Together we can: Startups across India team up to wage war on coronavirus

Cutting across company lines, founders and entrepreneurs, who believe that the COVID-19 problem can only be resolved by working together, are taking the fight to coronavirus. Their focus: to increase awareness, scale up testing, and equip hospitals and healthcare professionals.

The coronavirus pandemic will have lasting effects on the global economy, with the total losses estimated to mount to $1 trillion. Like the rest of the world, India is witnessing COVID-19’s ripple effects across industries, corporates, venture capital firms, startups, and the white- and blue-collar sectors.

Cutting across company line, founders and stakeholders of the startup ecosystem have come together and are working almost 20 hours a day to help stem losses and turn the tide.

“Experts have a large role to play in the battle against COVID-19, but the situation is unprecedented. There is a lack of data and low predictability. I believe those who have been entrepreneurs can act fast and possibly play a role in reducing the damage it does to our country,” said Mekin Maheshwari, Co-founder of Udhyam Learning Foundation, which helps young and micro entrepreneurs build entrepreneurial mindsets.

Going beyond geographical boundaries, Indian startup founders, including Mekin, Alok Mittal, Co-founder and CEO of Indifi; Mayank Bidawatka, Co-founder of Vokal; and many others from the government and student communities have come together to find technological solutions to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

The collaboration, tentatively titled Startups against Coronavirus or Startups versus Coronavirus, began as a WhatsApp group mid-March where startup techies came up with innovative ideas.

Now, with almost 750 members, the group is trying to increase awareness, help the government monitor the population, and find solutions. According to reports, the group now also includes founders of Bounce, HomeLane, CRED, Urban Company, BlackBuck, MyGate, 1MG, and MapMyIndia. Venture capitalists such as Matrix Partners, Stellaris Venture Partners, and others are also keen to help innovators with finance.

Innovating to solve problems

Speaking to Shradha Sharma, CEO and Founder, YourStory Media, Subhadeep Mondal, Co-founder of PregBuddy said the group had already launched a telemedicine service as they wanted to ensure that anybody across India should be able to call up a certain number, get “tele-screened” for COVID-19, and connect with a doctor for detailed instructions.

We started with the Karnataka government, and launched the 9745697456 number where anybody in the state can call and talk to doctors, even in their own language,” Subhadeep said.

Subhadeep explained that the objective of this telemedicine service was also to make data available to the government about people showing symptoms or those infected with COVID-19. This would ensure safe pickups and help the governments identify hotspots - across Karnataka initially, and across the country gradually.

Aditya Kothari, Co-founder and CEO of Plixr Technologies, revealed that the team was trying to increase awareness in Tier II and III cities, especially among those without access to credible information and who did not have the privilege to be home quarantined.

“We are tying up with doctors and asking them to make 60-120-second videos of every aspect of particular disease so we can reach out to the masses,” Aditya said.

Citing an example, he explained that anyone could walk up to a street vendor and explain about COVID-19, but the vendor is sure to take the instructions more seriously when delivered by a doctor via a video on WhatsApp.  

“We are tying up with a lot of creators, influences, and doctors. At the senior level, we have tied up with Practo, MyUpchar, and others to make videos and spread them across social media, including LinkedIn, WhatsApp, TikTok, Facebook etc,” Aditya added.

The initiative is also being used to tackle the spread of misinformation. The team is asking doctors to make videos and creatives on information that is not true and help bust myths.

The focus areas

According to Radha Sawana, Lead, Strategy and New Initiatives at Udhyam Learning Foundation, the group has four broad focus areas and 20 different teams working across these areas

She explained that the idea was born to reduce COVID-19 transmission, and advocate for Section 144 and a lockdown. Another focus is to increase COVID literacy across the country, with communication in vernacular languages to reach the masses.

The team has now started helping governments increase the efficacy of the lockdown by providing dashboards for better monitoring.

The collaborative is also focusing on ways to scale up testing – one of the main problems that India is facing. The third focus is to equip hospitals and the healthcare sector to deal with Stage 3 of the COVID -19 pandemic. The fourth is to make essentials such as masks, gloves, and sanitisers available for doctors and healthcare professionals.

Beyond business and geographies

Mekin said the startup ecosystem realises that the cause is larger than any particular individual or company. “Our entities make no difference to this; the only way we can stop this is by working together. So the group continues to be open to anyone,” Mekin said.

Mekin added that the speed at which work was progressing was “notable”, and highlighted the contribution of investors in fuelling innovations.

Shekhar Kirani, Prashanth Prakash (partner at Accel), Lightspeed, Matrix, and Sequoia came together for a call. In less than 48 hours, they were able to figure out a way to fund some of these projects in a non-profit way. In 72 hours, the money was flowing,” Mekin said.

He added that the fact that several members from inside and outside the startup ecosystem were giving their expertise and efforts was “making this magic possible”.

And as governments, entrepreneurs, innovators, and others come together to wage war on coronavirus, we hope that India emerges successful.

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)