I invite you to join me in supporting an interesting initiative – a petition to the Pope to declare St. Maximilian Kolbe a patron saint for startupers and entrepreneurs. You may have heard of St. Maximilian death – he offered to die himself instead of another prisoner in the German concentration camp in Auschwitz during the 2nd World War – and you may be wondering what does a heroic Polish monk have to do with startups and entrepreneurship? This is exactly the question I asked myself when I first heard of this project. Then I read more about St. Maximilian and now I can hardly think of a better patron for us.

You see, before he died St. Maximilian lived for 47 years and boy, was he active during that time. Between 1918 (end of WW1 – and of his studies) and 1939 (start of WW2):

  • he founded a new convent in Niepokalanów – starting with just few other monks, no funds and no house under his leadership it became the largest Catholic convent in Europe at the time with 700 monks housed in a number of buildings on a multi-acre site,
  • he started a newspaper (the main mass medium of his time was print media) again, starting from nothing it reached a circulation of 750k copies, along the way he started ten other publications and newspapers as well as built one of the most modern printing houses in pre-war Poland,
  • he got interested in radio pretty early and was thinking of creating a network of Catholic radio stations covering the whole country and broadcasting to the world, before the war broke out he was already well underway to realize this too having set up a radio station in Niepokalanów (and – just BTW – he was already thinking of television as soon as technology becomes more available),
  • he was thinking beyond Poland – in 1931 he went to Japan – again, having almost no funds, not knowing Japanese and having just few brothers as companions he moved on to start a convent on the outskirts of Nagasaki that remains prominent in the Catholic church of Japan to this day, of course he also started a newspaper there which also continues to be published,
  • having started a mission in Japan as well as China and India he planned to build an airport in Niepokalanow and sent two monks to… pilot training as the first step in that direction (can you imagine a fleet of transport aircrafts piloted by monks crisscrossing the skies bringing supplies and passengers to missions in India, Africa etc? That was St. Maximilian’s vision.),
  • he was even thinking about… space travel – he described a concept for a space vehicle he called “Ethereoplane”.

That is quite a lot for just 20 years of activity – and those are just the highlights. On top of all that he managed to be a priest – he was saying Mass every day, heard confessions and wrote articles, homilies and other works. Considering all that he achieved way more than most entrepreneurs achieve in comparable time – save those most successful in the world. IfSt. Maximilian had not been called into priesthood I am sure he would have been one of the most successful businessmen of his era.

His life reveals entrepreneurial zest – a constant drive to start and build new things, new endeavors, new ventures – and scale them up, prefect them, bring them to full bloom. This is the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit. That makes him indeed an ideal patron for all of us who share it.

If I convinced you too please sign the petition and spread the word. Thank you!

Switzerland is associated primarily with banks, expensive wristwatches and chocolate. It is certainly not seen as Europe’s startup incubator. London and Berlin gather all the spotlight with everyone else failing off the radar.

I also viewed Switzerland in this way until I started to visit more often, attend events and talk to some founders and investors. This changed my perspective.

Now I believe Switzerland is the country that has the highest potential to become the Europe’s startup hub, because it provides three crucial components needed for them to flourish.


20% of people living in Switzerland now are foreign-born (source). Since Switzerland didn’t relentlessly import “cheap labor” for menial jobs as much as UK or Germany did (you can see natives driving trams and buses in Zurich – a rarity in London) much of those 20% are highly qualified professionals. Many of them even have startup experience already. This means there is a pool of people with right qualifications, diverse backgrounds, experiences, hailing from different cultures.

So it turns out Switzerland has a lot of diversity – more than I expected – and has it primarily exactly where it is beneficial: in business, high-tech, academia etc. I consider it important, because I believe diversity creates a more fertile ground for innovation than uniformity.

My observations confirm this: more than half of Swiss startups I met over the course of this year have expats involved


Switzerland with its unique governance structure and democratic process is a very stable country. The laws influencing business are very fair and stable – at least when compared to other countries in Europe. Last thing to worry about as an entrepreneur is that some stupid government decision will change the rules of the game overnight. Because the government is fairly decentralized (many decisions affecting business & life are made by local government bodies) it is also very aware of its impact and fairly business-friendly.

