The Startup Nations Summit, a gathering of startup policymakers and ecosystem influencers took place in Tallinn. At the heart of the event was the policymaking hackathon, SNS Policy Hack, involving two teams of Estonian policymakers as well as teams representing Allied for Startups, the Netherlands, Mexico, Chile, Egypt and Guatemala.

What happened?

Hands-on policy development with entrepreneurial tools is what happened. A lot of policymakers went home with a better feeling of how their policy might work and with the aim to pilot the results. Many startup entrepreneurs and ecosystem influencers got a peek into how policy development can be very similar to startup ideation hacks. The Global Entrepreneurship Network mission of unleashing ideas was brought to a whole new level. Altogether, the SNS was a success story for startups and policymakers.

"I am glad that in collaboration with startup companies, SNS Policy Hack became a reality and was the highlight of the conference,” said Urve Palo, Minister for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology. “The inspiration for the hackathon came from the format used by startup companies. The Startup Nations Summit's Policy Hack brought together representatives from startups and governments, each of whom wanted to work out a specific novel policy initiative for their country. By the end of the policy hack, all national representatives travelling home had a well-thought-out game plan about how to develop their ideas and begin implementing them.”

"Estonia was represented by two teams in the hackathon,” said Minister Palo. “First, a testing team for the idea of innovation procurement, wanting to further develop the Public Procurement Act. Their goal is to enable government agencies to gain solutions to posed problems rather than fixed products or services. As a result of such a procurement process, we will be able to use public funds to encourage innovation among Estonian entrepreneurs.”

"The theme of the second Estonian team taking part in the hackathon was the Krattlaw, discussing the ethical and legal aspects of deploying artificial intelligence. The digitalisation of work processes and the application of new technologies raises questions about employment and gives new insights into the skills that people need in the future," added Minister Palo.

In addition to the host country Estonia, seven other ecosystems were brave enough to test something novel. All of the policy hack ideas had at least three things in common. First, they aimed to find an innovative solution to a problem that startups or governments are facing. Second, they had a good chance of being implemented after having gained industry and peer insight at the policy hack. Third, and most importantly, they focused on creating a dialogue between startups and policymakers.

As the SNS Policy Hack organiser and through my time at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, I have noticed that entrepreneurs are a self-aware and demanding target group, which makes them great to work with and surely most policymakers should aim to do so more often.  Even if you will not end up changing a policy, you know that you have at least tried, and made some friends with entrepreneurs while doing so.

The policy hack was created for real and measurable policy impact, and just a few days after the event, this is already underway. A team from the Netherlands used the policy hack to give consideration to a “startup label” idea. As soon as the hack was finished, Impact City from the Hague announced that a pilot programme is to be rolled out soon. The same is expected of the policy hack winners. As any hackathon, there was a taste of competitiveness, and the following three ideas were voted by judges and the startup community as most novel and most likely to be applied.

3rd place – a startup-friendly GDPR framework. As Director for Public Policy at Allied for Startups, Lenard Koschwitz came to Tallinn, aiming to make upcoming EU data protection rules fit startups’ needs and realities. Together with a team of policymakers from Germany, he hacked on a framework for initiating a sandbox between national data protection regulators and startup associations for deeper understanding of data processing in the case of innovative small businesses.

2nd place – the abovementioned Krattlaw. Team Leader Marten Kaevats from the Estonian Government Office tackles the challenge of understanding the rise of Artifical Intelligence, which is increasingly impacting the daily lives of everyone. In an effort to legalize AI, Marten’s team of data experts and legal experts analysed the topics that need to be covered in a law that legalizes AI and explains the possible outcomes in an easy-to-grasp manner.

1st place – the winner of the Tallinn policy hack is a very hands-on idea with cross-continental potential. Rasha Tantawy, from the Technology Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center of Egypt hacked the challenges of international expansion for agribusiness startups in Egypt and Africa in general. She seeked to validate a policy tool to provide soft landing resources in foreign markets, via open dialogue between the cities and bilateral agreements that build on existing trade agreements and history of cooperation. As a result, she worked out a more precise piloting model of agribusiness cooperation between Egypt and Greece.

“The last part of the hackathon is to be completed in their home country. As is the case with hackathons, not all ideas will come to fruition, but we do create all the conditions for the ideas developed in Tallinn to become reality," Minister Palo said.

Over the course of the next few months, SNS organisers will be reaching out to idea owners to help make sure that many of them will actually be piloted.

The meeting of companies and policymakers brought together participants from over 60 countries. In addition to Minister Palo, Estonia was represented by Deputy Secretary General for Economic Development, Viljar Lubi, and a number of innovation-minded policymakers. Dozens of Estonian and regional startups attended the Startup Track of SNS, with high-growth Estonian startups such as TransferWiseTaxifyLingvistTestlio and others sharing their stories on growth and challenges of attracting talent. Sprayprinter helped out with the design and creation of the SNS Policy Hack finalists’ awards. Shipitwise, an Estonian logistics startup, provides their service to deliver the awards to the idea owners. Starship Technologies sent their lovely bot for the Startup Nations Awards ceremony.