"I didn't know that Stanford would change my life."
(In the photo above are Professor Maria E. Orlowska, Secretary of State, Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Republic of Poland; Bartosz Sakowicz; and Piotr Moncarz, Academic Director, Top 500 Innovators Program.)
Bartosz Sakowicz is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science and the founder of a technical software and services company in Poland. He participated in a custom program instituted by the Polish Ministry of Science and Education called the Top 500 Innovators. Together with 39 other Polish academics and business executives, he spent two months on the Stanford campus completing courses in science management commercialization.
Prior to his arrival, he had little sense of what the program was going to be like. The experience, he says, was a "life changer".
Sakowicz took classes taught by Stanford faculty and facilitated through the Stanford Center for Professional Development. He describes the experiences as like living inside a fairy tale. "Everything was new, everything was so nice, even the weather was perfect," he says. "Stanford makes an unbelievable impression. Is so nice, so huge, and in every possible place so perfectly organized. It was euphoria."
The program exceeded his expectations. He learned things he didn't even know were missing from his prior education. The classes were unlike anything he'd ever experienced, he says, even going as far as to say they were "unusual." In some cases it was the topic that was new to him; in other cases it was the method of instruction. He was particularly impressed that the lectures were taught by faculty whose knowledge was based on real experiences in industry. Learning from their experiences hands-on, Sakowicz came to the conclusion that "it is necessary to be at Stanford and to talk with California people to understand this entrepreneurial culture."
The Top 500 Innovators program was created by the Polish Ministry expressly to encourage innovation in Poland and bridge the gap between academia and business. Poland is well regarded for its focus on education, with a high percentage of its population highly educated, but not as much for technology transfer - turning applications of academic research into real-world products and businesses. University faculty can in fact be looked down upon for making a profit from their research. "When I created my first company (software house Softsystems.pl), I was perceived by many as some kind of traitor," he says. "I betrayed pure science because I wanted to make business."
Returning to Poland upon completion of the program, Sakowicz is an impassioned advocate for entrepreneurship in academia. He has joined an initiative to try to change Polish laws related to public tenders in research. He is managing a network of interdisciplinary startup centers with the goal of increasing academic entrepreneurship among students and academics in Poland. And he started a new company focused on children's education. He tells everyone he knows about his experiences at Stanford and enjoys teaching others what he has learned. "To be honest they are a bit fed up with me," he says, "because even now, half a year after the internship, I still talk many times a day about different Stanford ideas."
Sakowicz is optimistic that as more Polish academics participate in the program (the goal is ultimately to send 500 Polish to the U.S.) Poland will see a reversal of its typically staid university culture, and entrepreneurial innovation will take off like never before. For his Polish peers considering whether or not to apply for future of the program, he says "Just do it! It will be the most blown-minded happening in your life."