The Beat Goes On
Global Traveler|September 2021
Kraków hums with industry, culture and youthful energy.
ALLIE MOORE

A hilltop castle situated at a bend in the Vistula River, a medieval Old Town accented by a quirky clock tower from which a trumpet player toots his horn every hour, and a reputation for hearty beer and pierogies comprise the heart of Kraków. This city in southern Poland was mostly spared from destruction during World War II and therefore retains a healthy amount of its medieval charm. But despite the city’s rich and turbulent history, bringing a broad mix of cultural influences, Kraków embraced the vicissitudes of each era and quietly moved to the forefront of major industries.

Poland continues to welcome a large talent pool of tech entrepreneurs, with new startups popping up throughout the country and a 2017 designation by the World Bank as the third-best place to launch and grow a startup company. A young, skilled workforce — most of whom can speak English fluently — and low rents enticed major companies to move parts of their operations to Poland. Kraków draws employees with its small-town feel and slower pace of life, a stark contrast from busier cities like Warsaw.

In fact, according to the MOTIFE Krakow IT Market Report 2021, the Kraków technology ecosystem — one of the fastest-growing and most mature technology locations in Europe — boasts a talent pool close to 50,000 IT specialists and supports dynamic growth, despite the pandemic. The Kraków IT market is diverse in terms of industries, with a higher concentration in sectors such as financial technology, enterprise applications and network systems. Ten new IT players establish a presence in Kraków every year.

The robust tech ecosystem boasts a well-connected network of incubators, mentors, investors and organizations collaborating with startups, such as the Foundation Supporting #OMGKRK or Krakow Technology Park. Investment support is key, with 15 of the most successful startups born in Kraków raising more than $460 million in total funding since their creation. Brainly — the world’s largest social learning network, with 200 million unique users monthly — is the most successful Kraków startup, receiving $148.5 million in funding since its inception in 2009.

Other successful startups in the city include Zendesk Sell (formerly BASE), a company that builds software designed to improve customer relationships; CallPage, software that converts web visitors into sales calls, with a client list of more than 3,000 companies worldwide; and Airly, developer of an air quality mapping system, which in 2020 received investments of $2 million from the family of Richard Branson.

Elsewhere in technology, the SOLARIS National Synchrotron Radiation Center opened in 2018 as one of the world’s most advanced particle accelerator research centers. With a campus located about five miles outside of Kraków’s Old Town, the center welcomes scientists to conduct synchrotron radiation research in various disciplines such as nanotechnology, crystallography and pharmacology.

To prepare Kraków and the province of MaÅ‚opolska (of which Kraków is the capital) for the influx of new companies and employees, Kraków Airport developed a detailed 20-year plan to create up to 10,000 new jobs; expand the airport’s main terminal; and construct a new 9,000-foot runway. Based on the plan, airport officials anticipate a capacity of up to 12 million travelers each year by 2036. In 2019 Kraków Airport became a new base airport for Hungarian airline Wizz Air, offering access to 12 new routes to locations like London, Nice and Oslo.

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