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The scandal at the National Center for Research and Development. Companies without subsidies. “We are frustrated and angry”

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I have never experienced anything of a similar scale of absurdity in 15 years in business – said Marek Ostrowski, head of the Prosoma company recommended for payment of funds in the competition of the National Center for Research and Development, in an interview with TVN24 Biznes. Subsidies for all were suspended after information about possible irregularities in granting subsidies to two enterprises. – We are losing confidence in this type of financial mechanisms, especially in Poland – comments Lucyna Szaszkiewicz, founder of 1Strike – a company that was also on the list of entities with funding.

NIK auditors started last week verification activities at the National Center for Research and Development, the control was started earlier Central Anti-Corruption Bureau. It’s about the “Fast Track – Digital Innovations” competition. Out of 434 submitted applications, 117 projects were selected for co-financing for the total amount of PLN 801,404,486.13.

Read more: Bielan on the scandal at the National Center for Research and Development: I am not Jacek Żalek’s guardian angel

However, all companies participating in the competition that received the status “recommended for funding” received the following message:

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“In connection with the control of the SG OP Managing Authority, we would like to inform you about the suspension of signing contracts for co-financing in the competition 1/1.1.1/2022 Fast Track – Digital Innovations until its completion. According to the notification of the Managing Authority, the control may last until April 28 this year. This date may NCBR will make every effort to ensure that the process of signing grant agreements is resumed as soon as possible.

The audits of the Supreme Audit Office and the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau are related to the case of two subsidies, the details of which were revealed by members of the Civic Coalition, Dariusz Joński and Michał Szczerba. The first, in the amount of PLN 55 million, was to be transferred to a 26-year-old who founded the company after announcing the recruitment for a supplement with a share capital of PLN 5,000. The second – in the amount of PLN 123 million – to a company from Bialystok, which – as determined by the deputies – has been loss-making every year since its establishment in 2020. Dariusz Joński and Michał Szczerba also presented the network of connections between these companies and the Republican Party.

On February 13, the Minister of Funds and Regional Policy Grzegorz Puda dismissed Paweł Kuch, the acting director of the NCBR, who had been managing the institution since August 2022. On Thursday, Deputy Minister of Funds Jacek Żalek, who supervised the NCBR, announced his resignation. Zalek is a member of the Republican Party.

“We had to terminate employment contracts because I don’t know if I will have money”

Suspended subsidies are a blow to companies. – I am far from being radical and bitter about it. By doing cool, honest and reliable projects, we received funds and were able to implement projects. Which does not change the fact that what is happening at the National Center for Research and Development today is a huge blow – summed up Marek Ostrowski, founder of Prosoma, in an interview with TVN24 Biznes, whose project is on the list recommended for signing the contract and payment of funds.

Prosoma has been operating for five years and has received a recommendation for funding of over PLN 7 million. – We got these funds to expand the application for cancer patients. The application, which has a proven therapeutic effect, is to help cancer patients cope with anxiety, stress and depression, he explained.

He noted that in connection with this project, from the beginning of 2023, he increased the composition of the team. – We hired game designers, programmers, psychologists. I increased the team by eleven people and hired a number of subcontractors, which costs me one million zlotys a month, he said.

When asked why he decided to start the investment before signing the contract, he replies that “we started implementing this project from the beginning of January, because the schedule is tight. The message from the NCRD referring to the schedule was that the project must be completed by the end of the year. It cannot be extended “.

He added that “if a project is recommended for financing, meets its requirements, contracts are signed. This is normal practice.”

– That’s why we started spending our own funds in the hope that the NCRD will return them to us. Now we put on some brakes. We had to terminate employment contracts with people because I don’t know if I will have money. One lady, when she got the information that we were welcoming her on board, cried because she wanted to do this project to help cancer patients. And a day later, she received information that everything was in doubt and there might be no work, he said.

In his opinion, “if there was information that there was no money from the National Center for Research and Development, then we put private money, we go to investors, we plot something.”

– And we don’t know anything today. That is why the situation is terrible – he emphasizes, pointing out that “we have a dozen or so people who are suspended. I suppose there are eighty such companies. And they do not know whether there will be work or not?”.

