“Beautiful.” This one-word comment from a delegate best summed up the reactions to the First Polish Entrepreneurs' Congress held in London on 9 October. The event organised by PBlink and the BPCC, involved over 160 people and was destined to be a success; it was fully sold out two weeks in advance; delegates travelled from as far as Kraków, Warsaw, Glasgow and Bristol, there was widespread coverage in the Polish-language media in the UK.
The event, held at Europe House in Westminster, was officially opened by Polish Ambassador Witold Sobków and BPCC chairman Antoni F. Reczek.
Bartlomiej Kowalczyk, owner-manager of marketing communication agency Picklemedia and founder of PBlink, explained how PBlink supports Polish entrepreneurs across the UK. Bartek's hard work and enthusiasm were critical to the success of this event.
Putting the phenomenon of Polish entrepreneurship into a European and national context was the theme of the first session; Tatiana Fic from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research looked at patterns of migration from the new EU member states to the existing ones, and highlighted the economic benefits – and costs – that the migration created. The UK turns out to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of a significantly expanded workforce, with migrants adding around one percentage point to Britain's GDP each year since 2004. Matthew Rock, editor-in-chief of DueDil looked at entrepreneurship among migrant groups settling in the UK. This year's report by DueDil and Centre for Entrepreneurs showed that 21,000 Poles set up 22,000 limited liability companies, placing them sixth in the ranking, behind Ireland, India, USA, China and Germany, but ahead of France, Italy or Holland.
The next session focused on practical aspects of growing business. Gary King of Tendo Ltd gave an inspiring speech on selling to British clients; his presentation was full of useful tips on running your own business with a view of increasing revenues and profitability. Peter Wright of Growth Accelerator, a UK Government-backed service for high-growth SMEs, talked about access to finance and coaching, and what support is on offer for entrepreneurs in the UK.
Many Poles in the audience were amazed at the next presentation by Siobhan O'Keeffe from the Crown Commercial Service; she outlined the ease with which SMEs can take part in tenders to bid for public sector work. The transparency and openness of the UK public procurement process was a real eye-opener for delegates who'd spent most of their lives in Poland. Ms O'Keeffe has since been invited to Warsaw to share UK best practice with Polish public procurement policy-makers!
After an excellent networking lunch, delegates returned to the conference room for another pleasant surprise – a presentation by Clive Fozard and Luke Staniland from HMRC, who explained how to get on well with your tax man. Again, for delegates more used to dealing with Polish tax authorities, the openness and willingness to support the entrepreneur shown by HMRC was well received.
Bob Spence, of ASBIRO University, and author of an accredited programme in professional and business networking, explained how to get the very best out of networking by focusing on a small number of people who you really need to know. Bob, a South African who arrived in Britain in the 1980s, explained how important networking is when building a business in a foreign country.
Two inspirational case studies followed; Tomasz Dyl, who set up his own business in Southampton at the age of 17 and was last year named the city's Young Entrepreneur of the Year. His marketing firm helps British businesses reach Polish consumers. Jacek Ostrowski of Yellow Octopus Ltd explained how he took the difficult decision to leave corporate life and set up his own business shortly after arriving in the UK with a young family, and how that decision paid off with – among others – a handshake from Queen Elizabeth II. His company operates globally in stock management and marketing in the clothing sector.
After a break for tea and coffee, the networking part of the Congress began, with delegates being joined by those unable to make it for the conference part of the day, who arrived to swap business cards with those lucky enough to have done so. Owing to the large numbers involved, the networking sessions took place in two separate groups; in each one, every person had the chance to introduce themselves and their business in 30 seconds. These introductions formed the basis of informal networking, with each participant being able to spend time chatting to those they found the most interesting.
Pre-arranged one-to-one discussions with experts then followed, allowing participants to gain insights from professional advisers on finance, trade, law, marketing and other areas of business.
The day finished at the Marquis of Granby pub round the corner from the venue; informal networking continued until last orders!
The organisers of the event, PBlink and the British Polish Chamber of Commerce would like to thank the Congress Partners, who made this historic celebration of Polish entrepreneurship in the UK possible – MoneyGram, TurnerLaw and Pol Plan Insurance, as well as the supporters, DFDS Seaways, European Enterprise Network and BC Printing, and media partners websites Londynek.net and Emito.net, and Polish weeklies Cooltura and Polish Express.
And of course the BPCC would like to extend a huge thank you to event coordinators Confidalia Events and to Bartłomiej Kowalczyk of PBlink.
Photos from the congress