It’s not that big Polish companies cooperate with startups as a rule, at Maspex you didn’t do it for a long time either, and you had reasons for that: several own R&D departments, cooperation with science centers. So what made you open up to startups in 2018?
Looking at the direction in which companies in Western Europe or the United States are going, what are the market trends and new opportunities for development, I proposed in 2015 to create a new department in Maspex – the Innovation Management Department, which would be responsible for building an innovation ecosystem in the Group, cooperation with other entities such as research institutes, universities, clusters or startups, and obtaining external funding for the implementation of innovative projects. At the same time, during this period we started cooperation with business and scientific partners from Western Europe, applying for the establishment of a new Knowledge and Innovation Community EIT (European Institute of Innovation and Technology) in the area of food. The consortium won the competition in 2017 and then work began on its structure and areas of activity; one of which is precisely supporting and investing in startups.
Without EIT Food there would be no startups at Maspex?
To a large extent, it started with EIT Food, but nevertheless, in parallel, in 2019, we also implemented the first edition of PARP’s ScaleUp acceleration project, run in partnership with the Polska Przedsiębiorcza Foundation, where we gained very positive experience from working with startups. The company developed for us a program to manage social media content, and its solution was so successful that it was implemented and we are using it to this day.
But coming back to EIT Food, we really rely heavily on companies that go through the program, such companies are more likely to gain our attention. During the development of EIT Food, the Startups Club “The Rising Food Stars” was created and we organize, for example, demo days, during which young companies can present themselves to corporations. Startups that are appreciated by EIT Food gain the status of “The Rising Food Stars”, these are already selected companies which apart from the idea have already developed technology.
Why did it start with this project, how did you establish cooperation and why did you want this type of solution from a startup?
Our department receives various needs and challenges that are faced by various departments of Maspex. Sometimes the solution to a challenge is obvious and it is enough to find an external entity to cooperate, however, it happens that the reported problem does not have an easy solution and then we often look for them in startups: we regularly participate in events such as demo days, hackathons, industry conferences.
In this particular case, we were approached by the Digital Department, i.e. the Innovation Management Department, with a need to streamline the work of creating content for social media. On the other hand, we knew of a startup that provided similar services for our business partner, so it was proven, but we needed funds for a joint project. The startup applied for the acceleration program coordinated by Polska Przedsiębiorcza Foundation, received funding, and we were able to develop a solution interesting for Maspex together.
In which segments does Maspex implement solutions developed by startups?
Mainly in the area of new technologies, the Customer Marketing department has the most needs. For example, within the ScaleUp Program, where we have already implemented 15 acceleration projects since 2019, most of them are solutions for marketing and customer service. Our first collaboration within the ScaleUp Program was the Content Box project, a tool for creating content for social media. Subsequent projects also included IT tools: integration of a recycling machine with a vending machine, an application to monitor the inventory of advertising materials, an optimizer for creating shelf planograms, a system to record purchases of household goods, electronic price lists and applications to study consumer behavior and habits. There was also created a program to manage content on advertising screens in the store, and an intelligent shelf, which matches content on the screen to the customer who approaches the stand.
And manufacturing? What types of startup solutions are being implemented on Maspex’ production floors?
In this area, we work with startups to a lesser extent; we rely primarily on technologies provided by large suppliers of machinery and equipment. In 2020, we tested a solution in our production halls of a startup cooperating with Siemens Polska. Siemens, as a recipient of technology, invited us to the ScaleUp project, which concerned solutions to optimize the operation of machines. As part of a project with a startup called Reliability Solution, we conducted research and development on a Predictive Maintenance solution, which was supposed to prevent stacker crane failures in warehouses.
How do you think, why is it that the marketing department has a greater need for innovative solutions, why are there so few requests from, for example, the production department?
I think that the main reason for the turn towards start-ups and the increased search for innovative solutions outside the company was related to structural changes in our company. A cell responsible for innovation was created in the Customer Marketing department and this cell started to cooperate with us intensively, thanks to which many innovative projects were created at Maspex.
In the production department, on the other hand, we rely mainly on the innovativeness of the producers themselves, who supply our plants with production facilities. We modernize this branch of our company by ordering newer, more automated, technologically superior solutions.
What solutions that startups can develop for you are you looking for at the moment?
Recently we have been looking at energy solutions, such as energy storage. Two years ago we initially explored these solutions but were not yet interested, whereas now, because of investing in RES, the topic is coming back. We have two photovoltaic installations for two plants, another two are under construction and now we see that energy storage could be a good complement to these investments and in this area we are looking for external solutions, also we are open to startups.
The second area in which we are looking for solutions from startups is all topics related to GOZ [Closed Circuit Economy]: reducing the use of water, energy, waste, or systems that allow you to process and reuse by-products. These kinds of issues are very interesting for us at the moment. For example, right now we are working with a startup on a project of a system to produce advertising stands in 3D printing technology, using bran – waste material from the production of Lubella pasta (owned by Maspex Group). The solution has proved itself, it is already in production and soon we will be introducing ecological stands selected in stores.
The third area is product solutions, such as sweeteners that have the same sweetness as sugar, the same taste, and at the same time are healthy.
What should a founder who would like to cooperate with you pay attention to?
First of all, we check how we cooperate with the team, we do not sign an agreement for a project right away, we give ourselves time for about a month to get to know each other in action. We look at the startup’s attitude to cooperation, people’s responsibility and their competences.
However, we prefer when we don’t have to check these qualities first – a great asset for a startup that wants to cooperate with us is previous participation in projects such as acceleration programs, but also references from previous clients, especially if they are our business partners. When looking for startup solutions, we ourselves look through the databases of companies from previous editions of acceleration programs organized by the Krakow Technological Park, Polska Przedsiębiorcza Foundation from Warsaw or Idea Global from Rzeszow.
How can a startup contact you, what is the best path?
It is best to contact us directly, with the Innovation Management Department. We also search for and advise startups on where to obtain external funding for the development of an idea or technology. Just call us or write an email. Usually such contact ends with the first on-line meeting and presentation of the startup. Another good path is cooperation with gas pedals and programs such as ScaleUp or Poland Prize, membership in The Rising Food Stars Club or pitching during events for startups or conferences such as Impact CEE.
We are currently recruiting for the Poland Prize program, in which Maspex Group acts as a technology recipient, which means that startups from all over Europe can send us their applications through the program’s operator, the Kraków Technology Park, and we will choose from among them a partner for a joint project.