In these extraordinary past two years for businesses worldwide, the need to safeguard staff and customers from coronavirus has been paramount.

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

Technology adoption has accelerated to such an extent that some analysts believe seven years’ worth of progress has been made since the second quarter of 2020.

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

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

More than 100 nominations were received across multiple sectors, with a panel of judges selecting nine winners — to be announced on November 8 — to form the FT’s “Tech Champions” of 2021.

Shortlist

Banking

Klarna: ‘Buy now, pay later’ © Bloomberg

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

Klarna (Sweden) As the pandemic has piled 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 gave it the speed and flexibility to plunge into loans for UK small businesses hit by the pandemic.

Wise (UK) The international money transfer and multicurrency banking provided by Wise, now in partnership with Google Pay, has come to the fore as Covid-19 has accelerated the move to digital banking.

Cybersecurity & IT

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

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

F24 (Germany) F24’s crisis management software allows a company’s critical processes to be monitored and managed from any location at any time.

Metaco (Switzerland) Swiss-based Metaco’s platform allows companies to tap into the digital economy, providing tokenisation, cryptocurrency custody and smart contract management.

UiPath (Romania) UiPath makes AI software used to automate routine tasks — a sector that has thrived as companies seek to replace or retrain admin workers.

Healthcare

Philips uses ultrasound for Covid-19 related lung complications © Philips - Frank van Beek

accuRx (UK) The British software group’s accuBook platform offers patients the ability to book Covid-19 vaccination appointments via text message.

Doctolib (France) The second biggest healthtech in Europe, Doctolib has grown to become France’s principal online medical appointment booking site.

Oxford Nanopore (UK) Spun out of Oxford university, the group’s portable DNA sequencers have been a vital tool in the fight against Covid-19 and other deadly diseases.

Philips (Netherlands) The medical imaging company secured FDA clearance for the use of ultrasound to manage Covid-19 related lung and cardiac complications.

Hospitality

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

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

Sunday (France) The restaurant payments 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 (UK) Paperwork and long commitment clauses often keep volunteers from giving more of their time. Volunteero avoids this by breaking down volunteering into “micro-tasks”, so people can volunteer doing one-off, small things, adding flexibility to the system.

Manufacturing

Drägerwerk has stepped up its manufacture of ventilators © Patrick Ohligschlaeger

Drägerwerk (Germany) When the German government placed an order for 10,000 ventilators — equivalent to a year’s production — Drägerwerk responded by quadrupling its production capacity.

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

Graphene Composites LTD (UK subsidiary) The group fast-tracked a virucidal coating for use in ventilation filters that kills airborne coronavirus, compressing years of R&D into months.

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

Markets & Financial

Bux (Netherlands) Buoyed by a surge of stock trading during the pandemic, the Dutch neo-broker recently launched in Ireland ahead of a planned UK expansion.

agora Digital Capital Markets (UK) Aimed at streamlining and digitising bond deals, the group’s backers include ICAP and NEX founder Lord Michael Spencer.

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

Trade Republic (Germany) The app rode the Covid-19-led wave of retail investors turning to stock market speculation, offering a cheaper way to invest.

Media

Nent has styled itself as Europe’s answer to Netflix

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

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

Hopin (UK) With its software capable of handling thousands of users at once, the British group has raised the stakes in the videoconferencing boom.

Nent (Sweden) The streaming service has styled itself as Europe’s answer to Netflix, offering premium sport and original entertainment.

Retail

Inditex uses sensors to track items of 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 biggest cosmetics company saw a boost in online sales in both direct to consumer websites and retailers by improving their ecommerce sites. It has also embraced social commerce, involving influencers in the direct sale of its products.

Mirakl (France) The online shopping software start-up improves companies’ ecommerce by allowing outside vendors to sell directly on their sites. The company, which uses AI to detect fraud on its sites, recently raised $550m to fuel its expansion.

Shipping & Transport

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

Maersk (Denmark) Maersk’s online forwarder Twill has thrived during the pandemic, catering for small and medium-sized businesses that lack a dedicated logistics department and transportation management technology. Maersk’s Twill signed up hundreds of new customers each week in 2020.

Rolls-Royce (UK) The British aerospace group is accelerating its switch from fossil-fuel to greener propulsion technologies.

Zencargo (UK) The logistics start-up offers a digital platform to enable freight forwarding — the process by which companies organise and track the movements of items and components — which provides more efficient routing.

Additional reporting by Marta Santiváñez

The judging panel:

Reshma Sohoni, co-founder of Seedcamp, a seed investor in pan-European start-ups
Malcolm Moore, FT Tech Editor
Oliver McKenna, Workday Chief Technology Officer, EMEA
Matthew Vincent, FT Project Publishing Editor

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