Decades of partitions and those of communist rule in Poland have contributed to imitation culture. People in Poland believe anything of Western origin is better than domestic goods. What gave rise to this state of affairs was propaganda efforts of partitioning states to belittle Polish statecraft and culture. Poles were instilled with a sense of inferiority while decades of communist rule perpetuated this view.
What has now become a synonym for success is a well-limited music genre developed in the United States, France, Italy, or elsewhere where societies enjoy high self-esteem. Customers in Poland look for foreign brands while domestic manufacturers seek to lurk them as their products tend to take foreign names––like Poland-based Reserved, Cropp, or Gino Rossi. Seeking to make the domestic economy flourish, it is vital to develop a domestic-oriented mindset to brush aside a servant-like mentality.
State officials also fear domestic solutions as they opt for foreign-made goods and services instead of selecting domestic production.
Cultural hindrance goes hand in hand with institutional shortages––as no state institution in Poland is now in charge of investing in innovation. Indeed, Poland is home to some emerging funds eager to support startups yet their capital seems scarce while their return on investment is negative. Neither state nor privately held capital can sustain innovation.
State offices in Poland fail to acknowledge the importance of intellectual capital, as evidenced by their attitude toward what is referred to as participatory budgeting. Originators of any interesting solutions hand them to the local government for free.
But the project itself is never implemented for free. Those who make money off them are state clerks and contractors. The originator is under pressure to waive intellectual property rights.
The Polish army also failed to develop a set of mechanisms for innovation support. Whether the military acquires a new product depends on individuals and not a cohesive system.
Goodwill people helped develop such weapons as Piorun man-portable air-defense system, Pirat anti-tank guide missile, Krab 155 mm tracked gun-howitzer, or Grot modular assault rifle.
Unfortunately, many vital projects have been dropped. Below are a few examples.
1. ILX-27 high-capacity unmanned helicopter
It was indigenously developed by a consortium comprised of the Institute of Aviation in Warsaw, the Military Aviation Works No. 1 in Łódź, and the Polish scientific and research organization Air Force Institute of Technology. In late 2009, Poland’s science and higher education ministry channeled R&D financing into its research program, labeled 0048/R/T00/2009/08 “Unmanned multi-purpose helicopter.” A prototype was unveiled, but no further research continued while the project team fell apart. The entire project cost the Polish taxpayer some PLN 25 million.
Had these unmanned vehicles been produced, they now could carry out a mission in war-torn Mariupol to deliver medicine, food, and other commodities. They could be used to evacuate people from the besieged Azovstal steel plant. The ILX-27 unmanned helicopter has never seen the light of day due to some erroneous political decisions. The purchase cost stands at some PLN 10 million, which is a fifth of the purchase cost of a multi-purpose helicopter such as a Black Hawk.
2. Anders prototype light tank
Anders was a series of multirole, tracked combat vehicle designed by OBRUM, a research and development centre. With its 120 mm unmanned turret, the tank could perform a role of a combat support vehicle. Its modular solutions allow for a multitude of possible configurations. It could carry eight fully equipped soldiers. The Hitfist-30P turret could be used as an infantry fighting vehicle.
Although the prototype received ministry funding, its serial production was eventually dropped as state officials believed the Polish army would assist only in foreign military missions. No one could even think a war might break out in Europe.
3. Two-inch gallium nitride crystals
Poland-based tech company Ammono was building up its stock of superhigh-quality gallium nitride crystals. Blu-Ray discs and high-power LEDs rely on gallium nitride. It could enable better vehicle performance and efficiency for both plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles. Power density is greatly improved in gallium nitride devices compared to silicon ones. Gallium nitride-based technology could double an electric car’s driving range. Furthermore, it is used in a broad spectrum of radar systems.
According to Dr. Robert Dwilinski, co-inventor of gallium nitride crystal production technology, “despite declarations of betting on innovation, the state is still reluctant to invest in technology on a long-term basis due to risks. No one can do it otherwise. Either you risk or you bet on already-tested solutions to avoid risk-taking.”
4. Tethered helium aerostats
Adaptronica, a Poland-based company, has teamed with the Institute of Fundamental Technological Research of the Polish Academy of Science to introduce innovation it had developed for fourteen years. One example that could boost safety is the tethered helium aerostat. It could monitor a targeted area with high-end cameras, operating at a ground distance of 100–300 meters and 24 hours per day. As helium is released into the atmosphere, two-hour breaks are required once several days to pump more helium into the aerostat.
