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8 ways entrepreneurs are fighting COVID-19

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Technology companies and the entrepreneurs behind them, are stepping in to help during the pandemic. Image: Unsplash/Markus Spiske

Harry Kretchmer
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Technological Transformation

This article is part of: Pioneers of Change Summit
  • Around the world, tech start-ups are putting leading-edge innovations at the service of frontline workers.
  • Many use artificial intelligence and cloud computing to help organizations process data, giving new insights to help fight the virus.
  • Some companies have made their software available for free to those who need it most.

Behind the achievements of those working on the COVID-19 front line there are many organizations and entrepreneurs doing what they can to help.

Across the globe, these companies are using everything from software and robotics to good old-fashioned cooperation to fight against the disease.

Have you read?

From artificial intelligence in South Korea to fresh food deliveries in Africa, here are some of the bright ideas that are being deployed by the World Economic Forum's 2020 intake of Technology Pioneers.

1. Cargo X

This Brazilian logistics technology company has set up a $5.6m fund to support the transport of essential goods, like food, medicines and essential hygiene products, in the country during the pandemic.

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The scheme works by paying the wages of carriers and drivers – keeping the market going at a time when the country is being hit hard by the virus. The system pays mostly upfront: 70% of the money when the goods are loaded and the remaining 30% on delivery.

The software therefore helps spread the cost in a way that supports workers when cash flow is tight.

2. Takeoff Technologies

Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology Tech technology science chemistry biology physics electricity electric power battery charge positive negative lab laboratory scientist fourth industrial revolution volt voltage change progress advancement power new revolutionary robot robotics ai artificial intelligence machine learning Cities smart urban urbanization development growth growing inclusive inclusivity poverty tech technology science data electricity electric power fourth industrial revolution 4ir progress advancement power new revolutionary robot robotics ai artificial intelligence machine learning
As online grocery sales have soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers are turning to robots for help. Image: Contentsquare

Grocery stores have seen a spike in online sales during the pandemic, and many have ramped up digital ordering and delivery services to cope. But fulfilling online orders can be tricky when staffing is tight and store aisles are congested.

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Enter US-based retail technology firm Takeoff Technologies and its “micro-fulfillment centres”. It creates mini warehouses at the back of grocery stores which use robots to prepare customers’ orders. This helps with social distancing and allows local businesses without existing automated warehouses to compete in online food – a trend that is expected to be accelerated by COVID-19.

3. Starling Bank

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During the pandemic people around the world have been self-isolating. Staying at home, they have depended on others for food and other essentials. But how to pay them?

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British fintech firm Starling Bank has one solution: a debit card that allows a trusted person to buy things on the owner’s behalf. The “Connected card” – linked to the owner’s account – also removes the need for any physical exchange of cash or cheques, providing an extra layer of protection for a vulnerable person.

Mastercard and prepaid card firm PFS have also developed cash alternatives for Britain’s carers and volunteers.

4. Lunit

South Korean medical software company Lunit develops artificial intelligence programmes that can diagnose lung diseases via X-ray images.

The company has now made its software available online for free. Hospitals in Brazil, as well as South Korea, are able to upload up to 20 cases per day for AI diagnosis.

The company says innovations like AI have been an important contributor to flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases in South Korea.

5. Jumia and Twiga Foods

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These two African tech pioneers have partnered up to get fresh produce into locked-down homes.

Jumia has a large online delivery business across Africa; Twiga Foods connects a network of 17,000 farmers in Kenya with marketplaces via its own pack houses.

By working together, they aim to combine their strengths in deliveries and fresh produce – increasing their abilities to provide households with fresh food, safely, amid restrictions.

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6. Dawex

Data will play a huge role in beating COVID-19 – whether that’s through track-and-trace schemes, testing programmes or understanding how the virus works.

The France-based international online data exchange Dawex has created a COVID-19 Data Exchange initiative. It opens up Dawex’s platform free of charge for companies and organizations that need to exchange non-personal data for studies about the coronavirus and limiting its economic harm.

7. Optibus

Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology Tech technology science chemistry biology physics electricity electric power battery charge positive negative lab laboratory scientist fourth industrial revolution volt voltage change progress advancement power new revolutionary robot robotics ai artificial intelligence machine learning Cities smart urban urbanization development growth growing inclusive inclusivity poverty tech technology science data electricity electric power fourth industrial revolution 4ir progress advancement power new revolutionary robot robotics ai artificial intelligence machine learning
The number of people using buses in the UK has collapsed during the pandemic. Image: BBC

As nations attempt to restart their economies, getting people to work is essential.

Unfortunately it remains a huge challenge, with risks of overcrowding and contagion still very real. At the same time, there is disruption to services through staffing shortages and closed destinations. As a result, passenger numbers are down.

In the UK last month, the BBC reports, around 40% of bus services were carrying just 10% of usual passenger volumes.

The transport technology company, Optibus, is hoping its insights could reverse these trends. It is offering mass transportation agencies no-cost planning services until July to find the best routes, crew schedules and costings to help make mass travel in the age of COVID-19 workable.

8. Mirakl

One of the greatest problems in the pandemic has been how to make sure protective equipment gets to the front line.

E-commerce firm Mirakl has partnered with the French government to create a one-stop platform where manufacturers, distributors and subcontractors can communicate over orders of hand sanitizer for medical use.

While production of the product has been stepped up in France, and throughout the world, without clear lines of communication it might not get to the hospitals when, and where, it’s most needed.

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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