Across the world, the coronavirus outbreak has caused massive disruptions to healthcare, travel and businesses, wreaking havoc to global economies.
The United Nations has warned that the outbreak could cost the global economy US$1 trillion this year, as increased restrictions on human contact have forced businesses to close out of public safety, resulting in a hit to their revenue.
Small businesses across the globe have called on governments to provide financial support or enact measures to help during the crisis, and startups and entrepreneurs have been particularly anxious about how the current economic uncertainty will affect their access to funding.
In early March, the US Small Business Administration (SBA) said it would offer up to US$2 million in disaster assistance loans for small businesses to overcome revenue loss.
Last week, President Donald Trump signed a US$2.2 trillion economic stimulus package intended to deliver aid to US businesses and the American public.
US$349 billion from the package is allocated for loans to small businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Businesses will be able to take out loans from banks and lenders that are guaranteed by the SBA.
In Europe, governments are providing loans and grants and are enacting various measures to assist startups and small businesses.
With a budget of €164 million, the European Commission has offered funding to startups working on technologies and innovations that could help in the “treating, testing, monitoring or other aspects” of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the European Commission, the fund has no “predefined thematic priorities” and applicants with coronavirus relevant innovations will be evaluated the same as other applicants. However, the European Commission stressed that grants to coronavirus related innovations would be fast tracked.
Emphasis on battling coronavirus
Like the European Commission, other organizations are raising funds for startups that can provide solutions to problems being faced during the pandemic.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome and Mastercard have committed US$125 million in seed funding to help speed up the research and development of treatment for the disease.
The Founder Institute is providing startups worldwide that are working on solutions to “cure, prevent, and mitigate threats to public health” the opportunity to join a fellowship program free of charge.
BenevolentAI is a London-based startup and one of more than 100 businesses that have signed a Wellcome Trust pledge calling on researchers, journals and funders to share findings and data relevant to coronavirus. BenevolentAI uses artificial intelligence to find drugs to treat chronic diseases. The startup was able to use its predictive tools to suggest potentially useful medicines just weeks into the outbreak.
Blue Ocean Robotics, a Danish startup, has had its self-driving disinfection robots, which use ultraviolet light to disinfect and kill viruses and bacteria, operating in hospitals in China during the outbreak. The company has now sold robots to over 40 countries.
The innovation arm of the UK’s National Health Service, NHSx, launched a £500,000 funding competition for startups and entrepreneurs that create tech initiatives to support people in need during the pandemic, with a focus on people with mental health issues.
The fund, called Techforce19, will focus on those with social care needs and aims to provide support for those affected by being housebound for long periods of time.
Corporations doing their part
Corporations are also offering resources to help startups and small businesses.
Google announced that it would be donating more than US$800 million in ad credits and loans to help small businesses, health organizations, governments and health workers on the frontlines of this global pandemic.
With more people staying home due to lockdowns, Google has also offered free global access to “advanced” features for Hangouts Meet to G Suite and G Suite for Education customers until July 1. This will allow organizations to host meetings of up to 250 participants and live stream to up to 100,000 viewers within a single domain. It will also enable users to record meetings that can then be saved to Google Drive.
Similarly, Microsoft has now expanded access to its premium tier of Microsoft Teams to users across the world for free for six months. Initially, Microsoft had developed its premium tier for schools, businesses, and hospitals in China that had been affected during the pandemic.
In addition, Facebook announced that they’ll be offering US$100 million in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 businesses in the more than 30 countries the company operates.
Some venture capital firms are going beyond just providing financial support, and are offering emotional support as well. Atlas is a startup company that connects venture firms and startup founders to specialized therapy sessions. The company has recently seen an uptick in business as clients are looking to provide therapy to their portfolio founders during this period of social distancing.
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