The biggest state-sponsored hackathon in the history of the Czech Republic, more than two hundred companies interconnected, over 15,000 questions answered on the helpline at 1212 and mapping of Czech manufacturers of medical devices and personal protective equipment including their production capacities. Those are only a few of the results and successes achieved by CzechInvest in 2020.
“Even though I’ve been working at CzechInvest for over 16 years, I have never experienced a year in which the agenda grew so much. The assignment from the Ministry of Industry and Trade changed basically from one day to the next. The overwhelming majority of the agency’s staff immediately got involved in many of the supporting activities that the ministry and government introduced and began providing. Of course, the impact is also practical. Most of the employees worked from home and still do, so the situation forced us to reassess our work priorities, learn to work remotely and use modern communication platforms. The pandemic thus also brought forth some positive aspects, in that it accelerated the process of digitalising our processes, thanks to which we can be more efficient,” says Patrik Reichl, CEO of CzechInvest.
Hack the crisis and help the largest possible number of businesses
Following the example of other European countries, in April 2020 CzechInvest and the Ministry of Industry and Trade launched the Hack the Crisis hackathon, which ran for more than two months. The aim of the hackathon was to coordinate the needs of the state with the energy and volunteering found in the IT community and the business environment and to thus support the implementation of relevant projects that can provide assistance in the crisis situation or mitigate its impacts. A total of 206 projects were entered in the hackathon in the course of its duration. Over fifty partners from the public and private sectors also took part in the event. Free mentoring was provided by more than 130 experts in various fields. All of this together made Hack the Crisis the biggest state-sponsored hackathon in the history of the Czech Republic.
In autumn 2020, ultra-sensitive PCR tests from the winning DIANA Biotechnologies project accounted for nearly a quarter of the country’s testing capacity and the company recently introduced revolutionary saliva tests that can significantly increase the number of samples that laboratories are able to process daily. The CoroVent lung ventilator (second place) obtained certification from the US Food and Drug Administration in an extremely short time and was used in practice for the first time in the Czech Republic at the end of October 2020. The third-place winner, LAM-X, is developing self-disinfecting face masks. As a follow-up to the hackathon, CzechInvest will soon present the stories of the most successful projects.
CzechInvest employees have been providing assistance on the nationwide helpline at 1212 since the very beginning of the pandemic. From March to May 2020, they handled more than 15,000 enquiries from businesses as well as other parties and strove to support them to the maximum possible extent during that difficult time. By the end of December 2020, they had replied to more than 6,000 e-mails with questions regarding the Covid – Rent programme, which has the purpose of helping Czech companies that were forced to shut down their operations due to government measures. Within this programme, the agency’s employees administrated nearly 12,500 applications, as well as 569 applications for COVID loans provided through the Czech-Moravian Guarantee and Development Bank and nearly 26,000 applications for nursing-care contributions for self-employed persons. In addition to that, they provided more than one thousand consultations on the possibilities of subsidy and non-financial aid and on the best ways to deal with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bring together the seemingly incompatible and cooperate across the public, private and academic spheres
In the first wave of the pandemic, CzechInvest helped to accelerate the certification of respirators and protective masks from the Czech Technical University. The agency brought together Sigma Výzkumný a vývojový ústav, a manufacturer of filters for doctors and EMTs, with the young Brno-based company Acam Solution, which was able to automate the production of respirator filters for Sigma in an extremely brief period of time. Also in Brno, CzechInvest put scientists in contact with companies and, thanks to the resulting cooperation, more than 36,000 protective face shields were manufactured. The agency helped to launch Czech Network, an online platform bringing together the initiatives of volunteers, companies and the state in the fight against the coronavirus in which more than ninety entities got involved, and the GoVpoint portal, where in cooperation with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, CzechInvest matched the supply and demand of companies, institutions and the state.
