This May marked ten years of hubraum! To celebrate the occasion, we’re compiling a potted history: the milestones that defined hubraum, year by year. Our second chapter focuses on a huge part of the tale — hubraum Krakow.
In 2013, hubraum founded its Krakow campus. But why did Deutsche Telekom opt for Poland for their second campus? And why were the first years full of both laughter and tears? We spoke to those who were there at the beginning to find out more: Kuba Probola, previously head of hubraum Krakow; Agnieszka Hopciaś – who began working there as an intern in 2015 and still works there as a Qualitative User Researcher and Product Owner — and Roman Duzhyk, currently a Program Manager & IoT Driver, but who started on our Krakow campus in 2015 as an intern.
Kuba: The EU segment of Deutsche Telekom started supporting their different national companies in their innovation. So they thought, why not found an innovation hub somewhere in Europe? Three or four cities were selected as possibilities: Budapest, Vienna, Krakow and Warsaw in Poland.
Back in 2012, the CEO of T-Mobile Polska told me that I should go and fight and make sure that the hub came to Poland. I argued that Krakow should be selected because it’s a straightforward city, the logistics there (in terms of its location, and transport options) were good, there was decent infrastructure, there was already a well-developed ecosystem, there were a couple of good startups already there and lots of students.
We had a team of six people when we started — we called ourselves the Navy seals.
Roman: Back then, our team was made up of Jakub Probola, also known as Kuba, who was the very first head of hubraum Krakow. Łukasz Cieśla worked as our program and operations manager; Cosmin Ochisor and Luka Sucic were our Business Development and Investment Managers. Filip Dębowski worked as our Communication & Partnerships Manager, Greg Banaś – Head of Investment Management, while Patrycja Polakiewicz-Sobczuk was our Communication Manager.
Aga: We had a great team. Patrycja and Filip in particular were a wonderful pairing: Filip was an explosion of creativity and spontaneity, he was an amazing relationship manager, and Patrycja would be this guardian angel behind the scene, making sure everything was carried out, under control, and ensuring top-notch quality.
Kuba: At the beginning, we were incredibly excited and eager, but there was also a lot of frustration because we had such high expectations. We felt we were doing something extraordinary, something which was a once in a lifetime opportunity to accomplish such things.
There was permanent overtime. But the team didn’t complain about it, they just asked “what can I do?” We all wanted to prove something. There was a lot of trust, a lot of fun, a lot of smiling and there were tears as well.
Aga: When I joined hubraum in 2015, on my very first day it was the beginning of the Challenge Up program, a cross-corporate/industry program we did with Intel and Cisco. This was great, because it meant I got to meet the Berlin team as well. I remember Verena Vellmer, who was responsible for communication at the hubraum campus in Berlin, telling us, “Guys, you’re too cool” — meaning a little bit crazy. She was an outstanding volcano of creativity and empowerment, connecting hubraum Krakow with Berlin’s innovation ecosystem That’s one thing I love about our team: we had this ”startuppy”, Eastern European mindset from the beginning.
Our team was inspired by young innovators, and we worked on an eye-to-eye level with the startup ecosystem which helped us to gain trust and connections in this very “corporate-distanced” ecosystem of entrepreneurs, and startuppers. Back in 2013, corporate incubators barely existed – startups weren’t sure of incubators’ intentions and were concerned they might steal their ideas.
Kuba: It’s going to this day! And in its first year it was an intensive, “turbo” 8-day accelerator program for startups from across Europe. Startups got their travel and accommodation covered, and could get access to experienced mentors and entrepreneurs, investors from all over Europe, workshops, meetings with us and investment opportunities. The idea was, we wanted to attract startups who we could collaborate with quickly and in one go.
The idea came from a task we were given to support all the different national strands of Deutsche Telekom — we had to find a format which worked for each national company in 12 different countries. We made lists: what were no gos for the startups and for us; what were budgeting issues. WARP was valuable because it gave us enough time to observe the startups. It meant we could watch them and test out our assumptions about them.
Kuba: I would argue it wasn’t a thing that happened — it was a feature of the workplace itself. Which is, I think we had and continue to have an incredible team. It was a great mix of people and got even better the following year, when Roman and Aga joined us.
Roman: In my opinion, it wasn’t just the team, but the specifics of that — it was a multicultural team. Everyone was from different companies with different backgrounds and different experiences. We also had representatives from different Eastern European countries.
But what I think was really special was the team’s loyalty and its size. A small team means you can only do one project but everyone was working together. This was the most exciting thing about those days.
Aga: I joined as an intern so it was my very first professional working experience — before that, I’d only ever had part time jobs. I jumped into this crazy environment and the first thing that struck me was this great energy. I agree with Roman, what was unique was this sense of “all hands-on-board” approach. We would have big milestones like the program and a lot of them in parallel, and back then we were a small group — a program manager, an intern and sometimes even the cleaning ladies would all work together. That was something special, I thought.
I remember during WARP, we would all meet on Sunday afternoon because the startups arrived on the Sunday evening and the program would start on Monday afternoon. We met in front of the hubraum office for lunch and then we would go and get the office ready ourselves. Everyone from the intern to Kuba would be equally involved in bringing out the chairs, arranging the tables, cleaning, being frustrated when small things went wrong but we were so engaged and partners in crime that this just made us smile.
In my opinion, the biggest thing that went wrong happened in 2014. We had got badges printed to give out to the mentors from Deutsche Telekom, real big fish — big investors and important businessmen and we noticed that Deutsche Telekom had been misspelled. It was spotted by one of my colleagues, he couldn’t stop laughing. We didn’t know what to do. How could we have misspelled our own company name?
There were so many embarrassing moments that we turned into funny stories. But this brought us closer together — the proof of this is that startups from those times are still in touch with us and I still get calls or messages from the startups from 2014, who still remember us. For them, we’re hubraum. I heard that many times — the people are hubraum, not the infrastructure, not the place. We personally are hubraum.
Kuba: The most important thing that happened early on was that we took this amazing chance that had been given to us and we took it as far as we could. It was a very extreme, unique opportunity. To this day, I’m very proud of this team, these people I worked with and who I still have a chance to work with.
2022 marks ten years of hubraum! We plan to celebrate, both in Berlin and – of course – Krakow. Stay tuned to learn how you can join us, whether by signing up for our newsletter or following us on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Hungry for more hubraum history? Check out the previous chapter of our potted history — a recounting of the very beginning of our entire incubator in Germany, told from the perspective of someone who’s been working here since day one.
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