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How Indian startups, investors, governments have come together to fight coronavirus

From cab aggregators working with delivery partners to hotel aggregators working with hospitals, the coronavirus pandemic has brought together the startup ecosystem like never before.

How Indian startups, investors, governments have come together to fight coronavirus

Friday April 10, 2020 , 7 min Read

India, the world’s second-most populous country, which has been under a 21-day nationwide lockdown, has recorded over 5,000 active cases of COVID-19, and 166 deaths as of April 9, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

At a time when social distancing and remote working has become the norm due to the pandemic, it has also brought startups, investors, governments, and corporates together and collaborate. 

While the virus has affected every aspect of business, and the startup community staring at an uncertain future, they have, however, decided to get the most out of limited resources.

Today, we can see delivery partners from different brands – Dunzo, Bigbasket, Grofers, Swiggy, and Zomato – coming together and talking to authorities to get passes and permits to allow smooth functioning of essential services. 

And it’s not just delivery startups. Healthcare startups are also helping one another in times of crisis. Practo, mfine, DocsApp, and 1MG have joined hands to form a group where they are collaborating and working with different organisations, hospitals, healthcare centres, and governments to bring about telemedicine aid. 

“For this generation, the world is going to be irrevocably altered. How and in what way will be spoken about in the next decade. But it is a pivotal impactful moment happening on a global scale. So, to ask what can we do, and what is that one step we can take to bring in shift and change is important,” says Vani Kola, Managing Director, Kalaari Capital. 

United we stand

Cross collaborating 

As they say, unity is strength, and everyone is now taking that one step forward and working together to come up with solutions. 

While mobility startups have been affected with travel restrictions, they are doing their bit to help. Online bike taxi aggregator Rapido Bike Taxi has tied up with Bigbasket, Big Bazaar, and Spencer's Retail to deliver essential goods.

In a press statement, Rapido said:

“We are committed to accelerate our existing delivery services to provide for essential supplies during the ongoing lockdown due to COVID-19. We are happy to join hands with Bigbasket, Big Bazaar, and Spencer’s Retail to aid the last-mile deliveries of orders to customers across more than 90 cities in the country. Close to 70 percent of our fleet of Captains (driver-partners) are on-ground in order to facilitate supplies. In addition to this, we are currently in talks with multiple players such as Grofers, Dunzo, FreshToHome, and others on extending our support to help them deliver essential orders. While Rapido will facilitate these deliveries, we will not be charging any commission from driver partners. We are also following all precautions laid down by the government and health authorities during the commute.”

Similarly, ride-hailing apps Ola and Uber are providing their fleet as commute options to hospitals and for other emergency needs. Uber has also tied up with Bigbasket to ensure smooth delivery of daily essentials. 

Apart from working with delivery partners with support and aid, startups have also started crowdfunding, and founders have come forward and have contributed close to 50 percent of their salaries to these relief funds. 

Hospitality unicorn Oyo has tied-up with Apollo Hospitals to create isolation centres. It is also working with different embassies in a bid to provide accommodation for stranded tourists, travellers, and others.

And it’s not just healthcare startups doing their bit to help people. To help patients who have been infected or hospitalised for coronavirus treatment, fintech startup PhonePe has come up with a medical insurance policy called ‘Corona Care’, which is priced at Rs 156 with an insurance cover of Rs 50,000.

It has also asked people to join the fight and donate Re 1 each. By the first week of April, the startup claims to have raised Rs 14 crore for the PM CARES Fund. 

In a video interaction with Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO, YourStory Media, Sameer Nigam, Co-founder and CEO, PhonePe, said: 

“All of us big startups have always spoken about numbers, and at times like these, it is important to understand what can be done to channelise the reach and turn the mood around.”

United we stand 

Clearly, at present, value seems to have a higher meaning than valuations. The Indian startup ecosystem has been standing tall to help each other find effective solutions in the time of crisis, and has come together as a community that helps and supports each other. 

Not just this, but they have gone a step ahead by launching a new initiative called ACT. Founders and CEOs of leading startups, venture capitalists, investors, advisors, supporters, and investment advisory firms have launched Action COVID-19 Team (ACT) in a move to back firms working on products and services to combat the pandemic.

It aims to provide guidance and resources to startup founders and employees, and empower teams through financial grants and mentoring. Entrepreneurs like Abhiraj Singh Bahl, Co-founder, UrbanClap; Girish Mathrubootham, Founder and CEO, Freshworks; Kalyan Krishnamurthy, CEO, Flipkart; Mukesh Bansal, Co-founder and CEO,; Kunal Shah, Founder, CRED; Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon Limited; Shashank ND, Co-founder and CEO, Practo; Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Founder, Paytm; Ritesh Agarwal, Founder and Group CEO, Oyo; Nandan Nilekani, Sriharsha Majety, Co-founder and CEO, Swiggy; and Sujeet Kumar, Co-founder, Udaan, are part of the initiative. 

Investment firms like Matrix Partners India, Sequoia India, Accel Partners, LightSpeed Ventures, Kalaari Capital, and Accel Partners, are also part of ACT. 

Bejul Somaia, Partner, LightSpeed Ventures, who is part of ACT, says, “It is not about having the answer, but how do we come together and speak with one voice, pool our learnings, networks, and capabilities. And if that manifests into action, then we have done our bit.” 

The ACT Grants, which is possibly a first-of-its-kind initiative globally, is a Rs 100 crore programme, and aims to seed over 50 initiatives through grants to combat the economic fallout of COVID-19 in India.

The idea is to have capital-efficient and scalable solutions that need initial seed grant. Additionally, the ACT platform will bring its networks, capital, and startup assets to create a force multiplier to help these initiatives make rapid and meaningful progress.

“When there are large issues like these that bring in a lot of uncertainty and nobody knows what the future will hold, the traditional mindset of doing what we have been doing, and doing more of the same, isn’t going to help,” says Nachiket Mor, who was the National Director for Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He is currently working on the design of national and regional health systems. 

The ACT Grant is also looking for ideas that can help reduce the spread of the disease, including digital tools, social distancing apps, contract tracing, telemedicine, education, etc. It is looking for any innovation that can scale testing, help with disease management at home, provide enhanced support for healthcare workers and hospitals, management of critically ill patients, and can provide support for mental health cases.

Work as a force multiplier

Nachiket explains that in the initial projects, they are using existing capabilities, organisations, and reach to build scale. “And that is as important as coming up with new ideas. As the power lies in working with what we already have,” he says. 

Echoing his thoughts, Bejul says, when all the startups, founders, advisors, and investors got together, they decided to work along four streams - resources for founders, giving grant programmes, partnering with the broader ecosystem and government, and encouraging collaboration between founders. 

While the grants are open to every idea by anyone, the ACT team has a team to evaluate ideas, and look at scale and speed. 

“In the last 10 to 12 years, the industry has grown significantly. There is significant knowledge, access, and capability, and when all that comes together, it works as a powerful force factor to make a difference,” adds Kalaari’s Vani Kola. 

Vani believes this to be a long-term effort rather than just three or six months, and says the implications of the pandemic are vast. 

“It isn’t ending. There is also the economic impact, humanitarian, psychological, and sociological issues, which are long-lasting. It means the focus will shift towards restoring balance to our lives,” says Vani. 

(Edited by Megha Reddy)