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Create Meaningful Change: How Entrepreneurs Can Collaborate with the Public Sector During a Crisis A few points to consider when innovating for a greater purpose.

By Alastair Mitchell

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The coronavirus outbreak has flung us into turbulent times and governments worldwide are battling to save lives and keep their economies afloat. To help in this fight, many governments are turning to the tech industry and numerous startups are now stepping up with innovations to support the public sector in a crisis. Tender notices that would usually take months are now taking just days. What's more, healthtech startups are seeing a surge in demand for their technology, services, and expertise, working in partnership with the public sector.

When working with the public sector, here are a few points to consider.

Power the future of healthcare with data.

In our digital age, healthcare is undeniably a data issue. Throughout every part of the value chain—from insurance and clinical trials through to disease research, diagnosis and prevention, the ability to manage—securely share, analyse and interpret the enormous amounts of data available is vital. For instance, having the ability to analyze data at speed can dramatically increase our understanding of how diseases spread through the human body and a population.

No more so has this been as evident as now. Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea have responded the most effectively to the pandemic, thanks partly due to their (admittedly controversial) use of technology to trace those affected. Britain's NHS is now building a data platform in partnership with the likes of Microsoft, Palantir, and Google. The platform will combine numerous NHS and social-care datasets in one place, giving government and healthcare professionals a central, transparent view of where things stand regarding the virus—spread, treatment, hospital capacities, and more.

This leads to hospital facilities—another issue that can be aided with data. In the UK, building the Nightingale Hospital in London for coronavirus care took just nine days thanks to thousands of volunteers being organised through the GoodSAM app. It's clear that the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation for the NHS, which has traditionally been slow to innovate and lagged behind when it comes to productivity gains from digitization. Healthcare professionals that have been stuck using outdated software tools for years are now using secure mobile messaging apps enabling them to share real-time insights, address capacity problems, and discuss resource allocation with colleagues. The roll-out of such tools is now taking days rather than the usual 12 to 18 months. Already, British founders have said they've never seen the NHS move so quickly.

Across Europe and the U.S., telemedicine startups have also seen a sharp rise in demand driven by coronavirus fears. In a new bid to make telemedicine more accessible, federal legislation has lifted selected restrictions on telehealth services for elderly Medicare patients, while sizeable insurers are temporarily removing extra costs for telemedicine. When the UK went into lockdown on 23 March, Docly saw a 103 percent increase in registrations for its text-based GP consultation offering. Entrepreneurs should consider where and how your offerings can help.

Make sure you're a custom fit.

Even during a crisis, it's crucial to tailor any offering. When it comes to governments, it's never a case of one-size-fits-all; services and products must be custom-designed to fulfil a governmental organisation's specific needs. Ask yourself: can your business bring the specific type of support that government staff require? Can it evolve on a case-by-case basis, depending on the government department in question? Adapt your offering until you can firmly answer "yes'.

To achieve this, founders should think of structural ways for as many people within government departments as possible to access their product. One route is to open up access to a product for free for those fighting COVID-19. Here, it's worth taking notes from the B2B private sector. Across the world, companies of all sizes are providing free cloud infrastructure to support enterprises through COVID-19. Startups can make the most of their nimble nature and, in some cases Industry 4.0 expertise, by following suit and then some. For example, we've already seen entrepreneurs specialising in 3D-printing and digital construction are opening up their platforms to help plug manufacturing gaps for medical equipment.

The human element—and don't sleep on security.

Key to driving adoption is building a product that people genuinely enjoy using. Research and networks are futile if people are put off using a service, so founders must return to their roots to ensure they're delivering the optimal experience for their users. In practice, this means providing something intuitive and enjoyable to use. Now that patients have been forced to use telemedicine services and got to grips with how to use them, for example, chances are they'll be much more open to using them in the future.

Of course, all these efforts are no use unless security and compliance remain core. Data security should be a priority for all organisations looking to partner with the public sector, so founders must ensure they're equipped with the requisite certifications and standards to operate. Yes, there's a need to innovate quickly in times of crisis but rolling out a product or service that isn't up to scratch when it comes to security standards could result in your brand being irrevocably damaged.

Ultimately, the pandemic has shone a new spotlight on public sector technology, particularly healthcare. Often deemed slow and sluggish, the coronavirus outbreak has forced innovation to happen at unprecedented speed across the public sector and provoked huge shifts in consumer behaviour. It has also sped up approval processes. Rather than being caught up in months -- sometimes even years -- of red tape and rubber stamping, entrepreneurs now have the opportunity to show the public sector what can be achieved with technology, quickly.

The coronavirus outbreak will change how the public and private sector work together for years to come. European and Australian governments are planning to roll out contact-tracing apps within a month; there are discussions around whether COVID-19 will speed up the adoption of robots in certain industries and artificial intelligence is being called upon to find a cure. Whatever the future looks like, it's clear that public sector technology will remain in the spotlight.

Alastair Mitchell

Partner at EQT Ventures

Alastair Mitchell is a partner at EQT Ventures and has in-depth experience of B2B software, sales and marketing. Prior to EQT Ventures, Mitchell was an angel investor and previously co-founded online collaboration company Huddle, with the aim of helping organizations work better together
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