I don’t have firsthand experience here, but tales told by people I know who moved their businesses to Switzerland confirm this.
Why this is important for a startup? Well, startups are high-risk, unstable ventures by nature, but at least by operating in a fairly stable country you have one problem less to worry about. Insights from those more directly involved confirm this: I spoke to a partner in a startup incubator & investment firm in Zurich, who admitted this is one of the reasons they keep seeding startups in Switzerland despite high labor costs there.

BTW — this is one of the most overlooked problems of CEE countries like Poland, where bureaucracy is in general hostile towards entrepreneurs, laws are unstable&complex and informal connections mean more than the rule of law.


One complaint I have heard from many startup founders in Switzerland – new and seasoned alike – is that they have a hard time getting investments they need. Some of them even went to the US in search of money eventually moving their businesses there.

However, the problem is not that there is no money available – on the contrary, many of the most powerful companies and richest families are present in Switzerland. The problem seems rather that their investment money is channeled towards more traditional investments, not startups. This is changing — for example many Swiss biotech startups received considerable investment. Other field where investment money is starting to pour in is alternative energy. Albeit this change is slow it is in my opinion still a much better problem to have than not having the capital at all — again, a problem of many other countries.

Of course the list doesn’t end here. Other advantages of Switzerland include first-class universities that provide fundamental research needed as a base for high-tech startups (quite a few of the startups I have looked at were directly or indirectly benefiting from this). Not being a member of the EU – which makes it immune to excesses of EU regulators – also helps. Still, I think it is the first three elements that are the most important.

I think the financing is crucial. As the investment capital available in the country is becoming more and more aware of startups as an opportunity the more financing will become available. There are signs that this is happening already — new investment funds being set up, old ones getting more capital. It should uncork the stream of interesting startups from the Alpine country.

This article was originally published on Medium.

Yesterday I started my professional blog – the Pragmatic Leader and I invite you to visit it.

Since I have posted here about things that are unrelated to my work and I want to do so in the future I decided to keep this site as my personal blog and continue to write about things related to management & leadership on a separate blog. I already copied the relevant content to the new site to maintain continuity plus there is a new post on organizational culture out there waiting to be read.

Tempted by a recent promotional offer I upgraded to Windows 8 three days ago. So far my experience is mixed, but I’m not going to bore you with that. Instead I want to point out two things that Microsoft is doing with Windows 8 that are in my opinion noteworthy.

First, this is the first true innovation in computer UI in years. Last thing this innovative was iPhone’s UI. While Android is – in terms of its UI – merely a clone of iOS Windows 8′s tiles are something new and very different. It remains to be seen whether this UI will be accepted, especially by the desktop/laptop users. By necessity innovative UI has some learning curve that is much steeper between Windows 7 and 8 than it was between XP and Vista/7. But even if people will reject it and MS will have to revert to the “Start” menu (invented for Windows 95 almost twenty years ago) they should still be praised for at least trying something totally new. Brave, risky – and, I’d say, a bit unexpected coming from an aging corporation.

Also, the concept of unifying the UI across devices to deliver a coherent experience on all of them is interesting. It is not exactly new – last time Microsoft tried it the other way round: Windows CE had desktop’s UI that required a stylus to navigate. In Windows 8 the desktop did get the Start screen that was clearly designed for touchscreen devices. While it usefulness on a laptop/desktop is dubious I have to say it is surprisingly easy to work with using keyboard and mouse.

But this concept serves another purpose. I think I see the MS’s strategy behind it. They want to regain lost position in the mobile world by leveraging their dominance on the desktop. They hope people will like Windows 8 on laptops and tablets enough to buy Windows phones to go along with it. This is both clever, daring and something they successfully did before – when they overslept the Internet phenomenon they fought they way back by winning the browser wars from their Windows stronghold. Now they want to do it again and the time is high, because if things continue as they are few years from now keyboard-equipped computers may be used only by professional software developers and the like. So current desktop dominance will become less relevant and it makes perfect sense to us it now while it still matters.

All of that of course explains why they sell Windows 8 for around $50 – much cheaper than before. They will do everything in their power to make sure everyone will be familiar with the tiles interface. One company that certainly hopes this will work is Nokia – but this is a completely different story.

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