State agency CzechInvest supported thousands of entrepreneurs in 2020

Various projects brought companies together not only to help in the fight against the pandemic.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 13.04.2021 11:58 (updated on 21.04.2021)

The biggest state-organized hackaton in the history of the Czech Republic, more than 200 companies with new business contacts, over 15,000 enquiries answered via the 1212 helpline, or the mapping of Czech manufacturers of sanitary and personal protection equipment and their manufacturing capacity. These are only some of the results and successes of state agency CzechInvest in 2020.

CzechInvest CEO Patrik Reichl, who has worked in the agency for over 16 years, said he had never experienced such a broadening of its agenda within a single year.

“Suddenly, from one day to another, the Industry and Trade Ministry significantly modified our scope. Most of us immediately got involved with the instruments of support as introduced and guaranteed by the ministry and the government,” Reichl said.

“Of course, the pandemic also had a very practical impact on the operations of the agency: most of our employees started and are still working from home. The new situation forced us to re-evaluate our work priorities, learn to work remotely, and use modern communication platforms. The pandemic has also had some positive effects: it not only accelerated the digitalization of our processes, but also showed us that such changes can make us more efficient,” Reichl added.

Hack the crisis, make history

In cooperation with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, CzechInvest took inspiration from other European countries and in April 2020 it launched the more than two-months-long Hack the Crisis hackaton. The goal of the event was to combine the needs of the state with the energy and volunteering spirit of the IT community and the private sector.

Winners of the Hack the Crisis hackaton. (Photo: CzechInvest)
Winners of the Hack the Crisis hackaton. (Photo: CzechInvest)

By doing so, CzechInvest supported the creation of highly relevant projects that could help overcome the crisis or mitigate its effects. A total of 206 projects signed up for the hackaton, together with 50 partners from the private and public sector. More than 130 experts from various field provided free mentoring. All of this made the Hack the Crisis hackaton the biggest state-organized hackaton in the history of the Czech Republic.

The ultra-sensitive PCR tests developed by the hackaton’s winner, DIANA Biotechnologies, made up nearly a quarter of the Czech Republic’s total testing capacity in the autumn of 2020. The company also recently introduced revolutionary saliva-based tests.

The pulmonary ventilator CoroVent, which placed second, managed to secure expedited certification from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and in October 2020 their ventilator was deployed in the Czech Republic for the very first time. LAM-X, which finished third, is currently developing self-disinfecting face masks.

From the beginning of the pandemic, the agency’s employees have provided support via the national 1212 helpline. From March to May, they answered more than 15,000 enquiries by entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, and did their utmost to provide them with the best assistance possible.

By the end of December, they had also replied to more than 6,000 email queries concerning the COVID-Rent (COVID-Nájemné) program. They processed nearly 12,500 rent subsidy requests, 569 requests for a COVID loan from the Bohemian-Moravian Guarantee and Development Bank, as well as nearly 26,000 self-employed persons’ subsidy requests. Furthermore, they provided more than 1,000 consultations concerning the available financial and non-financial support, as well as the strategies to cope with the impacts of coronavirus.

Connecting across the state, private and academic sectors

During the first wave of the pandemic, CzechInvest helped accelerate the certification of the respirator and face mask developed by the Czech Technical University (ČVUT). It connected Sigma Research and Development Institute, a manufacturer of filters for medical professionals based in Lutín in the Olomouc region, with the young Brno, South Moravia-based company Acam Solution, which was able to automate the production of respirator filters in an extremely short period of time.

Similarly, CzechInvest managed to bring together scientists and companies from Brno – a cooperation that resulted in the production of 36,000 face shields. CzechInvest helped launch the Czech Network (Spojujeme Česko) online platform, which drew together more than 90 volunteering initiatives, businesses, and state entities. Together with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the agency also established the GoVpoint portal, which matched the offer and demand of the private, public, and state sector.

“More than 1,000 companies registered on the portal, and we successfully matched more than 100 demand/offer entries. The empathy in the society was incredible. Even companies which we would have never expected to get involved to such extent, took part in the project,” Reichl said.

“For instance, Sky Paragliders, a sportwear and parachute maker, helped the company Grade Medicals manufacture antibacterial face masks. The marketplace has fulfilled its role throughout the first wave, we therefore plan to launch a more robust platform within this year’s second quarter,” Reichl added.

The 2020 was also a year of surveys. CzechInvest mapped the needs of municipalities in the field of sanitary and personal protection equipment, the impacts of the crisis on businesses and startups, as well as the international companies’ best practices in the field of internal preventive measures.

During the second half of April 2020, the agency compiled a list of Czech manufacturers of protective equipment who were helping fight coronavirus and had all the necessary certifications. It also periodically updated information on their production capacities.

Concept of company Presentigo presented during the Digital Promotion 4.0 competition. (Photo: CzechInvest)
Concept of company Presentigo presented during the Digital Promotion 4.0 competition. (Photo: CzechInvest)

Through the Digital Promotion 4.0 competition, CzechInvest tried to provide support to Czech exporters facing a decline in opportunities. As part of the competition, the agency introduced the catalog of innovative presentation instruments for exporters.

“The situation has not been complicated only for Czech entrepreneurs. In the spring of 2020, we therefore launched the Covid Info platform, which has since catered to the needs of foreign investors, expats, and other English-speaking users, by serving as a source of information concerning the government measures and other news on the coronavirus pandemic in Czechia,” Veronika Zajícová , director of CzechInvest’s Investment and Foreign Operations Division, said.

Focus isn’t only on Covid

While Covid-related activities dominated throughout 2020, CzechInvest did not forget its ordinary tasks: the development of the Czech Republic’s business environment, boosting its competitiveness and innovative economy. It therefore held expert events, programs, consultations, and international conferences, all of which aimed at improving and advancing the cooperation of the business, public and research and development sector.

Creative Business Cup 2020 took place in September 2020 at Brno. (Photo: CzechInvest)
Creative Business Cup 2020 took place in September 2020 at Brno. (Photo: CzechInvest)

Last year, CzechInvest provided assistance to 79 Czech startups that saw the pandemic as an opportunity to get ready for further expansion. It also successfully negotiated 27 investment plans with a total value of CZK 15.3 billion. Of these, two-thirds are high value-added investments, compared to one-fifth in 2018 and 2019. Also, one-quarter of last year’s projects can be defined as smart – meaning geographically well-placed and capable of benefiting the region where they are placed; especially if the area at hand faces structural challenges.

CzechInvest’s employees contributed to the implementation of two key changes in the system of investment incentives. The first one concerns the recipients hit by the pandemic whose investments are facing delays. As of now, they can apply for an extension – of up to two years – of the period set to meet the minimum goals.

The second change targets potential applicants and lowers the threshold investment amount to be eligible for the incentive. It also gives priority to the manufacturers of specialized medical equipment – a field crucial for the protection of citizens’ lives and health. Besides, the conditions are very favorable to small and medium-sized businesses.

CzechInvest managed to compile 161 profiles of companies’ needs that provide information on their current situation in the areas of technical and social infrastructure, workforce qualifications, research and development activities, or their collaboration with the public administrations. In practice, this allows CzechInvest to communicate the needs of such businesses to other relevant public and state authorities, as well as to better adapt its own services to them.

CzechInvest’s employees also processed and completed a total of 389 “passportizations” (mapping activity and documents) of the business environment, with the goal of creating a reliable basis for the strategic planning of the development of municipalities, and for the localization of appropriate businesses and investments.

Further information concerning CzechInvest’s activities is available in its annual report.

This article was written in association with CzechInvest. To read more about our partner content policies see here.