Like many next-generation entrepreneurs, the idea for Jan Olszewski’s new business came from seeing a gap in the market.
Olszewski, a second-generation family member of Polish bus firm Solaris Bus & Coach, found that while most family businesses knew their national, and often regional, markets well – when it came to internationalising their entreprises they needed local expertise in exploring international opportunities.
“I realised the demand in our own family business. Now we sell our buses mainly in Europe, but when you’re increasing your global reach you need local partners,” he says.
Olszewski worked at Solaris Bus & Coach for six years and was awarded second place at Forbes Chief Innovation Officer contest in 2011 following the development and introduction of an IT system at the business.
“Most family businesses know families in their home country, but not other countries,” says Olszewski.
“There was a need to do business with other families, but the ability to do this internationally was missing,” he adds.
Olszewski always wanted to start something on his own. He has already had one start-up experience with a restaurant venture, youfresh, but saw the chance to connect families around their businesses was too good to miss.
Thus the idea for Owner’s Place was born. Launched two months ago, the venture is a closed, online marketplace for global business opportunities for family businesses.
Run by Olszewski and his wife, Margaretha, members have to belong to the owners of a family business or have had a family business with annual revenues of €50 million ($55.4 million). Members can also join if they now run a family office, private equity firm, or private investment office that has a family business background, or was seeded by liquidity from a family business exit. This threshold is likely to be lowered to €10-20 million in the future.
A ‘matchmaking marketplace for family businesses’ as Olszewski describes it, members log-in to the online portal to help each other with their businesses.
“We bring owners together who want to sell their business to another family business or entrepreneurs who need help with the market entry into another country,” Olszewski explains. “You can also search for a partner in a new business segment, sell a division of your company, show interest in an acquisition in a specific industry, look for new suppliers, search for a supervisory board member, seek a financing partner, or a supporter for a charity project.”
All opportunities on the platform are anonymous and only visible to members. Only if someone is interested in an opportunity are both members connected via email and the members discuss the details of the deal "offline" with each other.
It currently has 50 members from 15 countries ranging from Thailand to Oman – although most are European. They pay an annual €3000 membership fee.
His parents, founders Solange and Krzysztof, have supported Olszewski in his entrepreneurial ventures, although he remains active in Solaris Bus & Coach, sitting on the supervisory board of another business that the family owns and continuing with consulting work.
The Polish bus firm was a finalist in CampdenFB’s 2014 European Families in Business Awards and reported annual revenues of PLN1.5 billion ($396 million).
“The more members and opportunities we have, the more interesting and useful our marketplace will be,” he concludes.