Starts-ups In India And COVID-19

In late 2019, the novel coronavirus (COVID 19) outbreak had hit China first. Later, within couple of months it has spread all over the world raising concern to the global health industry. On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it as Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and on 11 March 2020 it was officially recognized as pandemic. As of today, the reported cases suffering from this virus are 2.41 million.

In India, as a precautionary measure, government declared unprecedented country-wide lockdown. With only essential services running, this country with the highest population in the world has brought even the densely populated places to absolute standstill. The Government of India, through its start-up portal had invited solutions to fight this pandemic for the following problems.

  • Personnel protective equipment
    • Eg: Low-cost masks which can capture virus from the air and absorb respiratory droplets
  • Testing Equipment
    • Eg: Cost-effective thermal scanning devices and rapid diagnostic kits (paper-based and other point-of-care devices)
  • Critical- care equipment
    • Including portable oxygenators and hospital and home-based ventilators to monitor and control the spread of the new coronavirus
  • Large area sanitization and sterilization
    • Including electrostatic spray and Ultra-Violet treatment for various available surfaces like glass, ceramic, wood, textile
  • AI-based technology for contact less entry
    • Eg: Facial recognition tools to assist in contact less entry of officials, doctors, and others.
  • Movement tracking
    • Using mobile apps to diagnose contagion and track people movements in quarantine areas/ lockdown regions
  • Geofencing
    • Including solutions that can assist the officials in monitoring those under compulsory home quarantine
  • Crowd management
    • Eg: Drones armed with heat-sensing cameras
  • Fake news detection
    • As information gets passed on social media, it becomes difficult to discern its authenticity and may mislead people
  • Logistics
    • To citizens during this time and no contact delivery of medicines

While the giants of the industry in healthcare and pharmaceutical domains are fighting to find a vaccine against the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) caused by COVID 19, many small and medium enterprises are offering solutions to collectively fight various secondary issues arising. With mass populated country like India and ease of access to social media, circulation of fake news is one such problem.

Below given is a snapshot of few start-ups in India that are working towards solving the problems mentioned above:

Mylab Discovery is the first Indian firm to get full approval from Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) to make and sell testing kits for COVID 19 1. They have developed a product called PathoDetect which is kit for early detection of Corona Virus.

Quarantine app is developed by a collaboration of various startup founders including Mayank Bidawatka (co-founder Vokal), Mekin Maheshwari (co-founder, Urban Company, and others. This app is being developed for live tracking patients who are in home quarantine and also tracking those who have tested positive.

Staqu Technologies is working in the domain of AI technology. They are developing a thermal camera that detects individuals with a body temperature of more than 37 °C and alerts the authorities.

Droom is an automobile start-up that has launched an antimicrobial surface protection shield for cars and two-wheelers called Corona Shield 2. The firm claims that the shield has been proven to be effective against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and similar droplet-based viruses for up to four months. This Shield protects surfaces against harmful microbes as it prevents the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria, algae, yeast, mold, and mildew.

Clinikk Healthcare3 is providing round the clock primary care through its network of doctors. They have announced Coronavirus Support Plans including Rs 1 lakh insurance cover for people infected with the virus and free teleconsultation channels to the general public.

Turtle Shell Technologies is working on a product called Dozee4 – which is a contact-free health monitor that tracks heartbeat, respiration, sleep and stress-recovery with medical-grade of 98.4% accuracy.

Healthians , the doorstep test provider, now have launched a chatbot to spread correct information about the virus5 .

Cure.Fit has launched that offers telemedicine as a solution to increase consumer access to high-quality doctors across all specialities (GP/IM, Gynae, Paediatrician, ENT, Ortho, Derma, Endocrinology, Gastro etc) seamlessly and efficiently.

Bione have innovated in discovering specific gene variants that are responsible for an individual’s susceptibility to Coronavirus. They have also developed a COVID-19 focussed Microbiome test6 , which combined with its AI, predictive analysis tools can provide tailored recommendations to individuals to strengthen their particular microbiome and thus be more immune to Coronavirus and be able to fight off COVID-19.

Goa Ministry of Health has launched a mobile application developed by Innovaccer which will help the citizens to carry out digital self-assessment test for Covid-19 for.

Researchers from IIT Roorkee have developed a geofencing app that can track suspected patients who have been quarantined by setting up a geo-fence around them. If they go off of the predefined radius, the app will alert authorities. Another group of students and professors from IIT Roorkee have developed a low-cost 3D printed face shield to protect medical practitioners from coronavirus infection. The face shield was developed in the institute’s technical facility named ‘The Tinkering Laboratory’, which encourages innovations and experiments by students. Other researchers from the institute have also developed portable ventilators.

Other than these, there are various star-ups working with state governments in launching official apps, and helping govern the correct spread of information. Department of Biotechnology has launched – Covid-19 Innovations Deployment Accelerator or C-CIDA which is led by Bengaluru based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-Camp). They have selected seven start-ups that target critical gaps in screening, monitoring, diagnostics and novel approaches in therapeutics by employing cutting-edge science of AI/ML, stem cell research, ultrafast molecular assays, cloud-based mobility and other such top-of-the-line techniques. The seven startups are Docturnal (Hyderabad), Salcit (Hyderabad), Predible (Bengaluru) and AIkenist (Bengaluru) in the AI/ML based pre-screening and monitoring technologies, Stempeutics (Bengaluru) for their novel approach in therapeutics, Huwel Life Sciences (Hyderabad) for rapid diagnostics and Ubiqare Health (Bengaluru) in telemedicine support7 .

When the world is headed towards yet another major economic recession, it is not the end for Indian start-ups yet. Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) has launched a “COVID-19 Startup Assistance Scheme” to provide working capital loans to growth-stage start-ups. Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) has supported 20 in-market start-up products as COVID-19 solutions 8. According to StartupBlink, which has a global comprehensive start-up ecosystem map and research centre, India ranks 19th in the world coronavirus innovation map.

It appears that there exists a huge potential in the face of this crisis wherein start-ups not limited to healthcare industry can provide innovative technological solutions that can definitely have a commercial value in coming years. When the whole world is expected to incorporate major changes, social distancing is bound to become a norm. With changing times, pioneering technological advancements will be a way of life. Considering this is a virus outbreak, till the time vaccines are developed, and introduced in the market, other problems appropriately recognized by the government need to be addressed. Definitive precautionary measures in workplaces, market places, and overall public places need to be implemented urgently. Once the lockdown is lifted, smooth transition in regular activities such as public transport and social gatherings need the solutions that are likely to be offered by start-ups.

Businesses are looking for restructuring to deal with operational restrictions imposed by the government. To safeguard the people against health hazards, regular temperature checks, sanitization, contactless functioning, and maintaining safe distance will be normative practice starting in coming days. The entire workplace might look different with distant seating arrangements. Movie halls may permit alternate seating. While the whole service and product industry is struggling to keep up with the change, what can help them is ease of transition.

Understanding the white spaces in existing technology, tweaking the solutions offered to match COVID 19 problems can help start-ups accelerate their growth. This threat can be utilized as an opportunity pertaining to its unique nature. Getting inspired by the solutions offered by few start-ups mentioned above, more companies would be coming forward with various inventions. Need of the hour is finding ways to help the humanity in crisis. In case the start-ups come up with patentable innovation they should not hesitate to explore the possibility of obtaining patents in India and worldwide. New fast tract schemes available in the IPO for start-ups can be availed to get benefit of reduced costs and faster grants. Expert opinion in this context could be useful to establish strong IP portfolio and gain first mover advantage.

Article by Pankaj Musyuni & Harshada Wadkar (1st published on Mondaq)