FT Tech Champions: innovate to prosper

Over the past two extraordinary years for businesses around the world, the need to protect staff and customers from the coronavirus has been paramount.

But, at the same time, the need to think creatively to make products and services available in new ways has driven businesses, individuals and governments to seek new technological solutions.

The adoption of the technology has accelerated so much that some analysts estimate that seven years of progress have been made since the second quarter of 2020.

The Financial Times, in collaboration with Workday, set out to identify European companies that have used technology to steer their businesses towards new ways of working.

Earlier this year, we invited FT readers to name organizations that have harnessed technology to innovate in the face of the pandemic.

Over 100 nominations have been received across multiple sectors, with a panel of judges selecting nine winners – to be announced on November 8 – to form the 2021 FT Tech Champions.

Shortlist

Banking

Klarna: “Buy now, pay later” © Bloomberg

Banking Circle (Luxembourg) The fintech start-up flourished during the pandemic thanks to increased demand for its low-cost cross-border money transfers.

Klarna (Sweden) As the pandemic has increased pressure on personal budgets, Klarna’s “buy now, pay later” approach has grown in popularity as an alternative to credit cards.

Starling Bank (UK) Starling’s digital model has given him the speed and flexibility to embark on lending to small businesses in Britain affected by the pandemic.

Sage (United Kingdom) International money transfer and multi-currency banking offered by Wise, now in partnership with Google Pay, has imposed itself as Covid-19 has accelerated the transition to digital banking.

Cybersecurity and IT

AI and machine learning have been harnessed to solve problems and automate routine tasks © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Born Digital & Scio (Czech Republic) By using AI and machine learning, Czech groups hope their software will enable fairer online university exams.

F24 (Germany) F24 crisis management software allows you to monitor and manage critical business processes from any location at any time.

Metaco (Switzerland) Switzerland-based Metaco’s platform enables businesses to tap into the digital economy, providing tokenization, cryptocurrency custody and smart contract management.

UiPath (Romania) UiPath makes AI software that is used to automate routine tasks – an industry that has flourished as companies seek to replace or retrain administrative workers.

Health care

Philips uses ultrasound for pulmonary complications linked to Covid-19 © Philips – Frank van Beek

accuRx (United Kingdom) The British software group’s accuBook platform offers patients the possibility to make an appointment for the Covid-19 vaccination by SMS.

Doctolib (France) The second largest healthcare technology in Europe, Doctolib has become the first online medical appointment booking site in France.

Oxford Nanopore (United Kingdom) Hailing from the University of Oxford, the group’s portable DNA sequencers have been an essential tool in the fight against Covid-19 and other deadly diseases.

Philips (Netherlands) The medical imaging company has obtained FDA clearance for the use of ultrasound to manage pulmonary and heart complications related to Covid-19.

Hospitality

Accor is rolling out contactless services in its hotel chains © Bloomberg

Accor (France) Driven by the social distancing and hygiene measures of the Covid-19, the Accor hotel group is deploying contactless services across all of its Chains. Features include online and mobile check-in, hotel payment, digital room key, and guest relations via WhatsApp throughout guest stay.

Sunday (France) The restaurant’s payment system uses a QR code that allows customers to pay at their table without having to alert a waiter or wait for the card machine to arrive.

Volunteero (United Kingdom) Paperwork and lengthy terms of engagement often prevent volunteers from giving more of their time. Volunteero avoids this by breaking volunteering down into “micro-tasks,” so people can volunteer to do small, one-off things, adding flexibility to the system.

Manufacturing

Drägerwerk has stepped up its production of fans © Patrick Ohligschlaeger

Drägerwerk (Germany) When the German government placed an order for 10,000 fans – the equivalent of one year of production – Drägerwerk responded by quadrupling its production capacity.

Gerresheimer (Germany) The glassmaker responded to the pandemic by increasing the production of special vials needed to store Covid-19 vaccines.

Graphene Composites LTD (UK subsidiary) The group accelerated a virucidal coating for use in ventilation filters that kill airborne coronavirus, reducing R&D years to months.

Va-Q-Tec (Germany) The need to transport Covid vaccines in cold temperatures has skyrocketed demand for the Bavaria-based group’s insulated containers.

Markets & Financial

Bux (Netherlands) Driven by an increase in stock transactions during the pandemic, the Dutch neo-broker recently launched in Ireland ahead of a planned expansion in the United Kingdom.

Digital Debt Capital Markets (UK) Aiming to streamline and digitize bond transactions, the group’s funders include ICAP and NEX founder Lord Michael Spencer.

Legimeet (Sweden) The Stockholm-based start-up’s digital meeting platform helps promote shareholder democracy by improving access to annual company meetings.

Commercial Republic (Germany) The app has ridden the wave of Covid-19-led retail investors turning to stock speculation, providing a cheaper way to invest.

Media

Nent presented himself as the European answer to Netflix

BOOKR (Hungary) The Budapest-based start-up compile books with interactive activities and a dashboard for teachers, helping to improve students’ reading skills and comprehension.

Futur (United Kingdom) The magazine’s publisher has countered the downward trend in media by focusing on commissions from sales made through its websites and newsletters and targeting hobbies such as fashion, gardening or photography.

Hopin (United Kingdom) With its software capable of handling thousands of users at a time, the British group raised the stakes in the videoconferencing boom.

Nent (Sweden) The streaming service has established itself as the European answer to Netflix, offering premium sports and original entertainment.

Retail

Inditex uses sensors to track clothing © DOMOFOTOGRAFIA SL

Inditex (Spain) By investing in new systems, the Spanish clothing group is blurring the line between physical and online stores.

L’Oréal (France) The world’s largest cosmetics company has seen its online sales increase both on consumer websites and at retailers by improving its e-commerce sites. He also embraced social commerce, involving influencers in the direct sale of his products.

Mirakl (France) Online shopping software start-up improves e-commerce by allowing outside sellers to sell directly on their sites. The company, which uses AI to detect fraud on its sites, recently raised $ 550 million to fuel its expansion.

Shipping and transport

Maersk’s online freight forwarder Twill has seen demand surge during the pandemic © Bloomberg

Maersk (Denmark) Maersk’s online freight forwarder Serge flourished during the pandemic, reaching out to small and medium-sized businesses that lack a dedicated logistics department and transportation management technology. Maersk’s Twill recruited hundreds of new customers every week in 2020.

Rolls-Royce (United Kingdom) The British aerospace group is accelerating its transition from fossil fuels to greener propulsion technologies.

Zencargo (United Kingdom) The logistics start-up offers a digital platform to enable freight forwarding – the process by which companies organize and track the movement of items and components – that enables more efficient movement.

Additional reporting by Marta Santiváñez

The jury:

Reshma Sohoni, co-founder of Seedcamp, a seed investor in pan-European start-ups
Malcolm moore, FT technical editor
Olivier McKenna, CTO of Workday, EMEA
Matthew Vincent, FT project publication editor


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