr-Melnhof, STRABAG, Austria Juice, VIG and voestalpine represent about EUR 14 billion of FDI stock. Today, Austrian firms are increasingly interested in re- and nearshoring opportunities and are in search of Polish partners. Stimulated by the huge EU Recovery and Resiliency funding and the pressing need to reduce air pollution (75% of Poland’s electricity is generated by coal), Bekos sees a lot of business opportunities in products and services supporting the green transformation.

Maciej Sadowski, CEO of the Polish Startup Hub, and Maria Belka, expert on new entrepreneurship, explained the current developments and challenges in the Polish startup scene. We discussed if a large domestic market and a generous funding by the state and the EU are a trap for startups. While former might slow down the internationalization efforts, latter might lead startups to focus more on securing funding than on the needs of their potential customers. Although these problems may hamper a faster development of the startup scene, Poland can be proud of many success stories. Booksy, DocPlanner and Brainly are examples of fast-growing Polish unicorns with valuations of $ 1 billion or more. The Warsaw Stock Exchange is one of the most dynamic in Europe and home of Polish champions such as e-commerce platform Allegro, video game developer CD Projekt, shoe & fashion retailers CCC and LPP and Inter Cars.

Summing up, the field trip provided good insights in how Polish companies and institutions are dealing with the multiple crises and how the startup scene is preparing for further growth. The war in Ukraine is shaping the Polish economy today and in the future. We are looking forward to our second field trip in May that will lead us to Bucharest.

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