Poland has become a land of interest for many international entrepreneurs and companies since the end of the communist regime in 1989. With a market of almost 40 million customers, it is the biggest economy among the countries* that joined the European Union in 2004.
What are the opportunities and challenges of starting a business in Poland? Three Dutch entrepreneurs share their experience.
Kersten Europe started doing business in Poland in 1998. After initially establishing a joint venture with a large local steel contractor, Kersten Europe took over the Polish company after two years of cooperation. In 2000 it bought a plot in the industrial area of Kleszczow and built a 2.500 m2 production hall with offices. Kersten Europe’s plan was to copy its successful Dutch business concept in a new promising geographical area in Europe. “Poland has ranked second in steel construction for years,” says Hans Besseling, managing director and co-owner of Kersten Europe Group. “We believed that accession to the EU would lead to internal developments and export opportunities.”
Today Kersten Europe Polska is the market leader in bending technology in Poland and is still growing. The company contributed to a number of prestigious landmark projects such as the Euro 2012 football stadiums in Warsaw and Poznan and the Zlote Tarasy (Golden Terraces) shopping mall in the centre of Warsaw. Its bending technology is used in various infrastructural constructions such as bridges and acoustic screens in Poland.
For Dirk Aarts, managing director of PR company Twenty four Seven, starting a business in Poland happened as a coincidence. He arrived in the country in 1999 to start up a company on behalf of a Belgian beer brewery. The brewery was sold a few years later but instead of returning to Belgium, Aarts decided to stay and establish his own company. “By that time I had seen and experienced the potential that Poland has to offer to entrepreneurs,” he explains.
“Polish people are open for new concepts and the country is undergoing a fast development. This makes Poland attractive for young business entrepreneurs with creative ideas. It is very dynamic compared to countries such as the Netherlands where it is often difficult for a start up to be competitive. In Poland the market is more open to new initiatives,” Aarts adds.
Dirk Aarts, manager of Twenty Four Seven
Photo: Communications Unlimited
Michel de Bruin, managing partner of Eunite, a business consultancy firm for Western organisations in Central and Eastern Europe, says that the Polish economy is booming in all sectors. Bruin explain his recipe for success by quoting the advice a former employer once gave him to : “Follow your heart and then choose.’’
Professionals and entrepreneurs wanted
Hans Besseling sees the need for innovative solutions and products in Poland. His company Kersten Europe Polska was selected to supply bent components for several offshore wind projects, including for one of the biggest German offshore wind parks Amrumbank – (North Sea – DE). “Currently about 15 percent of our turnover comes from offshore wind projects,” he says.
According to Dirk Aarts, Poland’s communication sector is transforming in two directions. “On the one hand, there is a trend towards consolidation with global communication groups but on the other hand communication services are also becoming more specialized. Agencies and companies are getting less generic in their offer and focusing more on their strength niches.”
Michel de Bruin notes the increasing need for professional accounting in Poland. “Where in the beginning ‘any bookkeeper’ could do the job, now the growth in Polish business demands a modern way of accounting,” he says. “ Customers expect not only a crystal clear financial reporting, but also a comprehensive communication regarding Polish legislation as well as accounting rules.”
How is it like to live and work in Poland?
Dirk Aarts is enthusiastic about the opportunities he has found in Poland: “It is great. The country has gone through an enormous development. Basically the country that I discovered in 1999 is a totally different country today. The dynamism in Poland is enormous and can be felt throughout the country, but especially in the biggest cities. Living in a city like Warsaw is like living in a metropolitan city with all facilities, services, culture, retail one can need. This gives a thrill and it is really great to be part of it. Poles are very passionate and warm-hearted people. Once you are part of the culture it brings lots of joy. The hospitality is fantastic and as a foreigner you can count on a warm welcome.”
Hans Besseling is surprised by the difference in development across Poland. He notes an increasing gap between the poor and the growing successful middle segment of the population. “This explains the big discrepancy that can be seen in city landscapes, where modern, fancy and well-kept buildings, luxury cars and well-maintained areas co-exist with run-down districts,” he says.
Besseling notes further that Dutch business quality standards and working methods can easily be implemented in Poland. “Poles are dedicated, committed, hard-working, loyal and eager to learn new things,” he says.
Marketing project for Lenor, by 24/7
Final tips and good luck!
Dirk Aarts advises new entrepreneurs to be patient and perseverant. “Poland is not an easy country to start up a business,” he says, “even if the potential looks high at first sight. In spite of the country’s openness to new ideas and concepts, it takes time before a business becomes profitable, and this often means that there are more costs than income. The overregulated bureaucracy is a problem. One can survive the difficult first phase by keeping costs very low.”
Hans Besseling agrees that patience is the key to success. “Once you have found the right people and/or partners it is relatively easy to start up your business,” he says.
Over the years the Kersten Europe Polska team consists of more than 30 people, the majority of whom live in the direct region of Kleszczow. “We are very proud of the fact that our first employees are still working with us. We attach great value to the contacts and co-operation with the local communities as well as the local society,” Besseling says.
The company decided to appoint a Polish managing director. “This was a very good decision,” Besseling explains. “A Polish managing director knows the local rules, culture and customs and has the ability to supervise the local staff.”
Michel de Bruin concludes with two last pieces of advice: “Before entering the Polish market, do your homework. Although this seems logical, we still see that quite some companies could have prepared better. And for those who already have a company in Poland: make sure you have a reliable accountant with professional ‘sparring skills’. And finally: welcome and good luck!”
By Beata M. Bruggeman-Sękowska
Beata M. Bruggeman-Sękowska is a member of the board of the Maastricht Institute for Central and Eastern Europe and a Dutch-Polish journalist. She is a publisher and writer of Central and East European language books including books for entrepreneurs. Due to her international background and experience she is an advisor to governmental and commercial organisations on Central and Eastern European issues. Furthermore, she is an owner of Communications-Unlimited, a language center and a publishing house. She is an academic teacher at Zuyd University of Applied Sciences and a PR professional with an international outreach.
Interesting links and partners:
Maastricht Institute for Central and Eastern Europe: www.micee.eu
Kersten Europe: www.kersteneurope.com
Twenty for Seven: http://web2.247pr.pl/
Polish Embassy: http://haga.msz.gov.pl/nl/
Polish Embassy, Trade and Investment Promotion Section (WPHiI): http://www.haga.trade.gov.pl/en/
* Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovak Republic, Slovenia