Just as things seemed to be getting back to normal, the magnitude of the second wave of Covid- 19 caught most people and businesses off-guard, causing unthinkable disruptions all around.More than 1 lakh people have died this month as the second wave of COVID-19 wreaks havoc across India. This is 33 percent of the overall reported death toll of over 3 lakh even as daily infections hover around 2 lakh. India’s startup ecosystem has been at the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19 as entrepreneurs, investors and startups come together to incubate, innovate, accelerate and deploy tech.
Corporate India quickly rose to the occasion using its considerable might in terms of resources, cash, supply chains, and massive workforce to support the healthcare industry in its fight to mitigate the devastating effects of the virus. What was equally remarkable was the role played by the Indian startup ecosystem in relentlessly innovating and improvising with technology and manpower to help the country overcome the downturn.
Even PM Modi recently called out the fact that India is home to one of the world’s largest startup ecosystems and commended startups and the private sector for their role in the fight against the pandemic. We didn’t have to look beyond our portfolio to see exemplary work in the start-up ecosystem. These companies have not only aligned themselves seamlessly with the need of the hour, but they are innovating and ensuring business continuity, even during these difficult Times.
Bridging the Resources Gap
As strong on-ground last-mile assignments and supply-chain support emerged as the backbone of many businesses in the new normal, startups stepped up to help bridge the demand for both conventional roles such as last-mile delivery, retail/restaurant audits etc. to new-age gigs such as online video content monitoring or online exam proctoring.
Work-fulfillment startup Awign, which manages over eight lakh gig workers on its platform, quickly recognized the need for manpower in healthcare and ancillary industries such as diagnostics. The company set up tech-led infrastructure and also trained and distributed gig workers to diagnostic centres and labs helping them manage data entry operations and daily doorstep sample collection. It also helped set up virtual help desks where all inbound and outbound calls were handled via the Awign platform. The platform could handle large volumes and was also equipped with security features such as number masking. This translates into expedited results, better support to COVID-19 patients, and timely delivery of essentials.
The other critical need was that of trained medical and healthcare professionals. To address this, Awign collaborated with NGOs to bridge the gap between medical help and patients by deploying trained manpower, delivering essentials, and making sure that the patient receives end-to-end care. Its Virtual Care Center (VCC) for the NGOs enables continuous support via call and answers queries of patients, through its trained and distributed gig workers. The platform keeps a complete track of every case and is equipped to flag a delay in delivering support to the needy. The on-field gig workers have been extensively trained to abide by end-to-end COVID-19 protocols as they deliver resources.
Similarly, Milaap, which is India’s leading fundraising platform for healthcare, sports, disaster relief and other personal causes helped raise funds to support COVID-19 initiatives. Donations from all across the world helped raise a whopping INR 152 Crore. It received 4.15 Lakh donations only for COVID-19 fundraisers and increased the number of campaigns by 65%. There was a 3X rise in the website visits. When the lockdown was announced, the Milaap platform was raising INR 17,000 every minute. 4.3 Lakh ration kits, 31 lakh meals, 5,000 PPE kits, and 59 ventilators were distributed from the fundraised on Milaap. Every 20 minutes, a COVID-19 fundraiser was set up.
Technology for Effective Diagnosis
More than ever before, startups enhanced their focus on emerging new-age technologies such as IoT, AI, data analytics, etc., to bridge wide-ranging gaps that were introduced in the market. Thus, technology is the new mainstay.
To combat COVID-19 fatalities involving lungs, online diagnostic startup 5C Network, India’s largest digital network of radiologists, partnered with the DRDO Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) and HCG Academics to develop ATMAN AI. This is an Artificial Intelligence algorithm that can detect the presence of COVID-19 disease in Chest X-Rays. It is used as a triaging tool in COVID-19 diagnosis, a method for rapid identification and assessment of lung involvement. This is utilized by 5C Network with the support of HCG Academics across India.
Similarly, Predible is helping large corporate hospitals and standalone diagnostic labs to conduct chest CT imaging, a critical determinant used to diagnose and treat COVID-19 patients.The firm has devised a product called LungIQ that enables radiologists to instantly report COVID-19 chest CTs using artificial intelligence. Upon uploading a chest CT scan, the software automatically generates a report with the CT Severity Scoring according to the latest guidelines. The generated report is then reviewed and signed off by the reporting radiologist. The startup has processed over 80,000 CT studies so far. This has helped address the huge backlog of studies at hospital sites with reports delayed by multiple days. The overall workflow helps save time and cater to the huge burden of studies daily.
Supporting Operational Efficiency
The pandemic has set a fine example of the dynamic and unpredictable environment we live in, and how being futuristic can help tackle or minimise uncertainty. Integrating technology offers a lot of benefits, along with a seamless, frictionless experience. It allows insurers to tap into segments which earlier they were unable to reach out to. This change was much needed, irrespective of the pandemic. No doubt, Covid accelerated this process manifold and pushed this traditional sector to undergo significant innovation changes.
Insurtech startup i3systems has built CliniAId, India’s first intelligent automation solution to approve COVID-19 discharge claims in under 30 minutes. CliniAId enables insurers and TPAs to manage end-to-end COVID-19 claims processes by automating financial and medical adjudication using Artificial Intelligence. The solution is easy to integrate, can be deployed frictionlessly in a few hours, and comes at a time when Indian insurers are swamped with about 45,000 number of COVID-19 claims per day.
Given the magnitude of the current crisis, there must be a concerted effort by every section of society to help us tide over these unprecedented times. Tech leaders were suddenly forced to introduce remote working practices and find new ways to mingle with prospective clients and investors as conferences were cancelled or postponed to adhere to local social restrictions. Early-stage startups were the most affected, but that did not deter them from innovating. Therefore, it is extremely heartening to see the startup ecosystem diligently playing its part, using inherent strengths such as dynamism and agility to quickly turn around and deliver innovative solutions.