From helping businesses deal with the lockdown to helping track infected patients, start-ups are pulling out all stops
The world is battling a common enemy. A virus that has halted our lives. As the Coronavirus crisis unfolded in India and the country witnessed a sudden spike in the number of cases in second week of March, Nameet Potins a serial entrepreneur initiated a Twitter thread on how start-ups could PayitForward to other start-ups in this hour of need.
The idea was to collate a list of businesses who want to offer their products and services to others to assist them in overcoming the sudden crisis.
StartupsHelpingStartups soon became a viral initiative with companies and start-ups offering tools and technology to facilitate work from home. A few mental health start-ups came on board to offer remote mental health consultancy.
Start-ups like Verloop, Kelyra, Atllasian are offering tools that make it easier for remote teams to work together. While these might help you generate more leads, boost conversions and answer customer support queries, there are start-ups offering tech and tool to switch offline businesses online.
A few ventures are offering marketing support to medium and small-scale companies to go online in lead generation, customer service and sales.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. A growing network of technology, health-tech ventures, medical supplies and logistics start-ups and technology companies are collaborating and innovating to come up with solutions overnight.
MapMyIndia a digital map and location intelligence solutions company came up with a live dashboard to locate testing labs, isolation centres and treatment facilities. There are others who are focusing on even bigger needs.
“A big area of concern right now is the screening of suspected cases. At Docturnal we have created a solution that uses acoustics technology to detect the ailment through cough. We have tested and used it to detect the patients with tuberculosis, but now we are devising a system to screen n-COVID patients. The person needs to cough in the built-in microphone of a phone-device and through our algorithms and soundwaves we can detect if she or he is a Corona suspect. The screening will be done with protective gear and n-COVID protocols, so all we need to do is correlate our existing data of pneumonia and pulmonary tuberculosis with n-COVID patients since cough is a common symptom. Once we are through with the findings, this can be used on a mass scale,” says Rahul Pathri, founder and CEO of Docturnal.
Stanplus a Hyderabad based technology platform is gearing up for a different need. “We are a tech platform for aggregating and dispatching ambulances by optimising routes using geospatial data. One of the needs we can foresee is the requirement of large number of ambulances to transport COVID-19 patients. We have always focused on speed all this while, but the bigger need right now is to not spread the virus during transportation. We are now modifying the operations and devising ways to meet the need and yet make the system contamination proof.”
A large community of IIT professors, engineering students from BITs Pilani and academics from IISc are getting together to come up with low cost medical equipment, 3D printed ventilators, personal protective gear and disinfectants.
The government of India has also come up with a list of areas where it needs specialised help like, patient tracking, diagnostics and medical equipment among others.
Through open source codes shared by countries like Singapore the start-ups are also trying to come up with tracking mechanism to trace in real-time the suspected cases and spread of the disease. One such initiative Q-App or quarantine app is likely to go live this week.
Arun Patre who is a part of these collaborations and is associated with Mazumdar Shaw Medical Foundation says, “right now there is a lot of discussion around technology that can help track the patients or people in quarantine. But anybody who wants to attempt this right now is also worried about privacy issues and how government would treat this. Singapore and China already have such apps. So the start-ups are now in discussion with the authorities. There are many approaches like bands with QR codes or tracking through mobile activity.”
While the collaboration and co-creation is underway, Nitesh Jangir, the co-founder of Coeo labs laments the challenges ahead.
“The bigger problem facing us right now is the shortage of components and parts for the equipment we want to make or devices we are innovating. For example, most ventilators related components are supplied by Honeywell in India. They are also the global suppliers. So when there is a shortage, it is for everyone. It is high time for us to realise that we need our own MedTech industry so that we do not rely on countries like China or US to import parts and components.”
Coeo labs that innovated a low cost, portable CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device for neo-natals is now coming up with adult CPAP machines to assist patients in the pre-ventilator stage.
The device that can also be operated manually does not need electricity, battery or oxygen supply to support the patients making it useful for low resource settings. They are also gearing up for mass production of VAPCare another innovation that prevents the risk of ventilator associated pneumonia by removing the contaminated saliva secretions to the lung. The process which is manual right now also poses a risk to the nurses and doctors in the case of COVID-19.
While the efforts are on, almost everybody agrees that they are running against time to take on something which is now a global combat. As repetitive and repetitive as it may seem, staying away and staying un-infected is still the best solution right now.