Indian start-ups innovate to fight against COVID-19

Indian start-ups innovate to fight against COVID-19

A supportive start-up ecosystem might hold the key for Indian start-ups surviving the pandemic.


  • Fast-acting Indian start-ups have developed digital financial tools to provide loans to small businesses, designed digital mental health solutions for people in isolation, and coded open-source on low-cost, low-resource ventilators for developing countries.

  • Founders of leading start-ups, members of investment advisory firms, independent advisors, etc have come together and launched Action COVID-19 Team (ACT).

  • Several Indian corporates are also working at helping to manufacture equipment or providing isolation areas for patients.

COVID-19 has been the black swan event that has stunned businesses globally. The world economies are slowing down as businesses are struggling to fight this invisible adversary. Start-ups globally are no different, they too are feeling the pinch - how could Indian start-ups be any different The start-up ecosystem might hold some answers.

Global and Indian start-up ecosystems have risen to the occasion to stand by the start-ups and get them to do what they do the best, innovate. Innovate to fight against COVID-19.

A supportive ecosystem

The efforts of fast-acting, socially conscious start-ups have included developing digital financial tools to provide loans to small businesses, designing digital mental health solutions for people in isolation, and coding open-source on low-cost, low-resource ventilators for developing countries. With a myriad of other projects in motion, here is some of the most commendable, cutting-edge work being done by start-ups and entrepreneurs in response to COVID-19.

Founders from leading Indian start-ups, members of investment advisory firms in India and independent advisors and supporters of the start-up ecosystem have come together and launched Action COVID-19 Team (ACT). ACT is a collective effort to help Indian start-ups survive this crisis and build resilient businesses. ACT's mission is to provide guidance and resources to start-up founders and employees and empower teams through financial grants and mentoring to create a large-scale impact in the fight against COVID-19. ACT Grants is a $0.1 million (Rs 1 crore) programme aimed at seeding over 50 initiatives through grants to combat COVID19 in India. ACT will be supported by partner NGOs and leading industry veterans and will collaborate with government agencies to scale up solutions that show promising results.

ACT is not a one-off case. The list is quite long and is ever-expanding. AngelList and Paytm have announced special funds to support innovators and researchers. Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra is looking to manufacture ventilators in India to meet the shortage. Wingify founder Paras Chopra will host special virtual hackathons to develop possible solutions. Mahindra & Mahindra will manufacture a face shield designed by Ford for medical service providers to help in combating coronavirus pandemic. Indian CEOs are taking one for the team and have announced forgoing salaries during these distressing times.

Apollo Hospital announced the launch of Project Stay I, partnering with Zomato, OYO, Biocon, Lemon Tree, Ginger Hotels, and other companies, to add 5,000 rooms for coronavirus patients to stay in isolation. The project is CSR funded by Hindustan Unilever Limited, SBI, and Deutsche Bank.

Incubation centres have opened their doors and have reached out to start-ups to help them manage these choppy waters. “We have started mentoring start-ups virtually through various digital platforms. As we move towards a work-from-home mode, Innocity (Regional initiative of CIIE.CO) has started hosting virtual mentoring support (managing team, operations, supply chain, and strategies further) for the start-ups during critical situations. We are also conducting a webinar on various topics like 'How to Deal With COVID-19 Crisis as a Start-up' and 'Not Letting COVID-19 Infect Your People Strategy,'” Swarup Pandya, Start-up Enabler at CIIE.CO and Regional Manager at Wadhwani Foundation National Entrepreneurship Network shares. “We are shifting our assets online to provide continued support to our start-up ecosystem,” he added.

These are testing times and we don't know how much more we must endure. However, with founders and investors uniting, greater innovation in healthcare than ever before, contributions from tech start-ups, widespread information dissemination and start-ups working to address social issues, we are in this together. This dark cloud shall pass too, and better days shall return.

Dr Param Shah is Director - UK at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI).

*Disclaimer: The views expressed herein constitute the sole prerogative of the author. They neither imply nor suggest the orientation, views, current thinking or position of FICCI. FICCI is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the author.

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