We bring the latest edition of ‘Year In Review‘ to walk you through the efforts put in by Indian startups and tech businesses to back frontline workers, healthcare providers and everyone else in the fight against the pandemic.
About 50 Mn people lost their lives during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920, which infected close to 500 Mn people. The Covid-19 crisis could have been equally devastating, if not more, were it not for the technology that has been crucial in tackling it. Thanks to intervention of technology and digital solutions, those fighting the pandemic were able to limit its spread to a great extent, even prompting questions about the legitimacy of Covid-19, particularly in contrast to the Spanish Flu and its casualties.
While no amount of kudos would suffice for the healthcare workers and those on the front line for doing all they can to keep the world safe despite limited resources, we also cannot ignore the startups and technology that backed these invaluable efforts. Besides the startups, a huge thanks is owed to the service partners and on-ground gig economy workers who risked their lives to make some of these tech-driven solutions a reality.
Nothing illustrates the role of tech startups in fighting the pandemic in India better than the way tech entrepreneurs and investors brought their problem-solving skills to the table and helped develop solutions to make life easier for those on the front line.
Here’s how Indian startups joined the fight against the pandemic.
Indian Startups Vs Covid-19 Pandemic
In India, nearly 600 entrepreneurs and investors across the technology industry came together with activists and policy makers for the “StartupsVsCovid-19” group.
Together, the likes of former Flipkart exec Mekin Maheshwari and the founders of Bounce, Homelane, Cred, Urban Company, BlackBuck, MyGate, 1mg, MapMyIndia as well as venture capitalists like Matrix Partners, Stellaris Venture Partners took on several initiatives to help during the crisis. These included contact tracing apps, apps for reporting symptoms and more, to targeted communications for Covid literacy in multiple languages.
Smart Surveillance Tools That Tracked Covid Transmission
The term “surveillance” does have a negative connotation to it these days, but when in the right hands it can be an effective methodology to control the spread of a pandemic and for early detection. Such solutions allow countries to rapidly implement measures to control the outbreak right at the sport or mitigate the impact by slowing the spread.
According to a ‘WHO guidance for surveillance during an influenza pandemic’ report, an effective response to an emerging pandemic requires detection in the very earliest stages of the outbreak, when the number of cases is small and the geographical extent of spread is limited.
Keeping this in mind, Indian startups unveiled surveillance tools for varied use cases, which includes:
- Smart camera, drones and goggles to ensure that social distancing norms and other guidelines are being followed
- Crowd management solutions to ensure that all necessary protocols are being followed at public places
- Movement detection and geo-fencing solutions to ensure quarantine for suspected Covid patients
- In some case, drones were also used to carry out sanitisation drives in places to ensure minimisation of exposure
It is important to note that such surveillance and tech solutions found its place in corporate offices, buildings and even government initiatives pan India, including Tier 2 and Tier 3 regions to ensure maximum security while people were carrying out their day-to-day activity.
Health Manufacturing, 3D Printing Rise During The Pandemic
As the entire world was running to develop the very first Covid-19 vaccine, there was still no clarity on how long one had to wait to be free once again. Till then, masks, face shields and PPE kits were the only saving grace. The solution seems small enough yet one of the critical ones.
The demand was high and the supply too low. The matter got to the point where even healthcare workers and doctors did not have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) kits that include masks, goggles, gloves and face shields. In certain incidents, cons also started selling used masks from China to mint money from the global crisis.
As the situation got worse, several startup and non-tech businesses decided to use their capabilities and technology to enable mass production of masks, PPEs and other equipment.
Meanwhile, some developed decided to take it further by developing disinfection and sanitisation tools to keep the surrounding spot-free of any harmful viruses and germs.
Startups Bring Their Workforce To The Pandemic Fight
Covid-19 put ecommerce at the forefront of retail, with groceries segment as the crown jewel. According to a Forrester Research report, ecommerce segment is expected to grow by 6%, amounting to $35.5 Bn in 2020. In this, the grocery segment is set to take the lead with about $3 Bn in sales, representing a whopping 76% hike compared to $1.7 Bn recorded last year.
This may be commendable, but the growth would not have been possible without several mobility and food delivery players jumping into mend the broken supply chain. As people switched to online solutions, there simply weren’t enough agents in the B2B or B2C segment to keep the supply running.
Players like Ola, Uber, Rapido, Bounce, Domino’s, Meru Cabs and others decided to deploy their workforce to ensure that essential services were available to everyone, even to those stuck in containment zones. In addition to this, Uber launched UberMedics to provide transportation support to the front-line healthcare providers and Ola offered 500 cars to the Karnataka government for Covid-19 pandemic-related work.
Hotel and hospitality businesses like OYO, Fab Hotels, Treebo, Ginger Hotels and others setup quarantine centres for suspected Covid-19 cases as well as those who have to compulsorily self-isolate themselves.
From Testing To Monitoring, Indian Startups Take The Lead
The strain on global healthcare due to Covid-19 was enormous and shocking with fear of mass infection hanging in public. The Indian government was quick to react by collaborating with healthtech startups and healthcare companies to keep India armed for the worse-case scenario.
While some of these businesses were working with the government to keep India equipped with all its ventilators’ needs, others were working in their individual capacity to ensure prevention, detection, disruption management, and operational efficiency. The healthcare solutions ranged from artificial intelligence or data analytics, transportation, home healthcare, online pharmacy, wearable technology and more.
To take the digital healthcare infrastructure even further, the Indian government rolled out guidelines for telemedicine or remote delivery of medical services. It also launched a tech-based National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) to revolutionise the Indian health sector.
Solving Covid-19’s Mental Health Impact
As if the pandemic wasn’t bad enough, it came with a severe impact on the mental health of individuals as lives changed everywhere. The lockdown precipitated feelings of isolation, which was made worse by the fear of contracting Covid. WHO has agreed that bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear of contracting the virus have been triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.
At the time of crisis, several mental health platforms like Wysa, Mindhouse, Curefit and others started offering their services free of cost to provide a safe haven for those deeply affected by the pandemic.
Industry Leaders, VC Lend A Helping Hand
All the above-mentioned solutions would not have been possible without the financial backing of the investors and the support system needed from the peers. Entrepreneurs, investors and techies from across the world joined hands to ensure that there were enough solutions in the market to successfully overcome the largest crises of this century.
At a time when millions of Indians were confined to their homes, the mobilisation of the startup community is inspiring. In India, it did start with Udhyam founder Mekin Maheshwari and Indifi founder Alok Mittal, who decided to start the StartupsVsCovid-19 group to enable companies to do their bit. The community gradually grew to a network of 600 entrepreneurs and founders.
Ten days into their operation, the coalition launched a mobile helpline for Karnataka Government (9745697456) to help individuals consult doctors, self-reporting tool for citizens to report symptoms, a heatmap of the pandemic based on symptoms and cases reported by doctors, regional language content in 10 languages for citizens outside Tier 1 cities.
Beyond this, several other stakeholders joined the battle to keep the ecosystem motivated and running. We, at Inc42, rise and applaud the efforts of this collective who has helped keep India safe during these past 10 months, the most difficult period for many startups.