Why you should care
Because geography is not destiny.
Monika Petryczko rolls up to the café where we’re waiting for her on a bike that would pass hipster muster just about anywhere. But we’re not just anywhere, we’re in Szczecin — about 90 minutes east of Berlin, in Poland’s West Pomeranian Voivodeship — a city that over time has been part of Denmark, Sweden and Germany. With all that historical complexity and shifting identity, it’s no wonder the 35-year-old Petryczko makes this place her home, since her baby, OFF Marina, incubates its ass off doing whatever it can to drive and support young Polish artists and entrepreneurs.
“I’ll try to tell you about this place,” says Petryczko, sharp-featured and about 5 feet 2 inches tall. She gestures as she speaks. “I’m a little more sure that you’re going to understand it if I show it to you.” Gauntlet thrown, Petryczko proceeds to explain what OFF Marina is, what it means and how she is making it mean what it does, not even two years into its young existence.
Something we’re more than open to hearing about, since incubators like hers are no joke. Just look at a stateside academic incubator like NYU’s School of Engineering, which has, since 2009, been responsible for more than $250 million in economic activity and 900 jobs, or a business incubator like Y Combinator, which has helped more than 300 startups get their hands on funding. “The mere fact that OFF Marina exists, I find to be a priceless asset to the metropolitan creative,” says Sebastian Gojdź, director of the regional office of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship in Brussels, citing not only the furniture, lamps, guitars and other art crafts made there but also its business model and networking capacity.
This business model led owner Marcin Raubo, Petryczko and partners Joanna Jaroszek and Ewa Kaziszko to develop events for OFF Marina’s 30 companies that became musts for folks in the know. Whether it’s the second annual Design Days or a derivation of the Western and now-global Record Store Day or the wholly new Pomorzany Quartier coming up later this year, OFF Marina and its events, or “fab labs,” require a mix of skill sets, technologies and approaches to doing business across workshops for woodwork/furniture, sewing/fashion, photography/design and ceramics/interior design.
And when not fab labbing at these traveling events, Petryczko, just back from a week in Brussels exporting OFF Marina and developing the business, works on the crosscutting synergies that its companies cover. Companies that make, manufacture or sell concrete lamps, graffiti, fine art, guitars, ceramics, music, architecture, public relations, furniture out of packing crates and software. Not such a long or strange stretch for Petryczko, who doubles down on her OFF Marina time by DJ’ing and producing arts and culture events.
These sidelines are very likely necessary, according to former Szczecin resident and now Chicago music producer and musician Przemyslaw Krzysztof Drazek. “It’s very hard for anything like this to make money in Poland now,” he says. And while one business might be facing odds that are steep, “maybe the 30 that they have might be able to make it work.”
“We’re not doing this business to make business,” responded Petryczko. “We hope it will be, and early signs are that we are making money, but we care much more about not losing this ‘magic’ thing, if you know what I mean.” A magic thing that in addition to her three partners involves five or six other folks, a raft of volunteers and fairly significant governmental help — courtesy of the marshal of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship — for OFF Marina’s larger events. Not bad for a small-town daughter of an accountant mom and a father that managed agri-collective Spółdzielnia Kółek Rolniczych.
And in the face of recent government shifts to the right and the steady beat of younger folks seeking their fortunes outside of Poland, Petryczko remains bullish on Poland both as a base of operations and as a future field of play. “Our ideas were born global, and we have similar aspirations for the ways that we want to communicate with the rest of the world,” Petryczko says, “which makes the fact that we’re doing it in Poland pretty incidental.”
Incidental to a series of incidents that involve heavy lifting and thinking around business needs, interests and abilities. “Plus, it’s fun,” she laughs. And walking by the workshop of the company that makes high-end but affordable furniture from shipping pallets, their rough-hewn edges still evident underneath the stylish manufacture, it’s pretty clear that’s exactly why folks are here, cash be damned.
“Being broke and bored,” Drazek says, getting the last word, “is much worse than just being broke. Believe me.”