Startup ecosystem breathes new life into India's COVID fight

Several startup entrepreneurs, investors and startup collectives have joined India’s fight against a ravaging second wave of Covid-19, donating funds and providing logistics to help hospitals procure oxygen and other essentials, and aggregating information that people in need can use.

Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma, venture capitalist PrakharKhanduja, Delhivery, EaseMyTrip, Zomato, Razorpay and Pharmeasy are among those who have stepped in to help the country’s stressed healthcare system to overcome the pandemic.

Several startup founders are rallying behind Action Covid-19 Team Grants (ACT Grants), which announced a plan to raise Rs 75 crore for home health management, oxygen solutions, vaccinations, and supplement medical workforce. It has already raised Rs 50 crore in less than 24 hours.

AshishSinghal, cofounder of crypto investment platform Coinswitch, pledged $1 million to the initiative while PravinJadhav, founder of Raise Financial Services, pledged $50,000. SandeepNailwal, cofounder of blockchain scalability platform Polygon, started accepting payments in cryptocurrencyEthereum and had raised $1 million at the time of writing the article.

ACT Grants was founded last year amid the first wave of the Covid-19 virus outbreak when 34 founders along with 44 investment funds including Accel, Sequoia Capital, Matrix Partners, Kalaari Capital, LetsVenture, among many others, banded together to leverage innovative thinking and collaborative action to tackle challenges posed by the pandemic by creating a Rs 500-crore philanthropic fund.

Procuring oxygen concentrators has emerged as a priority amid a massive oxygen scarcity in hospitals across cities.

Paytm’s Sharma said it had internally raised Rs 2 crore to source 10,000 oxygen concentrators. The fintech company has opened the fundraise to its users and is matching donations of those who contribute. “We are hoping to be able to take this number 20,000 to 30,000 and able to sail through this oxygen crisis,” Sharma said.

Logistics and supply chain startup Delivery is providing logistical support on a subsidised basis for importing oxygen concentrators from China at a time when India has been hit by a shortage of air cargo capacity from the neighbouring country.

Food delivery platform Zomato’s non-profit Zomato Feeding India has collaborated with Delhivery to raise Rs 50 crore for medical supplies, DeepinderGoyal, cofounder and CEO of Zomato, shared on Twitter. International donors can also participate, he said.

Online travel company EaseMyTrip said it has started to import oxygen concentrators. “I thought it’s actually kind of a loot which is happening in India because of the situation right now,” said RikantPittie, cofounder of EaseMyTrip when he tried to procure a concentrator locally and found it being sold for 4 times the market price.

The Delhi-based company is in the process of importing 150 oxygen concentrators from Shanghai by the end of next week. It plans to rent the concentrators out for free as well as give them to hospitals, Pittie said.

Payment gateway Razorpay is helping not-for-profit organisations collect donations for helping Covid-19 patients by activating their payments page within 24 hours and not charging transaction fee on donations up to Rs 10 lakh, the company said. The amount will be settled the same day without additional charge, it said.

Razorpay is also working toward setting up a donations marketplace for NGOs. “This initiative will allow any individual or business to donate to whichever cause they wish to. We hope this helps bring relief in some form to those in need,” a company spokesperson said.

DharmilSheth, cofounder of online pharmacy Pharmeasy, said it would use its network of 80,000 retailers and 5,000 distributors across the country to accelerate the vaccination drive. The company said it would work with corporates, resident wing associations (RWAs) and healthcare providers to vaccinate at least 30-50 million people over the next couple of months.

“We have already tied up with 2,500 nursing homes in the last one week and expect it to go up to 10,000 centres over the next few weeks,” Seth said. He said the company will purchase vaccine directly from manufacturers for the massive drive. “We are already in touch with the vaccine manufacturers.”

Many organisations and individuals are crowdsourcing monetary contributions to help strangers with Covid-related emergencies while some are seeking volunteers to help with verification of cases.

Venture capitalist PrakharKhanduja said when he called to verify a lead from a stranger who had requested for money on his Twitter direct message, “She essentially said, ‘Hey, my father passed away, and my mother is in the ICU.’ It was heart breaking.”

Vivekananda Hallekere, cofounder of Bounce, and Khanduja are now running multiple public groups on WhatsApp, one of them named ‘Donation – India’, where they are sharing requests by people who are facing shortages to afford treatment for Covid-19. These donations can be as small as Rs 100.

Sheroes, a women-only social network, in collaboration with ACT Grants and Project StepOne, is adding 10,000 volunteers to its existing 7,000. “Volunteers help bridge the gap between the doctors and patients by offering information, verifying and supporting calls,” a spokesperson of the project said.