“The development of innovation requires systemic, long-term cooperation between all actors involved in the process of funding research and implementing its results,” according to Adaptronica CEO.
Polish research institutions are trapped in a publish-or-perish scheme, driven by top-down regulations. What obstructs efforts to implement innovation in Poland is the fact that research papers contain some technical details, which is not necessary. Those that reap benefits are foreign-based businesses.
Polish companies, on the other hand, are oriented toward a product that brings profit rather in the short term, which discourages or even prevents the perception of innovation development in the long term.
It is high time Poland scrapped the concept of leapfrogging. If the Central European state seeks to turn into a technology-based economy, there is no choice but to channel public funds into innovation.
Let’s bemoan first.
State offices that handle mostly EU funds usually do a poor job. Perhaps the biggest enemy of innovation in Poland is bureaucracy and its strict rules on research financing and settlement. And yet like no other branch, this one is desperate for a flexible and ambitious approach.
Efforts to develop new technologies yet involve financial outlays. As those remain modest, what tips the scales is effective management and cooperation.
Poland has materials that it extracts yet does not process. One example is KGHM, Poland’s state-run mining company that produces copper and silver. But there is no company responsible for producing cutting-edge copper goods.
Poland is also home to large coal deposits. Coal costs too much to be just burnt–– it is used in many industries. Despite the country’s rich mining traditions, there are just a handful of companies able to develop advanced coal-processing technologies.
What is just part of the truth is a lack of capital and an immature market. The biggest headache Poland faces with innovation is that state and private institutions are poorly prepared to support innovation projects. No one can schedule a thought-induced project. Nor can they control when or where it is created. This is why the fastest-developing nations are those that grab new technologies aptly and incorporate them into their economies.
Poland’s considerable albeit untapped intellectual potential involves thousands of engineers, IT specialists, researchers, and designers. Labour is also becoming more expensive, which could eventually scrap leapfrogging.
So what steps should be taken to break the glass ceiling of the impossible and build a knowledge-based economy?
First, let’s develop those institutions that might detect promising solutions to sell them onto the market. Unlike other grants, such institutions should account for the value increase of their assets. Whether they notch up success depends on whether they can bring together knowledge across different fields, including finance, science, or market studies.
Poles have to step out of their comfort zone and learn how to cooperate. Universities now launch some innovation funds that provide incentives and promote innovation among students and teachers. What seems problematic is the amount of capital and a stable source of funding for higher-budget innovation projects. Unfortunately, only a handful of funds attain the targeted rate of return. The problem is that Polish startups lack knowledge of the niche market they aspire to target.
Surprisingly, inviting the state into some fields could end up in establishing an innovation-friendly environment.
For example, a Defense Ministry fund could back the country’s defense capabilities and attract money to the state budget. This would unleash the potential for private defense firms. Present in the fund, military officials would ensure that its offer boosts the army’s competitiveness.
Full-grown solutions that require some substantial medium-term expenditure could be included within a mezzanine fund affiliated to Poland’s Armaments Agency.
An Interior Ministry fund could promote solutions for internal security.
A hypothetical Polish National Railways (PKP) fund could raise the quality of Polish railway companies. Rail industry specialists would be a better choice to assess innovation potential rather than bank analysts.
Perhaps a KGHM-held fund could invest in copper-based products and thus extend the material’s value chains on the Polish market.
A Polish Coal Agency fund could invest in many coal-related projects to retain jobs, thus spurring the coal-processing field that runs independently of the energy sector.
The simplest way to export Polish technological thought is through embracing it by domestic users, both institutions and privately held businesses.
Cities can tap many local funding sources to pay for urban infrastructure projects. It would be more convenient to ask urban engineers, city planners, and architects to discuss whether a city needs such a solution or not. Perhaps a Warsaw Fund, once established to pay for urban innovations, could place this responsibility onto the city hall. One success will bring on another.
I can easily imagine a like-funded fleet of hovercrafts to transport passengers across the Vistula River to ease road congestions in suburban towns.
Let’s foster creative thinking capabilities to make money.