Communications security startup Fleksy was today crowned winner of the first full-day Govtech innovation event in Europe, as we staged GovTech.Pioneers in Vienna. The Barcelona-based company was the champion of the 100 startups from as far afield as North America, Singapore and Nigeria that we selected to join us at the continent’s first gathering for leading politicians, public CIO’s, startups, corporations and VC’s. And the benefits will be immediate: victory at GovTech.Pioneers means they’re fast-tracked into a pitching slot in the Pioneers Challenge Award Top 50 tomorrow. This forms part of Pioneers’18, our flagship event taking place in the nearby Hofburg.
Fleksy ultimately saw off competition from over 350 startups, hailing from 65 countries and four continents, which applied for GovTech.Pioneers. Of the 100 selected to attend, who travelled to Vienna from four different continents, 24 were selected to pitch in four different tracks. These were Citizen Collaboration, Blockchain, Public Safety & Security, and an Overall Govtech Solutions track. The four finalists to emerge from these and pitch on the main stage at the end of the day were Civocracy, iComply, Polyteia and the ultimate winner Fleksy.
Fleksy, which advanced to the final as winner of the Public Safety & Security Track, offers a secure keyboard that it licences to governments to protect their internal mobile communications. With data and privacy a controversial battleground at the moment, the three-year-old company has already inked a couple of deals with governments, which will soon be announced.
“It’s always amazing to win,” said Olivier Plante (below), the French-Canadian CEO and co-founder who pitched on stage in front of a jury including legendary Silicon Valley Tim Draper, who promised to he’d be talking with the Fleksy in the near future. “And the best part is to see reward for what we as a team are building. All of the pitching startups did a lot of work to get this far, but we’re in a hot space right now. Big companies controlling so much of our data is a matter of public safety.
“The French government is already developing its own messaging alternative to WhatsApp, which shows how much of a concern this is. What’s more, we met a key person here at this event who can connect us to the government in Paris.”
That was just one example of the connections made at GovTech.Pioneers, a unique opportunity for the innovators behind a $400bn market to come together and discuss the latest trends in Citizen Collaboration, Blockchain and Security. Whilst using our Match & Meet service to automate the process of finding and meeting with like-minded attendees, they found additional inspiration in a number of high-quality speakers.
Draper introduced ‘The Next Era’ of startup-driven innovation in the public sector with a typically powerful keynote on the main stage at Palais Wertheim. “If you have artificial intelligence, smart contracts and Blockchain, then you have the perfect bureaucrat. Someone who is fair, honest, completely distributed and can treat everyone the same. That’s an incredibly powerful thing.
“This is going to change health-care, real estate, insurance and a ton of industries. These are all providing bad service at high cost. But governments provide the worst service at the highest costs – and they will be the biggest opportunity here.
“There will be a terrestrial part of government and a virtual part. A country like Estonia has recognized there is this part that does not need to be tied to a land mass – and other countries are starting to recognize that. Governments are realizing that they are going to start to compete with each other like businesses.”
Former Estonian Chief Information Officer Taavi Kotka, whose country is indeed considered one of the front-runners when it comes to digital governments, followed Draper on the main stage, shedding some light on how the Baltic country achieved such heights in Govtech.
“Government services should be seamless,” he said, using the example of child support payments being made to a mother automatically as soon as a child is born. “We have all the facts; we just need to connect them.”
“And there is no reason why we can’t serve someone like Tim Draper in Silicon Valley. 99% of our services are digital and seamless, so it doesn’t matter, if you live in San Francisco or Singapore.”
Kotka also echoed Draper’s sentiment that the arrival of virtual services means governments are now entering a competitive era.
“If there is a service out there that is better, people will go for it. And if your government isn’t willing to change, then for you winter is coming. And for a country like Estonia, that will be a perfect storm.”
Another fascinating speaker, who provided a unique perspective having worked in both the United Kingdom and the United States, was Carrie Bishop, who now oversees the digital strategy for the City of San Francisco. As well as sitting on the startup finals jury, she spoke on stage about the differences in design and governmental structures between the US and the UK.
“All over the UK we’ve seen a 30% cut in funding for public services, and you only deal with that by automating,” she said, revealing that at least some parts of Europe are well ahead of the USA when it comes to government technology. “Such economic pressures don’t yet exist in San Francisco, so we’ve only just begun our journey there.”
“Persistence is essential,” she implored the entrepreneurs after sharing tips in selling technology to America’s more complex and fragmented governments. “Never, ever give up on what you’re doing!”
Other visitors from the US included IDEO Portfolio Director Peter Jackson, whose talk covered how design can push governments forward, and Stonly Baptiste of Urban-X, who joined a discussion about accelerating Govtech startups and also sat on the jury.
From another corner of the planet came Toshiyuki Zamma, the Executive Adviser to the Japanese government’s Chief Information Officer. He took part in an international ‘Govtech Around the World’ session, which compared the approaches of the Japan and Canada to new technology in the public sector.
The audience also heard from some individuals charged with leading the digital revolution into action at both national and European level. Among them were Margarete Schramböck, the Austrian Federal Minister for Digital & Economic Affairs, and Peteris Zilgalvis, Head of Unit, Startups & Innovation, Digital Single Market, DG CONNECT at the European Commission.
Schramböck gave some insights into her ministry’s work, which includes overseeing Chief Digital Officers in every other government ministry, a specific focus on new mobile solutions, the establishment of a permanent rapid prototyping center involving startups and an ongoing project to implement the ‘once-only’ data principle pioneered by Estonia. She also dropped a hint to the audience to watch out for news of Austria establishing an innovation fellowship program in the very near future.
Zilgalvis, meanwhile, elaborated on role being played by Fintech regulatory sandboxes now established in as many as 13 European Union member states. Another beneficial form of prototyping for heavily-regulated environments, these allow for live experiments under regulatory supervision, which gives innovators ongoing clarity as to the legal status of their work.
In addition GovTech.Pioneers saw the staging of several workshop sessions, with partners including the European Commission, the European Innovation Council, the Austrian Federal Government and the City of Vienna. These also addressed the event’s key topics, with a particular focus on Blockchain.
Want to join Fleksy at Pioneers’18 tomorrow? You can still grab a ticket here.