Latest innovations, jugaad, and initiatives taken by India's tech ecosystem & leaders to help India flatten the curve and navigate through the Covid-19 impact.
Quarantine Day 10, 1:40 AM
I am kept awake by the faint light from my phone alerting me to new messages on Telegram and WhatsApp group chats. It’s been going on since 4 AM yesterday — from #askforhelp, to #offersofhelp, new additions to the group, to introductions, to Zoom meeting invites. This coalition of over 600 startup founders might as well be a war room from yesteryears.
Because Indian startup founders have indeed declared war on Covid-19.
I don’t know how to react to this. As a tech journalist, I am used to critically analysing every move these companies make. But these are surreal times… The very same founders, who were once scrutinised for privacy, unit economics and P&Ls are now at the centre of a movement, a fight for human survival.
Earlier this week, we joined the aforementioned war rooms — over 600 members — populated by founders, investors and other tech startup ecosystem stakeholders. Branching out from one Telegram group called “Startups VS Covid-19”, the coalition which began with just four people is growing every day and has enough resources now to divide its efforts under four main areas — reducing transmission, scaling up testing, planning for Stage 3 or community transmission, and ensuring steady supplies of essentials for healthcare professionals.
At a time when more than 1.3 Bn people have been confined to their homes, the mobilisation of the startup community is inspiring. For Udhyam founder Mekin Maheshwari, one of the founding members of the group, it all started with a phone call with Indifi founder Alok Mittal who had also been looking to do something about the biggest challenge staring humanity today.
“Initially, the idea was to at least set up a group and a daily call to discuss how we can help in fighting coronavirus,” said Maheshwari.
Along with Mittal and Maheshwari, Urban Company’s Abhiraj Bhal, and Bounce’s Vivekananda Hallekere joined the initial brainstorming sessions. It was a personal choice for these entrepreneurs in the face of grave economic and social uncertainty. The impact of coronavirus on the economy has been acute, so much so that industry experts have recommended startup founders to act like wartime CEOs with an undivided focus on survival.
“It’s a global crisis, the likes of which we haven’t seen in this generation. We have to act swiftly with a lot of uncertainty and learn rapidly,” said Maheshwari. Such was the urgency in his voice, that he might as well have been a soldier on the front lines
These are qualities that most entrepreneurs have to have by the spades to succeed in the cut-throat business world. Arguably, hustling is an entrepreneur’s forte and hundreds of them have brought this very agility and ingenious to solve a national calamity.
“The biggest concern we have as a country is that if this virus spreads, how will we control it and what kind of facilities would we need. Because clearly India doesn’t have enough medical facilities like ventilators, and hospital beds. And so everyone in the group is trying to solve that problem. We are trying to reach out to celebrities, government officials and other industry leaders to have a quick response ready for this problem,” noted Wittyfeed cofounder Parveen Singhal, who is also part of this coalition.
The Power Of Community
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.
It has also onboarded hotel chains to convert free rooms into quarantine zones, and is currently devising a strategy to ensure supply of essentials during the 21-day lockdown.
That’s the power of a community movement like Startup vs Covid-19 and is also why this coalition was formed in the first place. As Maheshwari puts it, “There is the important need to work with experts, and collaborate which is not how most startups operate and we have kept this group (Startups VS Covid-19) inclusive to enable that collaboration, which otherwise may not be possible within the boundaries of an organisation.”
At any point of time, multiple groups are trying to build patient trackers or contact tracing applications. But a lot of them do not have the ability to scale. What changes with community movements such as ‘Startups VS Covid-19’ is that these multiple innovators get a platform to scale their initiatives and also sometimes prevent duplication of efforts, added angel investor and entrepreneur Ravindra Krishnappa, who is also a part of the coalition.
The New Culture Of Collaboration
This war-like situation has inspired a new culture of community action in the startup ecosystem. From growth-stage to early-stage ventures, from seasoned to first-time founders, from enablers to investors — everyone has contributed in different ways to strengthen this effort. Be it through starting a coalition, or donating individual resources.
MobiKwik cofounder Upasana Taku along with Chaitra Chidanand, cofounder of Simpl, Vartika Bansal, former executive of Uber and Oyo, started a campaign #LeadBoldly and #StopTheSpread of Coronavirus. The campaign played a key role in encouraging startup leaders to realise the need for social distancing and mandatory work-from-home policy.
Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma pledged his salary for two months to support impacted employees and the company has also committed an INR 5 Cr fund for coronavirus research. Snapdeal cofounder Kunal Bahl has committed one hour daily to virtual brainstorming sessions with startups facing challenges due to the pandemic.
The Indian arm of AngelList committed to invest INR 50 Lakh into the startups that are working on possible solutions for Covid-19 or coronavirus. Wingify founder Paras Chopra has announced an online hackathon for startups developing solutions for coronavirus pandemic.
At a time when most countries have gone into a lockdown and the death count is rising every day, the mobilisation of the startup community is inspiring. We believe it is also our responsibility as a media house and an enabler of this ecosystem to help business leaders make the right decisions.
Inc42 is also working towards #StartupsVsCovid19 platform to enable founders and startup ecosystem stakeholders gain access to expert advice and useful content and resources on managing their business and operations in the time of economic uncertainty. In this direction, we have already hosted the first episode of our series of live #AskMeAnything sessions.