8 start-ups turning their solutions towards Covid-19

9 Apr 2020

A medical worker wearing PPE. Image: © pangoasis/Stock.adobe.com

A number of start-ups from around the globe are using their existing solutions to take on the challenges that have arisen from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, almost all industries have been impacted by the spread of Covid-19 and the restrictions put in place to limit the transmission of the virus.

This week, we take a look at eight start-ups around the world that are trying to tackle some of the issues that have arisen, pivoting existing solutions or ideas to help deal with the global health crisis.

Our list includes a robotics firm that wants to disinfect hospitals, a temporary staffing app that’s providing its services to the NHS for free, and a start-up that’s trading recovered Covid-19 patients €50 and some Swiss chocolate for a sample of their blood.

Akara Robotics

Akara Robotics is a Dublin-based start-up led by Dr Conor McGinn. The company, which is a spin-out of Trinity College Dublin’s robotics lab, is best known for its social robot Stevie, which featured on the cover of Time magazine last year.

Around a year ago, McGinn and the team began studying the sterilisation properties of UV light. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, Akara’s focus has shifted to creating a robot that could potentially bathe a room in UV light to kill the virus and stop it from spreading.

Akara is now engaging with the Health Service Executive to test its new robot in Irish hospitals. Its aim is to make the disinfection process quicker, easier and more efficient.


Cambridge University-based AI start-up Healx typically uses its technology to explore possible treatments for rare diseases, but has now turned its attention to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The firm, which raised $56m in October 2019, was founded by Dr David Brown, Dr Tim Guilliams and Dr Andreas Bender in 2014.

Healx is now using its AI platform, Healnet, to uncover potential combination treatments for Covid-19 by gathering a detailed analysis of the 8m possible pairs and 10.5bn drug triples stemming from the 4,000 approved drugs already on the market.

Memo Therapeutics

Memo Therapeutics is a Zurich-based start-up that has created a platform using fast microfluidic single-cell molecular cloning and screening technologies to enable antibody repertoire mining and antibody discovery in a fast, efficient and sensitive manner.

The ETH Zurich spin-out, which was founded by Christoph Esslinger in 2012, is now calling on patients who have recovered from Covid-19 to donate blood for potential therapeutic purposes.

As part of Memo’s Hack Corona project, the company wants people aged between 18 and 80 who have recovered from the virus to donate 30ml of blood and one hour of their time in exchange for around €50 and some Swiss chocolate. The company then aims to identify the antibodies that could neutralise the virus.


Patchwork is a UK start-up that helps hospitals and healthcare facilities to hire temporary staff. Founded by NHS doctors Anas Nader and Jing Ouyang in 2016, the idea behind the business was to help fill vacant shifts faster, as part of an effort to give NHS staff a better work-life balance.

Patchwork’s app helps workers keep track of training, book on-demand shifts and use the app’s integrated payroll system to digitise the payment process.

Now, during the Covid-19 outbreak, the start-up is helping hospitals across the UK to source clinicians and other medical employees at short notice. Patchwork is making its platform free to NHS Trusts for the next four months. The start-up’s partner Wagestream is also enabling the NHS to pay clinicians instantly.


Israeli start-up SparkBeyond was founded in 2013 by Ron Karidi and Sagie Davidovich. The company launched with an AI platform designed to tackle the “cognitive bottle neck and bias inherent in human thinking”, and to offer predictive insights to organisations.

SparkBeyond has partnered with businesses in insurance, retail, financial services, pharmaceutical and energy. In late March, the company announced that it would use its AI solution in response to Covid-19.

The company has been creating heatmaps based on real-time data to potentially identify outbreaks in Italy, Singapore and Tel Aviv. The company also recently announced that it is working with the Argentine government to consider when, where and how to lift restrictions using predictive analysis.


Stethome is a medtech solution that enables patients to examine themselves at home and send results to their doctors. The company’s smart stethoscope can detect abnormalities in the respiratory system by using medical AI algorithms and a dedicated app.

The start-up was founded in Poland in 2015 by Honorata Hafke-Dys and Jędrzej Kociński. It said that its stethoscope can be used as an early prevention tool during the pandemic, but can also be used to limit the risk of spreading the virus by reducing the need for face-to-face GP consultation.

The device can be used at home to get an accurate reading of a patient’s heart rate and respiratory rate, alerting doctors to any abnormalities that are detected.


Whispr, a Denmark-based start-up founded by Irishman Hugh O’Flanagan along with Keith Saft, has developed technology that can be used to train workers remotely. Founded in 2018, the company uses a voice guidance platform to help front-line workers carry out manual tasks more effectively and hands-free.

Using natural language processing and AI, Whispr “literally whispers instructions and smart checklists into the workers’ ears as they do their jobs”, according to the firm. In light of the pandemic, Whispr has developed a smart checklist app for front-line workers cleaning public areas.

The app is available globally and provides checklists, guidance and instruction to cleaning teams in multiple industries, including nursing homes, hospitality and healthcare. The aim of the app is to replace the need for paper checklists with public health guidelines, while improving productivity.


Founded in 2018, Zensors is a US computer vision start-up that his built a suite of tools for use in airports, offices and retail environments. Zensors can count open and occupied seats, detect rubbish that needs to be disposed of, and estimate the waiting time in queues.

In recent weeks, as Covid-19 began to spread across Europe and the US, the start-up has been receiving requests from airports and other businesses to apply Zensors’ technology for public health purposes.

The company is now looking at ways that its technology can be used to help governments enforce restrictions and closures by tracking activity levels in various locations. Zensors has also said that it would provide this technology for free until at least the beginning of June.

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Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic