As borders in various European countries reopen, new challenges emerge. Tourism is expected to rise, and travel hungry citizens must manage strict safety guidelines. While some cross-border commuters and remote workers return to the office, others remain home-bound. Reuniting the workforce and safely navigating public spaces therefore becomes key. In this article at NordicBaltic.Tech, a partnership between the Nordic Council of Ministers and PUBLIC Denmark, we list the innovative Nordic-Baltic tech startups that are shaping the ‘new normal’ in the region.
Securing safer and cleaner working conditions
Disinfecting the workplace currently relies on dispensers and strict cleaning practices. To improve the efficiency of sanitizing workspaces, startups such as Danish Blue Ocean Robotics bring their experience from the healthcare sector into the office. By combining deep microbiological know-how, autonomous robot technology and ultraviolet light, Blue Ocean Robotics has had immense commercial success with its mobile UVD Robots.
Beyond sanitisation, robotics startups offer a multitude of solutions for creating a safer working environment. Latvian startup Aerones recently announced a $1.6 million seed investment towards ground-based robotics systems. These systems enable wind and turbine technicians to perform maintenance and inspection tasks from a safe distance. Startups in this space are demonstrating the need for innovation across different industries and locations.
Embracing digital and virtual environments
Despite the easing of restrictions, not everyone will be able to return to a physical office in the foreseeable future. Financial strain on businesses may lead to reduced in-house staff and affect the affordability of office space. For offices that do reopen, social distancing may be difficult to maintain in practice. Keeping remote workers connected therefore becomes critical for the workforce post-Covid-19. Startups such as Finnish Smarp are shaping the future of internal communications, servicing customers such as Danish SparNord, KPMG and Amazon.
This trend towards flexibility in the workplace transcends borders, offering cohesion to cross-border workers, freelancers and traveling professionals. Even though the concept of the digital nomad is familiar, the underlying premise has been legally problematic – until now. Estonia recently became the first country to establish a digital nomad visa, allowing internationals to stay in the country for both short and long term stay.
Advancing micro-mobility and automation
When lockdowns were introduced, the demand for ride services declined. The demand for other services increased, including efficient food delivery for frontline workers, vulnerable groups and the elderly. Startups such as Estonian Bolt were quick to adapt and recently secured a promising €100 million towards growing the platform. In March, Bolt worked with the Municipality of Vilnius to track the mobility of citizens on essential trips during lockdown. It turned out that scooters were, in fact, being used by commuters, demonstrating a viable alternative to public transport at peak travel times.
Now, as lockdowns lift, the safety of public mobility is essential to preventing a second wave of infections. Micro-mobility solutions paired with daily disinfection practices can help avoid the overcrowding of public transport. To further cooperation across the Nordic-Baltic region, a close collaboration between governments, cities and providers may inform decisions and help solve logistical challenges. One example of such a collaboration is the Nordic Micromobility Association, uniting providers such as Lime, Bolt and Voi.
In addition to transforming the way citizens travel, tech pioneers have a window of opportunity to redesign the vehicles themselves. In Estonia, two types of self-driving buses are being tested as part of a joint initiative of Tallinn city authorities, the Tallinn University of Technology (Taltech) and French company Navya. Making greener alternatives affordable has long been a challenge for pioneers of urban transportation. Thanks to new tests and trials, the crisis may provide much-needed insights for substantial change towards a greener society.
Enabling hi-tech hospitality
As borders reopen across the continent, many European citizens may venture abroad. To secure safety standards in a struggling tourism sector, innovation in hospitality may provide some much-needed solutions. Startups such as Finnish BobW offer apartment accommodation that adheres to a so-called ‘Ridiculously Clean Standard’. By relying on touchless hospitality such as online check-ins and chat-based customer service, tourists can avoid unnecessary human interaction throughout their stay. BobW recently raised €4 million with plans to expand across the Nordics, Baltics and the UK over the next two years.
For some innovative startups in the Nordic-Baltic region, the shift towards a ‘new normal’ is an accelerating force. Instead of remaining a ‘quick fix’, the technology deployed during Covid-19 may demonstrate the potential for longer term solutions. Maximising this potential will rely on harnessing reliable insights from the crisis and deepening collaboration between governments, startups and citizens.