The Heart Warsaw, a hub that brings together young tech firms with large corporations, has already launched its third themed program. After FinTech and Omichannel, it’s now time to look at the HealthTech business. WBJ talked to Tomasz Rudolf, CEO of The Heart Warsaw, about how The Heart can help start-ups and scale-ups succeed in big business
Interview by Beata Socha
WBJ: Why did you pick HealthTech as the third area for The Heart program? What is the perspective for the sector in Poland and beyond?
Tomasz Rudolf: Digitalization affects almost every industry around us – media, retail or banking. The healthcare sector also has huge potential to create new experiences for patients and doctors powered by artificial intelligence and connected devices. Caring for our health can be cheaper, faster and more accessible thanks to those technologies. We believe it will be easier to make it happen if established organizations work hand in hand with innovative, smaller companies. That’s why, together with AbbVie, we have initiated this program, connecting the best start-ups in telemedicine, healthcare analytics and IoT with experienced industry players.
What is the status of other programs launched at The Heart? How many companies have already joined?
The FinTech program was our first, connecting leading financial institutions with European start-ups. The program has already attracted eight corporate partners, including Citibank Handlowy, Alior Bank and PKO BP. We have already finished a round focused on cybersecurity, and we are keeping our fingers crossed for the success of the first deals. Our scouting continues, this time looking at solutions related to the PSD2 regulation. Our second program is focused on omnichannel solutions, helping corporate marketers reinvent retail. Together with companies like Mastercard and Philips, we are looking at customer intelligence space, collecting and leveraging customer data from many sources. This first round will be summarized in June, when a dozen of the best start-ups, selected by our corporate partners, will come to Warsaw to discuss pilot implementations.
How are the start-ups selected?
Our goal is to increase the likelihood of deals. Each program is based on analysis of corporate priority areas. The common needs define our focus in scouting and screening potential candidates. Our international scouting team looks at hundreds of start-ups in Europe and Israel to find those whose solutions are most likely to address the issues raised by the corporations. Requirements include proof of concept, clear value added, scalable technology and team. We are not an early stage accelerator, so we expect more developed projects that already generate revenue and are just looking for big corporate clients and partners that could help them scale faster. Corporate partners are then involved in the final selection of companies invited to our matching days.
How is The Heart different from start-up incubators and accelerators?
Incubators and accelerators are a much needed element of the ecosystem because they help with the beginning – getting the first investors and customers. We come in at the next stage, when a start-up has already come up with a business model that generates revenue and is preparing for international expansion. We focus on scaling these businesses, helping them to use corporations as doors to international markets. As a corporate hub, we expect some level of maturity in the projects.
What is the role of The Heart’s space in Warsaw Spire?
Space is the meeting point for our corporate community, investors and scale-ups. Just like a big airport hub, it makes connections easier. We are not tied to one corporation or investor, but we have created a marketplace that is open to all. We attract different people through events and programs. We also provide our foreign visitors a soft landing in the regional ecosystem – by providing the space and connections. Creating such a great space, thanks to our collaboration with Ghelamco, has been a big milestone for our development, and we are looking forward to bringing that concept to other countries.
What can start-ups get from you?
We have one goal: to enable startups to grow faster by helping them get deals with big corporations. We believe corporations can provide great value to start-ups as customers or distribution partners, and we try to facilitate such collaborations. Start-ups that are invited to present within our programs get free access to a pre-selected group of corporate executives interested in their solutions.
How do you assess the Polish ecosystem of incubators and accelerators?
The Polish ecosystem is growing rapidly, mostly thanks to our entrepreneurs. Government support also plays a role. Until recently, start-ups had to go abroad to get support from experienced mentors. In comparison, a start-up that set up in Israel or Germany could count on the support of 200+ accelerators. The situation is changing rapidly, with a number of acceleration programs that have been launched recently with the support of major corporations (Tauron, Amplus and Kross in Pilotmaker, Alior Bank in Huge Thing, KGHM and PKO BP in MIT Enterprise Forum). One thing we are still missing is a large crowd of experienced serial entrepreneurs that can support young ventures not only with money, but personal networks and experience. EU money can’t buy that – our ecosystem will have to become more mature to be able to provide it.
What financing options do young tech firms have at their disposal in Poland? Most start-ups are pragmatic – they finance their operations from sales.
It’s great as it builds more stable businesses initially. Yet, if you do not want to remain local, you need to accept the fact that global competition favors start-ups with better access to funding – they can just acquire the competition and spend more on customer acquisition. The Venture Capital market in Poland is maturing yet is still quite dependent on public money. The smartest money comes from experienced entrepreneurs and investors. We have not had enough “exits” yet to be able to provide that. That’s why probably, at least for some time, we will do best by combining local resources with the networks and expertise of foreign investors.
About The Heart Warsaw
The Heart Warsaw is a European start-up/corporation collaboration center. Located on the 38th floor of the Warsaw Spire office building, the center links young technology companies with the biggest Polish, regional and global companies. The center focuses on thematic programs related to FinTech, Omnichannel, HealthTech, and soon also Internet of Things and Smart City. The Heart Warsaw supports large-size organizations in the implementation of innovations created by the selected start-ups from across Europe. Thanks to that, the best young entrepreneurs from the whole CEE region can scale their businesses faster and expand internationally.