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Germany relies on Lithuanian companies – Interview with Šarūnė Smalakytė, Head of ROCKIT Vilnius

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Šarūnė Smalakytė, the head of ROCKIT Vilnius | Photo: Courtesy of ROCKIT Vilnius.
Šarūnė Smalakytė, the head of ROCKIT Vilnius | Photo: Courtesy of ROCKIT Vilnius.

According to Enterprise Lithuania, a non-profit organization supporting small and medium enterprises, one of the main countries where Lithuania exports its IT knowledge and products is Germany.

Germans choose Lithuanian companies as their partners quite often, as noticed Šarūnė Smalakytė, the head of ROCKIT Vilnius, a leading fintech and sustainable innovation center in Lithuania. In this interview she talks about importance of cooperation between countries, and the possibilities for leadership for Lithuania and Germany.

What should cooperation between European countries look like in order for this market to become a leader in the development of start-ups?

Cooperation should take place in several verticals: between different state institutions, non-governmental initiatives, start-up communities, start-ups themselves, and innovation and technology centers such as ROCKIT.

In fact, for more than a year now, ROCKIT has been actively communicating and collaborating with the start-up ecosystems of Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Latvia and Estonia, initiating various studies and surveys that help to understand how our start-up ecosystem is doing, what kind of investments are attracted and what kind of projects are rising.

Sharing knowledge, participating in events and conferences in different ecosystems in different countries gives us a deeper insight into what start-ups in those countries do, what expectations and potential they have and how we can use their experiences in our ecosystem, or perhaps bring together potential partners. Monitoring the trends outside of Lithuania helps us to vastly contribute to the growth of Lithuanian companies: we learn what investors might be interested in, so our start-ups can pivot if needed, such cooperation also allows us to find future partners for our start-ups, and etc.

Thus, cooperation between different institutions and market participants is very important. Another very important aspect is joint projects between different countries: Hackathons, acceleration programs, etc. It helps to learn from others, gain international experience and deepen knowledge and skills. This year we organized two international programs ourselves: Rockit Impact Accelerator, where most of the start-ups were from abroad, and Rockit Cyber ​​Security Hackathon, which received attention not only from European teams, but also from Asia and the United States.

What should Lithuania and/or Germany do to become world leaders in digitization?

We talk about digitization constantly and sometimes it seems that everything has already been transferred to the digital space. Yet, there are areas where we can still improve and become one of the leading countries. According to the European Commission’s DESI Digitization Index (Digital Economy and Society Index), Lithuania and Germany occupy very similar places: Lithuania is 14th out of 28, Germany is 12th. Yes, we look really good in the context of European countries, but some areas really need to be improved.

Last year, Lithuania made progress in many of the areas assessed. In particular, the country has shown especially good results in integrating digital technologies and digital public services. However, despite recent positive developments, some areas, such as human capital, are still below the EU average.

One of Lithuania’s strengths is digital public services. Lithuania ranks 6th in the EU. In 2020, the score increased to 81.4 compared to the previous 2019. DESI – 79.4, In almost all segments of digital public services, Lithuania achieved much better results than the EU average. The only exception is the ranking for open data. In this segment, Lithuania ranks 24th in the EU.

In Lithuania, business has an excellent understanding of the benefits of digitization and is willing to implement programs that increase work efficiency. Lithuania shows exceptional results in the field of information sharing by electronic means (48% of Lithuanian companies share information by electronic means, compared to the EU average of 34%) Lithuania also performs particularly well in areas such as international ecommerce of SMEs. Assessing the use of social media for business purposes, cloud services and big data, Lithuania’s results are similar to the EU average.

Looking to the future, with regard to DESI indicators, which are especially important for economic recovery after the COVID-19 crisis, it should be noted that Lithuania exceeds the EU average in the area of ​​extremely high-bandwidth network coverage, but its performance in the field of 5G communications is worse. The country has made progress in digital public services and the digitization of businesses, but less so in digital skills.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of Lithuanian and European digitization?

The digitization became extremely important and even necessary during the pandemic. This is well demonstrated by the newly developed start-up services such as: face recognition at a distance, COVID-19 virus monitoring programs, digital health solutions. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 also affected people’s internet usage rates, as many services were only available online. As a fintech center, we also see the growth and achievements of our members – financial technology start-ups and companies. Many services have been moved to the digital space, and we are happy about it.

Has COVID-19 led to any change?

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Lithuania has taken a number of targeted measures in the field of digital technologies. The government has run a “marathon” for programmers to mobilize creative minds and find solutions to unprecedented challenges. Initiatives to reduce the spread of the infection include the development of a real-time monitoring map of the spread of the virus. The government’s COVID-19 information website has an AI chat facility that answers residents’ questions about the virus, travel restrictions, and state support for business, as well as a hotline for answering non-urgent medical questions via video call.

Why should not only technology companies pay attention to digitization and IT?

As we can see, digitization is becoming very relevant in a variety of areas, from shopping to subscribing to newsletters or receiving information about health services, also IT became important for registering or paying for various services. We need to think about the cost of time, promote people’s receptivity to digitalisation and internet use, and focus on reducing the use of human resources.

Europe is moving towards cybersecurity. Perhaps Lithuania could take the lead in this area as well?

UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) published global security rankings in June 26th, and Lithuania is among the top ten. It is sixth in the world and the fourth in Europe, to be exact. These are great results! Lithuania is mostly appreciated for its legislation, its implementation, ability to strengthen and expand knowledge and training of specialists, implementation of technical requirements and cooperation in the field of cybersecurity.

Lithuania should make greater efforts to organize measures to ensure cybersecurity, i.e. by maintaining appropriate positions at the highest level of government for certain objects that help maintain the national cybersecurity.

Is it true that in a global world, good results are simply impossible without close cooperation? Or maybe it’s just worth trying to run forward and leave others behind?

One of the main goals of ROCKIT is to help the growth and expansion of fintech and sustainable innovation start-ups, at the same time promoting the name of Lithuania and attracting large foreign companies and investments to the country. We therefore believe that cooperation and the pooling of forces and knowledge for a common and positive outcome are essential. Leadership without allies loses its meaning as exclusion increases. Therefore, the best results are always achieved by involving as many strategic partners and players as possible. ROCKIT also strives to find partners in every project or program that will not only help to spread knowledge, but also actively engage in it, grow and transform throughout the process.


About ROCKIT

ROCKIT is in Vilnius a place where great ideas for Fintech and Sustainability are not only born but also put to test. Our dynamic community brings together entrepreneurs, disruptors and decision-makers to co-create a better future one project at a time. ROCKIT provides an inclusive space for networking and knowledge sharing by offering flexible coworking options, access to events, acceleration programmes, and more.

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