Frustrated and bitter

Marek Ostrowski does not want to join the trend of laggards, as he pointed out. – We have very good experience with various types of financing in Poland. We built a business that created an application for oncology patients, financing it in seventy percent from various types of public money in Poland. We made a product that is in Germany prescription. There are now over forty such applications in the world and they cover various areas of health: from back pain, through depression, to oncology – he explained.

He noted that there is bitterness among Polish technology companies that we do not have such money as in the United States or in the United States Switzerlandbecause there “if you have a cool idea, you get a million dollars to start”.

– We are an example of an organization that was able to find its place in the Polish financial reality and developed a valuable and needed product here. Which does not change the fact that we are frustrated and embittered with the latter program “Fast Track – Digital Innovations”. I have never experienced anything of this scale of absurdity in 15 years in business.

“We trusted that the money would be here any day”

Lucyna Szaszkiewicz, the founder of 1Strike – a company that received funding of over PLN 4 million, also indicated in an interview with TVN24 Biznes that the most difficult thing is the uncertainty whether this money will be paid out at all. More questions arise: how will the current situation affect the extension of the project implementation period and the factors on which companies will be accounted for.

– We had big plans related to the development of this part of our technology and the commercialization of the product. However, we are losing confidence in this type of financial mechanisms, especially in Poland. We decided to start talks with investors and obtain another round of financing, she said.

The project she submitted under the “Fast Track – Digital Innovations” program aims to develop a prototype of an innovative artificial intelligence module for the already existing 1Strike IT platform. The company was founded in 2021.

– This module will mainly contain artificial intelligence algorithms for estimating the risk of threats against cyberattacks for selected types of cyberattacks in terms of their execution and defense against them. The system will use artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning models, and will use additional rules of expert knowledge to assess the risk of cyberattacks, she explained.

What costs has the company already incurred? – Our current liabilities are over half a million zlotys – she calculated.

– Due to the extremely short, predetermined implementation period of the project, only until December 2023, we decided to trust our supervisor at the National Center for Research and Development that the money will be available any day and, like the vast majority of entrepreneurs, to start implementation without waiting for the signing contracts, she explained.

She assessed that the greatest costs were incurred in connection with finding and employing a specialist team with competences related to artificial intelligence, programmers and cybersecurity experts.

– We managed to gather a phenomenal team of passionate enthusiasts with unique competences. There are seventeen people in total. We want the enthusiasm not to wane. Unfortunately, this situation has caused a lot of stress, long-term uncertainty is not bearable for everyone – she emphasized.

She also mentioned the perspective of advisors who supported companies in writing applications. – After all, they receive a success fee (remuneration paid to contractors for achieving a specific goal – editor’s note). Of course, they are very understanding, but I also understand that practically all their clients are in the same situation, and the highly qualified experts they employ, writing applications to the NCRD, put a lot of work and commitment to prepare our application as well – she said and added ” it is also their success, which should be duly rewarded, because surely each of them has their expenses, inflation doesn’t choose.”

The situation of the companies: we have a couple of sleepless nights

Some of the companies that contacted the TVN24 Biznes editors wished to remain anonymous. It was pointed out that if the National Center for Research and Development cancels the competition, many companies will not be able to complete their projects with their own funds. – Because if they have already incurred costs, like us, it will be money thrown into the garbage. By the end of April, it is two million zlotys – said one of the interlocutors.

There were repeated opinions that the National Center for Research and Development did not take into account that additional people could be employed in the companies that applied for subsidies.

– It’s about the lack of predictability, the fact that the rules of the game change during the game. This total chaos, lack of cohesion does not allow you to focus on the job. We are doing everything we can to organize the money so as not to lay off people – noted another TVN24 Biznes interlocutor.

Until the publication of the article, the National Center for Research and Development has not responded to the questions of the TVN24 Biznes editors.

Read more: NIK auditors at the seat of the National Center for Research and Development. Ionian: politicians who created the whole system must be held accountable

Main photo source: Shutterstock



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