The Second Congress of Polish Entrepreneurs in the UK took place on 16 October at the premises of RBS in the City of London. The high-profile event was judged by participants to have been a huge success, both in the amount of business knowledge imparted and the effective networking that the Congress afforded. With delegates coming from all over the UK as well as from Poland, the Congress brought together successful owner-managers of high-growth businesses in one place to learn, share experiences and swap business cards.
With innovation as the main theme of this year’s Congress, the day-long event was divided into a motivational session, a business clinic addressing specific issues relevant to running a firm in the UK today, and a panel discussion which focused on case studies of innovative Polish businesses and the cultural differences between running businesses in both countries.
The event was opened by His Excellency Witold Sobków, the Polish Ambassador to London, Michael Dembinski, the BPCC’s chief advisor, and Bartek Kowalczyk, the driving force behind the PBlink.co.uk series of events and business website. Ian Spero, founder of Creative Skills For Life and a strategic advisor to Innovate UK, outlined the role of Innovate UK as a source of grants for innovation-led businesses, “free money” as he put it, which hardly any UK-based Polish entrepreneur had heard about. Veronica Heaven, owner and founder of The Heaven Company London Ltd, spoke compellingly about the need to put sustainability into the heart of business. Working with British firms that are currently run by the fourth or fifth generation of the founder’s family, she stressed the importance of taking the long-term view of business growth, that takes account of society and the environment as well as the bottom line. Marcin Zaba from crowdfunding platform Syndicate Room explained how crowdfunding works as a way through which entrepreneurs can finance their innovative ideas. He said there were three models – equity, loan and donation. Participants had the chance to hold one-to-one meetings with the speakers during a 45-minute long structured networking coffee break.
Following the break, the Business Clinic concentrated on the day-to-day aspects of entrepreneurship. Neil Butler, from Companies House, explained how this institution works, how entrepreneurs can set up Limited Liability Companies in the UK, the duties and responsibilities of company directors, and the amount of information that is freely available from Companies House – which can help entrepreneurs assess the trustworthiness of potential business partners. Bartosz Maj from Simpkins & Co. Solicitors spoke about the major changes to the state pension scheme, and how auto-enrolment will affect every single employer in the UK, regardless of size. He explained steps that employers need to be taking now to be ready for the introduction of auto-enrolment in 2017. Peter Lorenz from UK Trade & Investment highlighted the advantages that the UK can offer as a base for entrepreneurs from around the world. As an inward investment destination, the ease of doing business (the eighth best in the world, the second – after Denmark – best in the EU) makes the UK an ideal springboard for global expansion. Serial entrepreneur Helen Roberts from CPG Executive Consulting, originally from Ireland, followed on along this theme, explaining the many ways in which the UK can help entrepreneurs boost their business success.
After a networking lunch, again with structured one-to-one meeting opportunities with the speakers, the third session – focused on innovation – commenced. Michael Dembinski, from the BPCC introduced the session, saying how important it is to the future direction of Poland. “Either Poland can remain an operation economy, outsourcing manufacturing and services to more advanced countries – or it can become a strategic economy setting the course for innovative growth for others to follow,” he said. Lack of access to financing innovation and outdated structures in Polish universities hold the country back, but EU funds in the 2014-2020 financial perspective, driven by private-sector initiatives, offer hope for a step-change in how Poland approaches innovation. Ziemowit Ekiert from Acuarius Consulting spoke about market entry in both directions – finding suitable business partners in Poland and in the UK, while Patrick Ney, director of BPCC Trade, talked about the key barriers holding back UK businesses from entering the Polish market – lack of commitment, budgets and marketing. Marcin Kozlowski from Business Link put Polish start-ups into a global perspective, pointing out the comparative cost advantage of doing R&D or IT work in Poland.
The final part of the conference was a panel discussion, in which five entrepreneurs swapped opinions about running a business in the UK, based on their own case studies. Michał Krajewski, from Polsteel Ltd, Michał Wojnar, from Team@One Ltd, Paulina Sygulska from GrantTree, Przemyslaw J. Sulich, from A1 Europe and Andrew Humphries, the co-founder of business incubator The Bakery and a UKTI global entrepreneur dealmaker, exchanged views about some of the soft issues that make such a difference in operating in a multi-national business environment. There was an observation that Polish entrepreneurs – with their drive, vision, intelligence and capacity for hard work – often under-sell themselves when pitching to UK clients of potential business partners. Mr Humphries observed that they have no need to feel inferior as they are sharp and able.
After closing remarks from Nick Howe of NatWest Business Banking, the main networking session began. As well as Congress delegates, additional Polish entrepreneurs came along, just for the evening mixer. Every person had a 30-second opportunity to introduce themselves and their businesses, after which the informal networking began in earnest. At eight o’clock, the day-long event came to an end, but delegates carried on across the road at a pub until closing time!
The organisers of the event, PBlink and the British Polish Chamber of Commerce would like to thank the Congress Partners, who made this event possible – Team&One Ltd, Simpkins & Co Solicitors, England.pl Ltd, NatWest as well as the supporters PR Boutique, European Enterprise Network and BC Printing.