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Google helps Indian start-ups get battle-ready for the post-Covid-19 world

Technology giant Google is scaling up its support to help start-ups address the challenges posed by Covid-19 pandemic on life and business in India. 

Through its accelerator programme, Google is providing support to firms that are looking to build solutions for the post-Covid-19 world. It is wooing young firms that are working on solutions oriented towards the ‘new normal’, with a special focus on technologies in areas such as healthcare, education, finance and agriculture. The company’s GFS (Google for Startups) Accelerator is also focused on mentoring ventures that are solving systemic problems such as healthcare, financial inclusion and sustainability through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technology. 

Google said it has supported over 250 start-ups through the Covid-19 outbreak in the country. It has been holding consultations with its network of experts, mentors and venture capitalists to help solve the immediate challenges faced by the founder community. This included helping the companies with fresh product strategy ideas, monetising in a different way for the new type of users which are emerging due to the pandemic and reimagine the user experience as the customer engagement behaviour is changing, according to Paul Ravindranath G, program manager, Google for Startups Accelerator India.

“We have come up with a playbook which is a coalition of ideas and suggestions from the community, and it covers the core areas of concern that founders look at as they try to deal with Covid,” said Ravindranth. “That means, managing your burn rates, looking at new sources of revenue, dealing with fundraising in such a situation, and working remotely and its impact on the mental health of the teams.”

One of the firms which have received support from Google is Niramai Health Analytix. It recently developed an AI-enabled solution for automatic detection of fever and Covid-19 respiratory symptoms. It is aimed towards enabling automated screening of groups of people to detect likely Covid-19 infected people by checking for fever and associated respiratory diseases. The solution which can be deployed at offices and public places, involves keeping a high-resolution thermal camera installed at the entrance of a building. 

Niramai’s computer vision-based application analyses live thermal streams to identify people’s face, forehead, nose and other key organs that can show Covid symptoms. The solution can be monitored automatically by a skilled health-worker, thus reducing the pressure on clinical testing at public places.

Before the Covid-19 lockdown, low energy, depression, relationship issues, and sleep were the top topics on Wysa, an AI-based chat therapy platform for mental health. These have now been superseded by health anxiety, loneliness, and social and financial implications of lockdown. It is clear that people are struggling with not only health but also with a financial crisis without access to their normal routines, social support, and coping mechanisms. Wysa’s main focus has been, helping people manage in moments of panic and come to a point of acceptance in their grief so they can plan to move forward. Google has been mentoring Wysa and helping them to grow their base during this time. During the Covid-19 crisis, Wysa’s AI chat, and tool packs for anxiety and isolation support will remain free. The Bengaluru-based firm has also made the premium version free for all frontline healthcare workers. Some of its tools help users in regaining motivation, improving focus and relaxation.

Google is also helping Genrobotic Innovations, a Kerala-based firm in areas like user experience design and industrial design. During the ongoing pandemic, when the sanitation workers are more prone to infections working at the frontline, Genrobotic Innovations’ robots are reducing the risk of infections and other health-related issues for them. The firm’s remotely controlled robot ‘Bandicoot’ can go down into a manhole, spread its expandable limbs like a spider and scoop out the solid and liquid waste that blocks urban sewers. The sanitation workers are able to clean the manholes with more courage and fearlessness, even during the spread of Covid-19 outbreak. Genrobotic is now working with the Kerala government along with IIT-Kanpur and Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, to create low-cost ventilators which would help in the fight against Covid-19. 

Dunzo, a Google-backed hyperlocal delivery firm, has pivoted to contactless delivery, providing customers with daily essentials as they were unable to step out of their homes due to coronavirus restrictions. Google supported Dunzo with partnerships across its multiple teams which helped the firm to develop a better strategy amid the pandemic, says the technology major.

According to Sami Kizilbash, global head, Accelerators, Google, despite the challenges due to the pandemic, one needs to take advantage of some of the rare opportunities that have been created virtually for its accelerator programme. “Now, our global network includes hundreds of industry experts that are more readily available to work with start-ups, anywhere in the world, because you know logging into the virtual mentorship session doesn't require a flight, hotel or a visa.” 

Kizilbash says, the ability of Indian founders to solve challenges at scale is paving a path for founders elsewhere in the world. “There are learnings and resources that the founders, mentors ecosystem builders are providing out there (India). We're gonna keep finding ways to spread those messages globally as well. They tend to be very relevant to founders of other ecosystems as well,” he says.
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