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Technopolis Rising

March 2002
By Henry S. Kenyon

Polish research center aims to boost national technology industry, open new markets.

A cooperative venture among government, academic and commercial organizations is seeking to build an advanced research park in the heart of Poland. The Warsaw-based entity will serve as an incubator for small companies, provide established firms with access to research facilities and create a venue to turn the fruits of this labor into commercial products.

Technological modernization and integration continues to drive many former eastern bloc countries as they mesh economies with their western European neighbors. While the years following communism’s fall have seen great changes in the region, more work is still necessary to bring certain sectors up to global marketplace standards. By developing and nurturing local high-technology centers, nations such as Poland seek to move beyond being consumers to becoming active producers and developers of advanced information age products and services.

One such effort is the Warsaw Technopolis, an ambitious project to develop a science and technology center and research park to bring the nation’s technological expertise to commercial markets. According to Jacek Kosiec, president of the Technopolis Foundation, the effort evolved from a need to increase the competitiveness of Polish companies. This also coincided with a major restructuring of the Military University of Technology in Warsaw, which was seeking to leverage its research potential through partnerships with national and foreign corporations.

Work on the Technopolis project began in 2000. The park will be situated in the borough of Bemowo, located in the western part of Warsaw. The military university, which is a substantial contributor to national scientific and military research, is playing a major role in the effort’s development and coordination. Roughly 1,976 acres of land have been earmarked for potential use by the project, with 247 acres coming from the university.

The science and technology park is the heart of the initiative. The goal is to form the infrastructure and material support necessary to create new high-technology firms and attract existing companies. The military university and other research and academic institutions also will ensure their long-term viability by participating in cooperative efforts between the Technopolis Foundation and the commercial sector, Kosiec explains.

Although no ground has been broken for the new facilities, the first parts of the Technopolis are taking shape in the form of a technology incubator. This 10,000-square-foot former university building is being adapted to the needs of high-technology startup companies. Kosiec notes that several small companies and entrepreneurs already are waiting for the building to be finished. He expects the incubator to be open for use by this spring. A second building will be converted into an incubator in 2003.

A major centerpiece of the research park is a planned executive training center that is being developed in partnership with American companies. A business plan also is in production, and Kosiec hopes to attract other investors and developers to this project. He is confident about his U.S. partners because they have successfully created research parks in the United States and are experienced in executive training.

One of the center’s goals is to provide the latest technical and management skills to military and commercial professionals. “The center could be one of the major training facilities in Central and Eastern Europe. We want to get some NATO and maybe European Union support,” he says.

The Technopolis Foundation also is designing other projects, including a multitenant information technology center, a conference and exhibition center, housing and service quarters, and recreational facilities.

A large part of the military university’s optoelectronics institute will move into the technology park to form an optoelectronics center, Kosiec says. As the park expands, he also hopes to establish a number of focused technology centers that will attract companies to work directly with the university or the institute.

Firms interested in becoming part of the Technopolis must meet at least one of several criteria. They must be able to cooperate with scientific research institutions from the Warsaw region and Mazovia province, conduct their own scientific research in specific fields, or produce prototypes or a small series of high-technology products. Other criteria include providing education and training, conducting or supporting research and development and technology commercialization, or offering services in this sector.

The Technopolis has already attracted many Polish firms ranging from large publicly traded companies to small technology startups working with the military university. However, Kosiec notes that the planning stage must first be completed so that an efficient process for businesses to join is in place.

Foreign companies also are lining up to participate in spinoff programs through the park. Although government approval is still necessary, the Technopolis has drawn the interest of major U.S. defense and technology firms such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Bell. However, Kosiec is quick to note that these are still preliminary discussions and that no projects have been implemented.

The Technopolis program is currently in a transition stage. The foundation originated as a part of the military university, but in January it became a separate entity. However, Kosiec adds that the university will continue to work closely with the foundation, cultivating and attracting entrepreneurs to the Technopolis and creating scientific results and products ready for commercialization. The university will also provide education and training programs and technical support for participating firms.

As part of the university’s restructuring program, up to 40 percent of its staff will be cut. Many of these individuals will transition to the park’s various facilities, Kosiec explains.

Another goal of the program is to expand research projects beyond military applications by taking a dual technology approach. “In other words, they have to act externally, not just focusing on military research, but to make useful things for the commercial sector,” he says.

This diversification is important because although Poland has pockets of world-class research—Kosiec points to the military university’s optoelectronics institute, which works with blue laser technology—the country lacks the infrastructure to deliver the results of this research to the commercial sector. “Without the proper environment and support, even good technologies can’t find their way to the market. So most of the modern technology is imported, not Polish made,” he says.

Creating startup companies is proving to be one of the most exciting aspects of the Technopolis effort, Kosiec says. A physicist by training and experienced with U.S. Agency for International Development-funded technology transfer programs, Kosiec notes that after joining the military university, he discovered a great number of good ideas and projects that could be commercialized. Besides foreign investment programs, he has encountered many young people with ideas about starting businesses or commercializing a technology based on their academic experiences.

Brainpower is one of Poland’s untapped resources, with some 250,000 university students in the Warsaw area alone, Kosiec observes. “That’s a great potential. I don’t think many larger cities have so many young people,” he says. Some of the city’s scientific and technical schools are also world-class institutions. Two research centers reside in the military university’s immediate area, the Institute of Plasma and Laser Microsynthesys and the Institute of Technology for Electronic Materials. Both of these institutions complement the university’s overall academic and research goals, and three other military institutes are located nearby.

Two new private colleges also opened in Warsaw in 2001: the Warsaw Higher School and the American University of Warsaw. Both have strong programs in computer sciences and economics. “That’s also our strength. Some of the institutes are really very good—world class, and we want to use that,” Kosiec says.

From an e-commerce perspective, Kosiec describes Poland’s performance as average for its part of the world. “It means that we are way behind the United States or Western Europe,” he explains. However, the number of people with Internet access is growing rapidly, with some 3 million people over the age of 18 connected from home or work.

Despite this growth, the national infrastructure needs improvement. Kosiec notes that the majority of Internet connections are in large population centers, with Warsaw representing almost 20 percent of national usage. Though an abundant amount of fiber optic cable exists, the difficulty lies in the last mile—the connection from the backbone to individual homes. “It’s very expensive to deliver fiber optics to private homes. That’s a big problem because the quality of those lines is very bad and the speed is also low,” he says.

Within the next five years, Kosiec hopes to see the incubators, some of the technology centers and the executive training facility built and operating. He believes this will be an important step because Poland needs more knowledge about specific technologies and markets, and most importantly, it needs people with the skills to transfer that information to the marketplace.