“In spring, more than a thousand companies registered in the platform and we successfully matched supply with demand in more than one hundred cases. The empathy in society was incredible. Cooperation was established by companies that we wouldn’t have expected to cooperate with each other at all. For example, Sky Paragliders, a manufacturer of sportswear and parachutes, helped Grade Medicals with the production of antibacterial masks. The marketplace fulfilled its purpose in the first wave; we plan to launch a more comprehensive platform in the second quarter of this year,” Reichl explains.
The year 2020 was marked by the broadest range of surveys. CzechInvest mapped municipalities’ needs for medical devices and personal protective equipment, impacts on businesses and startups, as well as best practices in internal anti-pandemic measures in multinational companies. In the second half of April, CzechInvest published a list of Czech manufacturers of personal protective equipment that were helping in the fight against the coronavirus and had the required certifications, while continuously updating their production capacity. The agency attempted to bolster the limited opportunities of Czech exporters through the Digital Promotion 4.0 competition, whose purpose was to map and compare existing tools in the area of digital presentation that could be used for promoting Czech manufacturers. Thanks to the competition, a catalogue of innovative presentation tools for exporters was created.
“Not only Czech businesses had a complicated situation last year, so in spring 2020 we launched the COVID INFO platform, which served and continues to serve foreign investors, expats and other English-speaking people as a source of information on government measures and other news relating to the coronavirus pandemic and happenings in the Czech Republic,” say Veronika Zajícová, head of the Investment and Foreign Operations Division. At the beginning of the pandemic, CzechInvest’s foreign offices also sent out information on protective measures implemented by other countries and governments in the fight against the disease. Based on that information, the Ministry of Industry and Trade formulated a strategy in connection with the healthcare and economic measures in the Czech Republic.
We don’t do only COVID
Even though COVID-related activities predominated in 2020, CzechInvest did not forget about its traditional activities – development of our country’s business environment, competitiveness and innovative economy. Through professional events, programmes, consultations and international conferences, the agency cultivated and specifically developed cooperation between the business, public and R&D spheres. Among other things, CzechInvest:
- Supported 79 Czech startups that used the pandemic to prepare for further expansion.
- Arranged 27 investment projects in the value of CZK 15.3 billion. A key aspect of this is that two-thirds of all these investments are with high value added, whereas in 2018, only one-fifth of new projects had high value added. One-fourth of last year’s projects are smart, i.e. localised so that they benefit the given region, particularly those that are structurally disadvantaged.
- Took part in two fundamental changes in the investment-incentives system. The first change involves recipients that were impacted by the pandemic and whose investments incurred delays. Therefore, they can newly apply for an extension of the period for fulfilment of the minimum conditions by up to two years. The other change is targeted at potential applicants, as it involves a reduction of the investment limits for obtaining investment incentives and preferential treatment for manufactures of special medical products, i.e. an area that is of key importance for the protection of life and health. The conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises are particularly favourable.
- Obtained 161 needs profiles that provide information on the needs of companies throughout the Czech Republic in the areas of technical and social infrastructure, skilled workforce, activities in the field of research and development, and cooperation with local authorities. In practice, this means that the needs of companies can be relayed to other relevant bodies of the state and public authorities, which can then adjust services accordingly.
- Completed and processed 389 technical inventories of the business environment, the purpose of which is to create a relevant basis for strategic planning of municipal development and for placement of appropriate companies and investments.
- Prepared the Online Academy for Mayors focused on development of the business environment, which CzechInvest will launch this year.
Have you not found what you were looking for? You can find more information on CzechInvest’s activities in the agency’s annual report.
CzechInvest plays a key role in the area of comprehensive support for business and investments. The agency’s unique combination of regional, central and international operations ensures the integrity of its services and its ability to connect global trends with the regional conditions in the Czech Republic. One of CzechInvest’s primary objectives is the transformation of the Czech Republic into an innovation leader of Europe. CzechInvest is a state contributory organisation subordinate to the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic. The agency was established in 1992. More information is available at www.czechinvest.org/en and on CzechInvest’s Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
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