• Epistle Communications

Start-ups in the times of COVID-19

Kushagra Sharma, Senior Design Manager

The Indian start-up industry witnessed unprecedented growth in the last decade. The Economist pegged the number at eighty-thousand, and proceeds at $3.1 billion in 2019, behind only the United States and China. Buoyed by massive investments, the country’s entrepreneurial spirit found its voice in the form of a booming e-commerce sector, and services such as ride-sharing, food delivery, digital payments, and budget hotels.

Come March 2020 and the cataclysmic impact of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has upended the economy and thrown businesses into complete disarray. Although start-ups are trying to stay afloat and mitigate the effects of what is being termed a ‘Black Swan’ event, the government’s decision to enforce a 21-day lockdown has met with overwhelming support to curb the outbreak. Data suggests that the timing of the lockdown is precise, and there is consensus on the fact that the current one is critical to flatten the curve.

The onslaught has not been easy to deal with — contingency plans have been put into effect; furloughs, pay cuts were but expected. Firms have taken to remote working and video conferencing to ensure all deadlines, meetings and commitments are in place. In addition, start-ups have been quick to shift gears to help others as well — leveraging technology and creativity to assess the situation and being Good Samaritans in tough times. They are playing a pivotal role in assisting the government with statistics on effective management of supply chains and developing adequate testing infrastructure. As a matter of fact, it is start-ups that have directly come to the rescue of the government — and by extension, coronavirus patients, in two separate instances. A Gurgaon-based start-up is offering advanced statistical data through location tracking, geofencing and predictive analytics. And a Bengaluru based firm provided technological aid to install AHUs at a hospital in Wuhan.

As harsh as it may sound, expecting the government to drag start-ups out of the mess is idealistic in the current scenario. The situation is indeed far worse for millions of daily wage workers who now have nowhere to go, and stand highly vulnerable to the virus. It is heartening to see the country come together in solidarity for the well-being of all.

Start-ups fall into a wide spectrum. While some are reeling under severe stress, others have suffered relatively less damage. Case in point — Ola and Oyo stand much to lose during the lockdown, than perhaps Flipkart and 1mg. It is difficult to account for all businesses in a situation as global and unpredictable as the coronavirus crisis, but perhaps what we as individuals can do is exercise prudence, and empathy, develop strategies and think realistically to confront these inevitable lows. For a densely populated, developing country such as ours, the risk of an impending disaster is just too much to ignore. Ramanan Laxminarayan, founder and director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy puts it succinctly, “there will have to be a uniquely Indian response to COVID-19.”

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