How Indian Startups are Navigating the Impact of COVID-19

As India valiantly fights COVID-19 outbreak with a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the notorious virus, the country’s startup sector desperately gasps for air. From travel bans to stuck up funds, this pandemic has brought us all to a situation that none were prepared for, forcing the entire ecosystem to come to a screeching halt.

Right now, the biggest and most important task for the country is to prevent the spread of the virus while at the same time, expand the medical infrastructure and prepare it for the fight ahead. It is this urgent need that has impelled us to create the Innovation Challenge, an ideation program in partnership with our knowledge partner Qcity, Telangana IT&C (Emerging Tech) to urge student entrepreneurs to research and develop solutions, ideas and applications to help curb the spread of COVID-19. You can read more about the COVID-19 Innovation Challenge here.

On the other hand, NASSCOM is trying to negotiate a slew of measures to reduce the mounting stress and help startups cope with this unprecedented crisis situation. Some of the key measures demanded by the industry body include rental subsidy for workspace, overdraft facility, one-time PF opt out option, interest-free funding as well as blanket suspension of all deadlines. While we wait for approval of the Union government, let us look at how India’s startup community is coping in these difficult times.

Before we proceed, it is worth mentioning that this is for the first time in the history of technology, the power of internet as a survival tool or a coping mechanism has been realized. Add to that the new role of e-commerce as an essential service sector conferred by the government. And that in itself is not only just a silver lining but a huge development for the industry which can pave the way for startups to lead the way.

Right now, more than 600 Indian startup companies have joined forces to create solutions that’d help people to survive and cope with the pandemic and its impact on day-to-day life. For HealthTech startups, this is the time to scale up and create solutions for millions. And some startups have already grabbed this opportunity to leave a mark. Take Innovaccer for example — a healthtech startup, in collaboration with the Goa government, is helping people perform self-assessment test while another group is developing quarantine apps and heat map to timely report symptoms. Another Pune-based molecular diagnostics startup, Mylab is working on a low-cost PCR kit that’d speed up the detection.

For the mobility startups, this might not be the best time as all the major cab-hailing and pool car apps have suspended operations across the country since the lockdown was announced except Ola which has kept a small number of its fleet operational for emergency services. For the driving partners, it means loss of job as they are unable to grapple with this crisis situation while struggling hard to make their both ends meet. To tackle that situation, last Friday, Ola announced ‘Drive the Driver Fund’ in an attempt to financially support drivers and their families who have been affected by the lockdown by seeking contributions from the investors, employees, users as well as Ola Foundation.

Now, as the lockdown has forced India to stay indoor and work from home, and retailers to shut down stores, citizens have turned to online stores and delivery apps to stock up food and other essential items. Which is why after a short gap, e-commerce giants and logistic companies like Amazon, BigBasket and Grofers are back in action after getting the required support from the central and state government as well as other law-enforcing agencies.

One of the most severely hit sectors is TravelTech as all the major countries have put a travel ban on the domestic and international front to curb the spread of COVID-19. In a time when travel plans have been put on hold, bookings have been fully refunded, the hospitality industry, gripped by the fear of uncertainty, is staring at the drastic fall of its key performance metrics. But when there’s hope, there’s opportunity. The Indian hotel chain, in a bid to contribute to the war against Coronavirus, has pledged to offer its rooms in the UK to anybody stranded or in need of a place to stay during the time of lockdown.

That is how every crisis situation helps us become stronger and more powerful than ever. If you look at it, every crisis is a catalyst for change. It might disrupt our lives, make everything come to a standstill but it also compels us to look at things from a whole new perspective, to prioritize our needs and necessities, and work out ways to survive the storm together. As the famous entrepreneur, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw has put it, “I think we need to build a new economy. This new economy is going to be a very different economy in the world. You can see that virtual economies are being tested today. They were overvalued, and as a result, real businesses were undervalued. Now is the time to build that equilibrium. And this is, I think, the time for building that equilibrium in our lives, in our businesses, in the economy.”

The COVID-19 crisis is already showing us a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour, work policies and a key focus on need over luxury. While some of these changes might be temporary, some shifts are here to stay. And that is going to shape up the startups of the future in India.

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