GovTech Lab Lithuania was founded last year and aims to bring together public sector challenges and tech solutions. In this interview from NordicBaltic.Tech, a partnership between PUBLIC Denmark and the Nordic Council of Ministers, we spoke to Arūnė Matelytė, Manager of GovTech Lab Lithuania, to hear how the Covid-19 crisis has prompted an influx of GovTech startups that are innovating to solve public sector challenges.
GovTech Lab Lithuania
GovTech Lab is a team in the public sector that works as a connector between public sector challenges and innovative teams in the private sector or academia. We focus on encouraging both the creation and the use of innovative solutions for the government. Specifically, we help the public sector identify challenges that can be solved by emerging technologies, engage startups and SMEs to create innovative solutions, accelerate startups in GovTech and TechForGood space, and work on building the GovTech community in Lithuania.
The GovTech Lab team is a part of the government innovation agency, called Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology. At the beginning of 2019, I was working at this amazing programme called “Create Lithuania“, that aims to attract project managers that have international experience to lead projects in the public sector. Myself and two of my colleagues were working on different projects around the digital economy and open data, and we were thinking about what we should do next that could have a major impact on Lithuania’s digital government.
That’s how the idea of the GovTech Lab came to light. We pitched it to the Minister of Economy and Innovation, he gave us the green light, and we started developing the concept in March 2019. In July we got the funding confirmed and in December 2019 the GovTech lab officially started its activities. And since December 2019 I have been the manager of the GovTech Lab and its amazing team.
An influx of new GovTech startups
During the crisis, central government, local municipalities, hospitals and other affected institutions needed solutions immediately, therefore they were more open to who they received the solutions from. This opened doors to many smaller companies and startups, who could show that they are trustworthy and can deliver good results quickly. In addition to a more favourable approach from the public sector, we have seen an influx of new GovTech startups, especially after the Hack the Crisis hackathon. The society has been mobilised to create solutions to this unique situation that we have been in.
Developing solutions to tackle the virus
You can find examples of GovTech across the different parts of the government. For example, the Lithuanian government started using a virtual state agent to answer people’s questions about the crisis; together with local startups and IT companies it developed a contact tracing app.
During the crisis many hardware solutions have been developed, from self-driving disinfection robots to UV respiratory solutions (UVIRESO). Finally, several great startups working in telemedicine have been created or expanded. For example, manodaktaras.lt, a startup that existed long before the crisis, started providing additional services for remote consultations. Act on Crisis (AOC), a new solution for mental health developed during the Hack the Crisis hackathon, has already appeared on the international stage winning second place at the Global Hack.
The changing demand for innovative tech
I believe that we will see an increase in the demand for innovative tech solutions in the public sector. The crisis showed that “business as usual” does not work in emergencies – you need out of the box solutions to tackle novel situations. Startups and innovative companies are in a great place to deliver these kinds of solutions in a fast and reliable manner.
Governments and startups working together
I think the crisis has shown that governments and startups can work together. However, there is still a lot of learning to be done on both sides. Governments and startups need to be more adaptable, flexible and understanding of different ways of working. I hope that governments will maintain the habit, developed during the crisis, to look to diverse organisations for the solutions to its challenges. From the startup side, we have seen that the crisis mobilised a lot of great minds to come up with GovTech solutions.
My hope is that GovTech stays in the focus of the innovators’ community beyond the current emergency situation.