NUS start-ups doing good for COVID-19: Making Lives Better

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Roceso Technologies allows for remote rehabilitative treatment via their robotic upper limb rehabilitation device, EsoGLOVE

Over the span of a few months, the world has seen the unravelling of a global pandemic which turned the financial market on its head, sent several countries into lockdown and took the lives of many. However, amidst the crisis, we hear stories of unsung heroes who are doing their part to alleviate the dire circumstances and among them are a few start-ups that NUS is proud to call our own. From developing new test kits for the disease, donating viral sample collection devices, to making sure we stay sane being stuck at home, start-ups from NUS Enterprise’s global BLOCK71 and ICE71 networks, Graduate Research Innovation Programme (NUS GRIP), NUS Enterprise @ Singapore Science Park (NE@SSP), THE HANGAR and our NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) community have truly stepped-up in this time of need.

Over the first and second instalments of the three-part series, we looked at how start-ups and companies have helped our frontliners cope with this sudden outbreak. On top of this, companies have also worked hard to help society at large as well as each other. For the third and final instalment of the three-part series, we turn our attention to businesses helping businesses, migrant workers and the general populace.

Businesses helping businesses

People are not the only ones that are suffering from this crisis. Businesses, especially SMEs have taken a huge blow. From supply chain disruptions to difficulties in engaging in non-cash transactions, some SMEs might not be entirely fit to cope with the unprecedented challenges that the pandemic has strung along. Fortunately, larger companies like Unilever and FoodPanda are lending a helping hand. Under the #DigitalvsCovid movement in Malaysia, a myriad of large businesses from logistics providers to technology-centric enterprises are offering some of their products and services pro bono or at lowered rates. One such example is BLOCK71 Yogyakarta incubatee Exabytes Network, a one-stop solution to help companies bring their services online — a service that fits perfectly with today’s safe distancing measures.

Another such movement is Tech4COVID19, an initiative started by the Portuguese tech community and one that strives to generate solutions to the pandemic. Aptoide, the second-largest Android App Store in the world and a BLOCK71 Singapore incubatee, has joined the 120-odd companies to work on 12 existing projects ranging from improving tracking of contagion camps to providing support for healthcare staff. It is nice to see start-ups of different industries like technology, healthcare and e-commerce, banding together against the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the local context, a number of Singapore-based start-ups have also stepped up to help their counterparts. Carousell, a web-based buying and selling platform headquartered in Singapore, is collaborating with delivery service providers like uParcel and blu to offer affordable contactless delivery options to SMEs with verified Carousell accounts. The start-up has also launched a new local Food and Beverage (F&B) category for local hawkers whose operations have been disrupted, helping to keep their sales numbers stable. Carousell is also collaborating with the Singapore Brand Office to launch a #supportlocal campaign — MADE in SG — to support creative professionals whose incomes have been affected by COVID-19.

Recently, Carousell has also launched its Caroubiz Booster Package, an initiative to provide 1,000 help packages to heartland retailers and service merchants to help move their businesses online. The package is a six-month Caroubiz subscription with various tools and services to help businesses raise sales.

In the same vein, ShopBack, a cashback rewards platform is also lending a helping hand to local F&B sellers to increase sales. On its ShopBack GO app-based rewards platform, the ‘ShopBack To Go’ campaign allows users to check out the local food stores that allow for takeaways and place their orders. For those living in Singapore, not only does this allow for our stay-home meals to go beyond the usual bowls of instant noodles, but it also does so by helping our local businesses cope in this time of economic instability.

Likewise, Anywhr, a trip planning company has curated gift boxes of various themes to be sold, the gains of which are then given to small businesses it works with. These carefully curated boxes not only help lift the spirits of the recipients but also help local brands via proceeds from sales. With these tough times threatening to break our resolve, these acts of kindness are true testaments of the spirit of being one Singapore, united against COVID-19.

A respite for migrant workers

To help the migrant worker community during this time of crisis, many non-profit organisations are doing their part. One such example is former incubatee SDI Academy, a social enterprise championing the welfare of migrant workers in Singapore. By joining hands with fellow former incubatee FundedHere, SDI Academy has raised close to $26 thousand dollars to donate hygiene kits and essential food items like rice and oil to the workers. This amount was more than double the expected $10 thousand dollars and was garnered in a matter of 10 days. Given that for every thousand dollars raised, 100 workers received a hygiene pack, it goes without saying the sheer scale of impact of this initiative on the local migrant worker community.

