The wooded region of Podlaskie in northeastern Poland is proving to be fertile ground for technology and innovation. We speak to the companies and graduates at the heart of this unlikely tech hub.
Poland’s Podlaskie region is rich in natural beauty, with abundant forests. But now it’s aspiring to be a kind of ‘Silicon Forest,’ through its blossoming technology and IT scene.
Innovation is at the heart of Podlaskie’s innovation and investment vision. It’s looking to fertilise an ecosystem, which the data shows already employs more than 10,000 people in the IT sector, including over 4000 software developers.
The international TenderHut Group is rooted in Podlaskie. One of its 15 companies, Holo4Labs, has developed advanced augmented reality technology, to help scientists do away with manual, time-consuming tasks.
The company says its hi-tech goggles can help cut drug development by up to three years.
“With new drugs, it takes 10 or 15 years for this drug to be developed. This reduces the time to one, two or even three years less," revealed Maciej Falkowski, the Head of Product at Holo4Labs.
"I can fully focus as a scientist on my work, as I can see everything in my eyesight and navigate with voice commands, so I can work with my hands free.”
“If we are talking about the future and what we want to do here also is that we are really working closely with all universities. We are trying to train the new people, we are trying to have the best employees that we can, and I also see a lot of growth here,” said Robert Strzelecki, the CEO of TenderHut Group S.A.
For the Medical University of Białystok, in the regional capital, tech is at the heart of research, focusing on things like artificial intelligence, and how it can help personalise future treatments.
"There’s a great environment for collaboration between universities, like academia and business partners, which helps to develop tools that will actually be delivered to the patient’s bed," Dr Lukasz Szczerbiński, Assistant Professor at the Medical University of Bialystok's Clinical Research Centre told Focus.
"The other thing we’re lucky to have is partners with huge experience, especially from the US or from Germany," he added.
Nurturing and retaining young talent
Photon is an interactive robot helping to introduce school children to technology, and it's the brainchild of Podlaskie graduates. It can see, hear and perceive touch.
Designed and assembled in Podlaskie, Photon says 60,000 of its robots are now deployed in classrooms in Europe and the US. And, as it grows, this start-up wants to stay loyal to its roots.
“I see a lot of regional development in terms of new companies and technology coming to this region and I think it’s super helpful that we can develop together," explained Michał Grześ, the CEO of Photon Education.
“For the future, we will of course be doing some global and international expansion, but the core of the company will still be here.”
The technical and creative minds behind Photon graduated from the Białystok University of Technology. It’s building a track record of graduate start-ups, helping to retain young minds in the region.
“We engage entrepreneurs," said Professor Marta Kosior-Kazberuk at the Białystok University of Technology.
"Already at the recruitment stage, we show future candidates the possibilities of developing an engineering career in our region. During studies, we cooperate closely with enterprises, organising internships, study visits, lectures, and classes by practitioners at our university.”
Podlaskie is banking on skilled graduates to realise its hi-tech vision. But the region acknowledges having enough of them is one of the key challenges that lies ahead.
Around 9,000 students graduate in Podlaskie each year - a young, skilled workforce this region is relying on to realise its innovation and investment vision.
“We had many study visits to foreign countries. We went to Silicon Valley, we went to Israel and many European countries," said Mariusz Dąbrowski the Director at the Marshal’s Office in Podlaskie Voivodeship.
We’re trying to train as many people as possible, but still I think, it’s not enough. So, this is the main challenge - I think not only in this part of Poland but all over the EU."