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India’s startups deploy to combat the current wave of COVID-19 pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic’s second coming has ravaged India. It hasn’t just exposed the already existing cracks in India’s healthcare system, but fractured it even more — hospital beds, oxygen supply and life-saving medication has been hard to come by for hundreds and thousands of people.

The numbers have been staggering and gut-wrenching in equal measure. On April 23, the country reported 3.46 lakh COVID-19 cases  — not just the highest one-day spike recorded in India since the pandemic began in 2020, but the highest one-day spike recorded in any country since 2020.

Social media platforms led by Twitter have become the default SOS helpline for all looking for help, and also receiving in some form or the other, as official helplines and phones have simply buckled under the sheer pressure of the numbers.

And all this has been too much for authorities to deal with. Given the gravity of the situation, help has come from several other quarters. Citizens have stepped up to help those in need and now also India’s burgeoning startup ecosystem. 

In the news the past few weeks for hair raising fund raises which have turned many startups into unicorns, some companies in the healthtech space were called into action quickly but some others outside the space have also now followed suit. 

“There is a tremendous shortage of everything in India right now,” Sanjay Swamy of Prime Venture Partners told Entrackr. The investment firm has invested in healthtech startups like Dozee, which is a remote health monitoring system, and MFine, which offers teleconsultation services among other things.

“Dozee allows nurses to monitor and deliver ICU-grade service, without requiring continuously visiting each patient,” Swamy said. “MFine ensures that people can monitor SPO2 levels from a Smartphone app.”

Swamy said that the investment firm has advised its portfolio companies to focus on the “scale of impact” and make that the primary metric for now. 

Online pharmaceutical platform 1mg has seen a huge influx of users over the last few weeks, Ankur Gigras, head of e-commerce at 1mg told Entrackr. “We are seeing a tremendous rush of new users in all of our verticals, be it e-pharmacy, e-diagnostics or e-consult. Both e-pharmacy and e-diagno are witnessing 2-3x increase in the number of orders,” Gigras said. 

In addition to that, users are also reaching out to seek help regarding beds, oxygen cylinders,  concentrators, Remdevisir, and Tocilizumab, Gigras said. 

There have been several learnings for these companies over the course of the past few weeks as well, and the pandemic has shown people’s willingness to learn and accept technology solutions and understand that technology solutions like MFine and Dozee are not mere substitutes, Swamy said.

Gigras said that the key learning for 1mg seems to be that “we can’t ignore signs”. 

Offering these services, however, is marred by several challenges. “These are young companies and problems of scale will need to be addressed,” Swamy said. According to him, the biggest challenge right now is the risk of exposure for founders and team members who may have many family members suffering from the infection. 

Startups outside of the healthcare sector are also trying to help plug the demand for several crucial elements in COVID-treatment including hospital beds and oxygen supply. 

Oxygen supply has been one of the biggest problems over the past few weeks, with even some of India’s biggest hospital chains such as Max and Fortis sending out SOS messages on Twitter about running out of oxygen.

A group of entrepreneurs and startup founders has launched a crowdfunding campaign to procure oxygen concentrators from abroad. The campaign is looking to collect Rs 5 crore through individual donations and CSR funding to import oxygen concentrator machines and donating them to hospitals in need. 

The group includes Designhill’s Rahul Aggarwal and Varun Aggarwal, Crush Fitness India’s founder Uday Anand, Hubhoppr’s Gautam Raj Anand, Cuttlfish founder Shikher Gupta, Rahul Hari Saxena, founder of Satvacart and SHEROES’ Abhishek Agarwal, among others. 

The group is looking to import 10 litre per minute oxygen concentrator machines, SHEROES’ Abhishek Agarwal tweeted. According to the fundraiser’s webpage, it has so far managed to procure 500 oxygen concentrators from China which will be shipped out to India on Monday and should reach hospitals by Wednesday. 

Shailendra Singh, managing director of Sequoia India took to Twitter on Saturday to say that they are urgently looking for avenues to import oxygen concentrators in India. 

Logistics company Delhivery’s co-founder Sahil Barua said that the company is flying charters into India with oxygen concentrators and other essential supplies and can build more capacity on demand.

Payment gateway Razorpay said that NGOs collecting donations for helping COVID-19 patients can register on Razorpay for a payment page. Their account will be activated within 24 hours and there will be no transaction fee on all the donations that they receive on the page upto Rs 10 lakh, the company said in a tweet. The amount received would be settled to the account of these NGOs on the same day without any additional charge. 

Paras Chopra, the founder of Wingify said that the company wants to set up a 10-bed COVID-care facility, preferably in Delhi, at a budget of around Rs 50-60 lakh and invited people to help with putting together the facility by either donating for it or by coordinating to build the facility by interacting with donators, facility providers and suppliers. 

Following interactions with people, he learned that of all resources oxygen plants, oxygen concentrators and trained staff would be the biggest constraints, Chopra said in a tweet. As a result, they are also focusing on importing oxygen from outside India or places where they’re unused.

In a LinkedIn post, Abhishek Kumar, co-founder of MyGate, a security management and convenience service for gated apartments, said that the company is looking to collaborate with the healthcare industry to set up vaccination camps across 18000 of its communities with an aim to enable vaccination for 3.5 million MyGate households. 

Act Grants, which funds startups, is looking to raise more than Rs 75 crore for home health management, oxygen solutions and to supplement the medical workforce, Sequoia India’s Tejeshwi Sharma said in a tweet.

Taken together, these planned initiatives and action already taken will perhaps be a small step in this massive fight to contain, control and cure the effects of COVID-19 currently ravaging India. When the task at hand is so massive, every startup which can solve a problem will be more than welcome.

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