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Ten thousand IT experts are missing from Slovakia | Innovation and startups in the CEE region – Part III.

The Russo-Ukrainian war has put Central and Eastern Europe in the international spotlight; our region has great potential, but many problems hold back innovation. Unfortunately, Slovak education’s quality is below par, and 10.000 IT experts are missing from the job market. But, regarding environmental protection, Slovakia might be the regional champion. Analysis from Hype&Hyper – Part III.

What to do with the spotlight on the region?

According to the latest data from Statista, Europe lags far behind the US and China in the number of unicorn startups (startups valued at $1 billion or more). As European nations have recovered from the COVID-19 recession, Central and Eastern European countries finally got the chance to forge ahead. Olivia Blanchard, an analyst of the Slovak think-tank GLOBSEC, claims that regional initiatives would be necessary to create a supportive, innovative environment for the development of startups. Innovation is needed in the region to make it eventually a flourishing area that can catch up with the Western part of the continent. Europe can remain a stable, economically strong global player only this way.

Blanchard believes we are in a crucial moment since the Russo-Ukrainian war has put the region in the international spotlight. Due to the war, not only Ukraine but also Belarus and Russia can face a brain drain. We need to create an innovation-friendly environment in the region by giving support primarily to local entrepreneurs. We must help and work together with those fleeing either the destruction of their homeland or the oppressive regimes in the current situation.

Réka Pisla | Hype&Hyper

E-government must be improved in Slovakia

Digitalization of public administration is no longer the future, or at least it shouldn’t be in Slovakia either. The country’s digital public administration is underperforming compared to the EU average, and the relatively low level of digitization of public services is hampering businesses and economic growth. The number of citizens who would try to manage their day-to-day issues with bureaucracy online is slightly decreasing but still above the EU average. All the other indicators describing digital public services in a country are below that.

According to the DESI (Digital Economy and Society Index), user-friendliness has improved, but there is room for further improvement because the country is still underperforming the EU average. The low-quality eGovernment services make Slovak society vulnerable to critical situations like wars or pandemics. Even if the goal is just to reach the middle ground of the EU, the gradual improvement of the digitalization of public administration and the interoperability of systems is inevitable; in particular, the level of data sharing among institutions should be increased. Just imagine how much time and energy can even one citizen save if they do not have to enter data for each public service separately and visit each institution individually if something changes. Of course, there are some areas where Slovakia has already achieved progress, but the whip has to be cracked if they do not want to be Europe’s last.

In spite of the depicted negative picture above, Slovakia has great innovation potential. The number of companies with innovation potential is well above the European average, but they need to take the first steps toward development and innovation. Yet most businesses do not innovate either regarding their services and products or their business processes.

Education is on the rocks, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel

The miserable plight of Slovak education is a pressing problem. According to the latest PISA results, the country lags behind the OECD average, which is not surprising since the government expenditure on education is low compared to the other EU Member States. The majority of Slovaks have basic digital skills, and a third even gained advanced skills, but in the last year, there were very few enterprises providing IT training to their employees. Slovakia is in the European middle ground regarding the number of IT graduates, but 10.000 IT experts are still missing from the job market partly due to the weak education system. The lack of digital skills and infrastructure made it difficult for many schools to organize and implement distance learning, especially at the pandemic’s beginning. As a result, the training of the teachers and the education staff became a priority for the government. Still, according to the Slovak State Schools Inspectorate (ŠŠI), 45% of schools do not have a single qualified IT teacher.

During the first year of the pandemic, webinars were regularly held to provide teachers with online methodological support. In 2020, the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport provided €6 million for schools to buy the digital equipment they need, with an additional €3 million in January 2021. More than 2000 schools have received support in total. In addition, there are many initiatives and projects in the country, such as the IT Fitness Test or the IT Academy, aimed at helping students and teachers to catch up with digital skills.

In Slovakia, there are more startups per capita than in Poland

It may surprise you, but ESET, one of the most well-known antivirus software companies, started as a Slovak startup, and many more successful projects followed it. However, according to the latest data, Slovakia has only 97 startups per 1 million people, compared to 80 in Poland but 1048 in Estonia. Exponea, an analytics and marketing automation platform, is another Slovak success story; they help online B2C companies to target the right customers with the right message. They are the only marketing cloud that delivers one-to-one marketing solutions in days. Kontentino, a popular application for social media management, is also a Slovak gem.

€85 million for environmental protection

Slovakia is a champion of environmental protection, especially regarding sustainability, environmental technologies, and combating air pollution. The number of companies that can lead the country to more sustainable solutions grows. GreenWay, one of these businesses, has recently received a significant grant, according to Innovate Slovakia.

GreenWay aims to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by developing e-mobility. The company’s mission is to utilize locally produced renewable energy. They installed fast charging stations coupled with stationary energy storage systems and solar panels on roofs near the Dalitrans charging station in Trenčín District, Slovakia. They celebrated their 10th anniversary last year.

In February 2022, GreenWay secured an investment of €85 million in immediate and future growth financing from the international infrastructure fund Helios Energy Investments and Generation Capital. This is the largest known investment in electric vehicle charging by a global infrastructure fund and the first one in Central and Eastern Europe. The capital will be invested in deploying more chargers, expanding the network, and strengthening the company’s technical and IT competencies to enhance the user experience further.

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