How Innovation Stalls - Two Case Studies In Poland

Every drive a SpinCar or ride an IzzyBike? You probably never will, since both have been unable to raise funds necessary to go to production. The trouble today with *heavy* startups.

3D modeling of Polish inventor D.E. Bogdan Kuberacki's SpinCar
3D modeling of Polish inventor D.E. Bogdan Kuberacki's SpinCar
Artur Wlodarski

Two great Polish inventions looked destined for global success: SpinCar and IzzyBike. But two years later, both projects have stalled. What happened?

SpinCar- a perfect civic car.

D.E. Bogdan Kuberacki remembers the eureka moment that day in Warsaw. He had been thinking about a small vehicle that could work for the disabled. The goal was to create a vehicle with an electrical or pneumatic motor with two parallel wheels in the back and one in the front, that could spin around 90 degrees.

He took his models to a trade fair, and came home with a prize. The invention was reported on by the international media, and people from more than 50 countries visited his website. All were intrigued by the possibility of eliminating the need to drive in reverse or parallel park -- a vehicle that could fit everythere and was ideal for carsharing.

Kuberacki waited for the rush of investors, lured by his solution to parking problems and city congestion. He's still waiting...

The main problem is that although some investors are ready to help, no one wants to be there for the starting phase, since the details about production, finances, and marketing are not certain. Polish and Italian angel investors have balked and Venture Capital funds, which tend to invest about 10 to 20 million PLN, ($3.1 to $6.2 million) do not want to take SpinCar under its wings. Business incubators, Kuberacki says, are more interested in taking money just for evaluating the probability of success.

Starting the production would cost about 20 million PLN, but there are also the additional costs of related services. This is just one exciting Polish invention that has stalled before even getting started.

IzzyBike- a cycling revolution

Meanwhile, Marek Jurek had dreamed up a pedal vehicle that could be rented by tourists in resorts -- that was easy to carry.

With IzzyBike, there would be no website to try to drum up interest, just a demonstration model that was produced to show investors.

It doesn’t look like a regular bike- the seat is different and there is a different way of handling it. Eighteen months ago, the bike got a gold medal at the Nuremberg International Trade Fair iENA. It is the only bike in the world with a 2x2 drive and the only vehicle that can be folded with just one hand, thanks to a two-piece hanging chain. The real secret is a small disc and a rope connecting the steering system. Thanks to that, the bike is stable: it doesn’t fold while riding but only when we want it to. One mechanism- two different functions. Magic!

How was it invented? Jurek, an engineer working in one of the Warsaw Physics institutes, wanted to have a folding bicycle for himself. Those that are on the market are either too heavy or too big, so he decided to make a better one.

Jurek is more optimistic than his SpinCar counterpart, but still admits that if he doesn't find funding, his project is doomed.

A demonstration model is not enough for Polish factories or angel investors. The only investors that were interested were Technology Park in Krakow, a national crowdfunding platform, and one distributorship from Italy.

The inventor says he wants the bike to be produced in Poland, but only big companies with major equity can count on support here. If nothing works, he will be forced to look for funds abroad.

A desire for blissful profits

There are a lot of people with ideas, others with money. Investors are driven by doubts: is the market ready for another small car (after Smart)? Will clients consider it safe and comfortable? An inventor focuses on the technology and innovation.

Technology that can’t be commercialized is useless. It is not only about interesting ideas but also about the evaluation of cost structure and rate of return. If they are convinced, after about six months investors could be ready to put in up to $1 million, but will expect to sell the company in a few years for a substantial turnover.

The statistics show that only every 20th invention gets funded, and these are mainly digital ones where launching costs are lower. The victims of this system are the inventors with good, but expensive, ideas. And perhaps us too -- we might have been happy SpinCar and IzzyBike customers...

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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