On the 18th of March 2020, Malaysia announced a nation-wide lockdown to address the spread of the virus within its borders. This meant that Malaysians who do the daily commute to Singapore for work were no longer able to do so. These Malaysian workers have had to sleep-rough at places like the Kranji MRT Station as they try to procure a more comfortable space to stay. Thankfully, many Singaporeans have stepped up to help these workers with accommodation, offering up their own houses and preparing meals for them. 99.co, an NOC alum start-up and property website, has taken up the intermediary role to sieve out and match these Malaysian workers without a home with individuals and businesses with accommodation to spare.

Joining 99.co is BLOCK71 Singapore alum and budget hotel start-up RedDoorz. The start-up, which has 17 operating hotels in Singapore, has opened up its rooms to these Malaysian workers who are no longer able to make their daily travels across the border to return home from work. With these workers having had to leave behind their families for work, the least we can do is to provide assistance in any ways that we can.

Making #quarantine life slightly more bearable

With the closing down of airports and the travel bans issued, visiting family overseas has become difficult, if not impossible. Thankfully, many telecom providers, like NOC alum start-up Circles.Life, is trying to bridge this literal gap between loved ones. By providing International Calls Add-ons (300 minutes to 15 countries) at zero added cost, users can remain in contact with their loved ones, checking-in on them in these uncertain times.

With the worsening of the crisis, Singaporean students studying abroad on the NOC programme were recalled home. To make their abrupt return more pleasant, TravelHorse, a start-up by NOC alumnus Scott Koh, has decided to provide temporary storage space and ‘Dash’ food delivery service for these students, free-of-charge. Nothing like free food delivery to raise the most dampened spirits!

As the world practices safe distancing measures, it remains hard to do so on most public transports. Which is why BLOCK71 San Francisco graduate-start-up Spin, a small scooter sharing platform, is going strong. This comes at a time when its much larger counterparts, Lime and Bird, are pressing pause in this city. “Continuing our service during this time is even more important as long as it remains safe for our employees and the public”, remarked Spin CEO and Co-founder, Darrick Ko. Armed with enhanced disinfecting procedures, Spin provides an alternative avenue for individuals to engage in solo transport when they urgently need to leave the house.

For the duration of Singapore’s two-month #circuitbreaker measures, which limit physical interactions to curb the virus’s spread, outpatient rehabilitation centres closed and home-therapy sessions were curtailed. This hiatus will affect patients who require rehabilitative services. However, thanks to Roceso Technologies, a start-up based at NUS Enterprise@Singapore Science Park, and its robotic upper limb rehabilitation devices, these patients were still able to receive the care they needed without physical facilitation by healthcare professionals. For instance, patients with hand impairments can use the EsoGLOVE, which is built-in with actuators, as they follow simulations shown on-screen, allowing their rehabilitative treatment to be done remotely. On top of that, Rocesco Technologies is making use of its medical device network and knowledge to offer medical supplies such as masks and protective gears to front-liners.

Eating well and staying sane

‘Work from Home’ has become a buzz word today and one could say that it is slowly evolving into a societal norm. For most, bringing our work home has become more tiresome than the eight hours we spend at our office desks, especially with our little rascals running around and the ever-so-persistent household chores that we cannot just ignore. As we hustle through the day, MindFi, a start-up founded by NOC alumnus Bjorn Lee, offers a proper and effective tool to relax. The app, which clinched the prestigious Apple App of the Day award, presents a solution to help us de-stress or focus better, with activities ranging from short and long meditations to breathing exercises. As we get caught up in the chaos of the pandemic, it would do us good to take a deep breath once in a while.

With all this time spent at home, it comes as no surprise that we binge-eat too often. However, in order to protect and enhance our immune system, especially in the face of the virus outbreak, eating healthy is key. Thankfully, we have incubatees like Hoow Foods, which utilises Artificial Intelligence technology to recreate sought-after unhealthy food into healthier versions, with no compromise to their taste. A similar venture is NOC alum start-up Kombynation Co. Its home-made kombucha drinks consist of more than 30 strains of good bacteria and yeast that is said to enhance immunity. These foods prove that binging doesn’t have to be a bad thing after all.

At a time where feelings of hopelessness are on the rise, seeing start-ups working hard to better the situation is a solace. While they are doing their part, the onus is on us to help them by washing our hands, staying safe and staying home.

Read the other articles in this series:

For a complete list of the NUS Enterprise and NUS Industry Liaison Office start-ups fighting COVID-19, refer to our website.

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NUS Enterprise nurtures entrepreneurial talents with global mindsets, while advancing innovation and entrepreneurship at Asia’s leading university.

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