Marta Krupinska has had a whirlwind year since taking over as head of Google for Startups UK in February. When the incubator in Shoreditch launched in April 2012, it was one of the UK’s first open spaces for collaboration, workshops and events aimed at the startup technology community – and claims to have created over 4,600 jobs and helped startups raise more than $290 million (£220 million) in funding since then.
Seven years later, the startup world is buoyant: as the Poland-born serial entrepreneur notes “startup founders are the new rockstars” and London is now home to a bustling 38 incubators and 260 co-working spaces. It’s a surprisingly competitive market, nurturing new enterprises, and as Krupinska puts its, “sometimes we have to go to them, because guess what? They’re probably very busy running their businesses…”
Taking over as a “relatively young migrant woman in this country: it’s an incredible privilege to be able to lead this organisation”, Krupinska, the co-founder of fintech Azimo, says she had clear ideas about what she wanted to achieve when taking on the role. Six months in, we asked her how it’s going – and what she’s prioritising.
“That’s a question I ask myself a lot!” she grins, but it’s clear within seconds that she has an incredibly clear vision of what she’d like to do with Google’s programme; something of a minor rarity in the corporate incubator world in having a physical residency: plenty offer cloud credits, support, etc. but are essentially “virtual” residencies.
We sit down as Google for Startups wraps up its third UK residency cohort: six technology startups working at the nexus of machine learning and social impact joining the programme. (Mendelian, Limbic.ai, Applied, Synthesized, Feebris and Predina are all still in the building when we meet, but she’s gearing up to welcome a new batch.)
(The residency provides startups with Google “products, connections, and best practices”. Participants get tailored mentorship and workspace at the campus).
Google for Startups: Executing Marta’s Plan
“We spent a lot of time last year discussing what the plan would be” she says. “I essentially was already pitching what I would like to deliver even before I started. And it’s a very unusual and beautiful situation where you can actually execute on your plan.
“Does that mean that it isn’t a very interesting challenge to go from only ever working for yourself to having one 100,000 colleagues as well? Guess what: yes, it is!”
So what does the role entail? “It’s ecosystem heavy: a lot of what I do with the team here is working with startups, finding them, selecting them, understanding what they need and trying to find the best way of channeling value out of Google.
“We essentially said that we’re going to do three things and we’re going to do it in three chunks: helping startups get the most out of Google; doubling down on working with startups that focus on building the world in which we want to live, and connecting other startup ecosystems to London.”
Reaching the Right People
In a sprawling business like Google (which has a mixed reputation for customer service even for the paying customers of its cloud services; something GCP is working hard to turn around under the new leadership of CEO Thomas Kurian) helping small companies get the most out of it is no mean feat.
As Marta Krupinksa puts it: “A priority has been making Google more accessible to startups. Whether you’re building machine learning algorithms or if you’ve shipped an app or if you are a B2C business and you’re selling your products, you’re using Google products. Google has eight products that have more than a billion users. But how do you make a company of that size Google more accessible to those startups?
“You can’t just pick up the phone and call Google helpline, right? So how do we how do we how do we bring ‘Googleness’ to startups? I want to make Google for Startups ‘the Google’ for startups. That’s the aim!
“The second has been impact: focussing on startups that are creating the world we want to live in. That sounds banal. But I actually think it’s really, really important.”
But it’s not just obvious environmentally or socially-focussed businesses she has in mind: “We need to reframe the conversation about purpose. Think about companies like Monzo or, you know, think about Apple Pay or think about Headspace.
“These companies change the way we live and work and play and spend money. And so the businesses that are currently growing are going to dictate how we live five years from now or 10 years from now. So there is a responsibility and opportunity for us to invest in and support those that we actually think are building that world in which we want to. It’s profit with purpose. That’s sort of my bread and butter.
“Companies that do good are not just the companies that are saving puppies. It’s companies that give people what it is that they need. We understand this as contributing to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals; this can be anything from the way you structure a company to make sure that there is a diverse representation of your employees, to medtech, to financial inclusion.”
The final piece of the puzzle is bringing startups from outside London, and indeed the UK, into the picture. In September Google for Startups will be hosting two cohorts: one from Eastern Europe and one from Africa. These will be followed by a third in October.
“This is also,” she explains, “about people that want to export to the UK. They want to raise money. Here we have a fantastic pool of investors and the smart money: investors who not only have the cash, but also the experience.”
“Our challenge is how can we use our global position as Google to give these startups a good jumping ground in London. And you know, as much as we are Google, we also somewhat live and operate by the sometimes harsh reality of a startup: scarce resources, very narrow attention span and that absolute need to bring maximum value to the startup in a short space of time. We’ve got to get it right, otherwise, you’ve wasted their time and maybe that cost them the opportunity to build their business.
“It’s a little bit manic. I won’t lie. But I love it.”