As part of the 2017 Startup Nations Summit, entrepreneurs, thought leaders and other startup champions from around the world hacked eight different challenges – and found public policy solutions – through weeks of research and one day of in-person intense discussion, mentoring and live pitches.

The first SNS Policy Hack culminated with a live pitch competition, and team leaderRasha Tantawy, head of entrepreneurship at the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center in Egypt, and her team members took first place with their innovative solution addressing how to foster international expansion for agribusiness startups. 

Their challenge was “how to help agri-tech startups access a global market and validate performance on a global farm.” The team’s problem is the growing number of African agri-tech entrepreneurs, for example, that have found innovative solutions to problems but then find a gap in market expansion knowledge and opportunity.

Tantawy and her team hacked a solution – dubbed Twinning Open Farms – which would be the creation of two open lab farms, with one residing in the European Union and the other in Africa or the MENA region, that enables farmers to benefit from innovative technology, and the agri-tech entrepreneurs to validate their products in the different markets.

The team proposed Egypt and Greece as the pilot countries, leveraging existing networks like the Future Agro Challenge to recruit the startups in both areas. Tantawy’s team members included Viljar Lubi, the deputy secretary general for economic development at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications in Estonia; Michalis Stangos, a creative entrepreneur; David Kuo, acting managing director of GEN Taiwan; and Andreas Stefanidis, president of the Academy of Entrepreneurship in Greece.

Unlike traditional policy hacks where challenges are chosen by the organizers, the SNS Policy Hack called for team leaders who bring specific, real challenges to the table, along with a preliminary idea of how to address such challenges and the commitment to test the hacked solution in their respective ecosystems. The SNS Policy Hack was organized by Startup Nations and powered by Dell. 

A policy hack is a collaborative way of developing a policy. Each SNS Policy Hack team consisted of a team leader, like Tantawy, as well as peer policymakers and entrepreneurs. Team leaders were supported by mentors to flesh out the design and implementation of their proposed solution.

“This was great learning experience for everyone,” said Dane Stangler, one of the SNS Policy Hack mentors. “And I think this does have a place, or should have a place, in overall policy development. This can be a great tool for policymakers and startups and other stakeholders at every level of government to really be innovative in their policymaking.”

The other two teams who pitched in the final round were led by Lenard Koschwitz, part of Allied for Startups, and Marten Kaevats, with the government office of Estonia. Koschwitz and his team tackled how to help startups self-assess compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation, and Kaevats and his team hacked regulations surrounding artificial intelligence.   

“I think one of the other things that can come out of this is the policy hack  structure itself,” said Tantawy. “I’m actually thinking of implementing that on the local level in Egypt in other local networks. It’s not just the result that will come out, but even the process itself.”