We asked Karol Mirosz-Dudkowski, who has been associated with the program almost from the very beginning, why it is worth applying to PwC Startup Collider and what its benefits are. Startups participating in the program are accompanied, from the moment of analyzing the form in the recruitment process to the Demo Day ending each edition, by PwC partners and clients as well as representatives of business and investment funds. So far, during the three editions, they had the chance to meet almost 800 startups from all continents, and then, together with the entire Startup Collider team, mentors and PwC experts, helped the selected 31 startups conquer new markets, develop in new industries, gain new customers, build new products and services – both on and outside the CEE markets.
This is the fourth edition of the PwC Startup Collider program. Will it be different from the previous ones?
K. Mirosz-Dudkowski: Our program has been around since mid-2016. It would seem that it wasn’t so long ago, but the truth is that at that time the innovation ecosystem in Poland and all of Central and Eastern Europe looked completely different. There were practically no initiatives like ours on the market, and the existing ones were relatively highly specialized and focused on specific fields of technology or areas of innovation. Initially, we followed the same path and created a program for startups developing financial technologies, as among our clients in this area we saw a great need to search for and implement new technologies. We chose 13 startups from Poland, Russia, Lithuania and Hungary, and even Croatia. A large part of these startups are currently thriving companies, we cannot even call them startups any more, rather scaleups that have won industry awards on the national and international arena.
In any case, the pilot edition ended. It was quite a success on the one hand. On the other hand, it was a test for us – what to change in the next editions and how to do it, so that the program is even better and more accurately responds to market needs. We changed the formula, we focused on a greater degree of flexibility and, due to interest in the program of our non-financial teams, we decided to significantly expand the range of technologies we are looking for. The response exceeded our expectations. We received applications not only from CEE, but also from the Middle East and Central Asia, both Americas and Australia, and almost every European country. Ultimately, we selected 12 startups, including two from Spain or the United Kingdom. In turn, the solutions covered areas such as fintech, AI, cybersecurity, e-commerce, AR and the Internet of Things. There is no denying that it was a big challenge for us and our program, but we managed and we transferred the experience from the second edition to the one which came to an end in October.
The third edition was dedicated to startups at a much higher stage of development, having ready solutions, first successful implementations and first clients. Again, we did not limit ourselves to only one area of innovation, but looked at the market in cross-section. The response surprised us, and startups from around the world applied just like a year before. I will not lie – we were sorry we had to turn down some founders, because their solutions were phenomenal, but we could not afford to include too many startups in the program. Eventually, we chose the top ten, which we were absolutely convinced that we would establish a long-term cooperation with, and we could successfully implement their fintech, proptech, HR-oriented solutions using Data Analytics or AR for our clients. We can see that this formula works. That is why we decided to use it also this year, but we address the offer to industries that we have not yet had the opportunity to work with, e.g. insurtech, regtech or blockchain. Of course, we are not giving up on the already proven areas of innovation, such as fintech or AI, in which we are one of the best specialists in the world.
And why should anyone choose PwC Startup Collider from among acceleration and scaling programs present in CEE?
In a nutshell, our goal is to support and promote startups on the markets of Central and Eastern Europe – primarily European startups, but also from other parts of the world. And because we come from the world of business and focus on it, it is important for us that both startups and our clients can count on relatively quick results. We intend to continue our current work and focus on joint scaling in markets where we are present and have a rich customer portfolio. They represent the entire cross-section of industries, and the common denominator is the need for innovative solutions they can implement in their own structures or introduce into their offer. Our task, as mentors and experts, is to develop a joint offer with a startup, and then together present it to PwC clients. Therefore, participants of the Startup Collider program have a unique opportunity to establish cooperation not only with PwC, but also with companies from many different countries of Central and Eastern Europe. One of the biggest challenges facing startups is to reach foreign markets with their offer. Startup Collider facilitates this international expansion, which is often difficult or even impossible for a startup company. I think this is the greatest real value of our program.
What is the cooperation between PwC and the startup participating in the Startup Collider program like?
As I mentioned at the beginning, our program is evolving from year to year. This is because we want to better respond to the changing needs of the market. In the upcoming 4th edition, we will draw on our experience from previous cooperation with startups. For now, the recruitment process is still ongoing and startups can send us their applications until 18th December. At the turn of February and March, we will probably announce which startups qualified for the program. As before, there will be about a dozen of them. Then, from April to September 2020, the scaling period continues.
We work with program participants in a flexible formula, meeting them in person or via video conferencing. During these meetings, mentors tell young innovators how to become better entrepreneurs, pay attention to what is really important and the traps that may lay ahead of them, thanks to which they will enter a higher level of business development. What has not changed for years is not a lack of vision – they have just enough of it or even more – but of the practice resulting from doing business with new groups of clients, in new industries or in new markets. However, thanks to our “global” presence, we can help them fill these gaps. But we will not limit ourselves, and if the program participants have any strategic questions, we will also do everything to make their business grow. A successful mentor from PwC, who specializes in the industry and innovation area in which the startup operates, will be responsible for the successful development of the startup during the scale-up process with PwC Startup Collider.
What are the benefits for startups from working with PwC Startup Collider?
There is a number of them. First of all, young entrepreneurs who qualify for the program will gain unlimited access to our know-how. Mentors help them overcome barriers between individual industries and facilitate networking. Also at international events, where they often appear together. But it doesn't stop there. At PwC, we strongly believe that innovation implemented both internally and those that the company can offer to its clients and business partners are now one of the main sources of competitive advantage of any organization that wants to develop dynamically. We have always kept a close eye on innovation, which is why our entry into the world of startups was not a surprise, but a natural step in the development of our company on a global scale. The very rapid development of startup ecosystems, which we also observe in recent years in Central and Eastern Europe, has created a new demand for cooperation between beginners and mature businesses. Our goal is not to find a startup in which we as PwC will invest or whose technology we will buy. We are looking for startups that will become our business partners – with whom we will jointly develop new, innovative products. Those products will then be presented to our partners and clients, and among them are the world's largest players from every branch of business. Startups give us a new perspective on business in the spirit of disruption, we provide them with our knowledge in the field of development, sales, scaling and internationalization. We have a customer base and a global perspective, and startups create highly specialized technologies and have the advantage of flexibility and operational speed. The real recipe for the success of us all is to connect these two worlds.
To sum up, at PwC we really believe in innovation and its power. We are open to cooperation with innovators and visionaries. We want to change the business world with them. Therefore, to the question “Is it worth applying to PwC Startup Collider?”, there can only be one correct answer: absolutely yes!