How start-ups are tackling issues related to Covid-19

10 Mar 2020

Image: © Hafiez Razali/

From wearables that urge users not to touch their faces, to remote conferencing tech for events, here are some of the start-up solutions helping to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak.

On Saturday (7 March) the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that the global number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 has surpassed 100,000.

At the time, the WHO highlighted the importance of stopping, containing, controlling, delaying and reducing the impact of Covid-19. So far, significant measures have been taken to follow this advice, with major conferences and gatherings around the world being cancelled to mitigate the spread of the virus, from Mobile World Congress to Google I/O.

Many employees around the world are also having to work remotely. This disruption has, in some cases, been helped by the implementation of video conferencing technologies such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams, as well as the use of other communication and collaboration tools such as Slack, Trello and Asana.

Here, we take a look at some of the tech solutions devised by start-ups that may be used to limit the spread of Covid-19 and solve other problems that have arisen as the world responds to the virus.

The basics

The main advice imparted to the public by the WHO, the HSE, the CDC, the NHS and other health organisations is that everybody should be focused on washing their hands thoroughly and correctly to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Trinity College Dublin start-up SureWash previously developed a clinical hand-wash hygiene training app, which is used to teach nurses, doctors and other medical professionals how to wash their hands in the workplace. The app can be used to gather data on competence in staff hand-washing and hygiene. SureWash has recently updated the app, which can be downloaded to smartphones, in light of the spread of Covid-19.

Another piece of advice is to try mitigate the spread of germs. People are being advised to cough and sneeze into the inside of the elbow and to keep hands away from the face, which has made many people realise just how much they absentmindedly touch their faces while driving, working, studying and relaxing.

Following the outbreak of Covid-19, a start-up called Slightly Robot designed a wearable wristband called Immutouch, which vibrates if a wearer touches their face. The device uses a gravimeter and a personalised algorithm to track any “hazardous” gestures, with the goal of encouraging healthier habits.

Remote conferences

With the recent string of conference cancellations, many tech companies have opted to refund attendees and offer keynotes and panel discussions online via live streams. In a number of cases, this makes the content free for people who had not secured tickets to the events.

Wired has featured a number of start-ups that are now helping to rethink these types conferences, including Run The World, which has recently come out of stealth with backing from Andreessen Horowitz.

Andreessen Horowitz partner Connie Chan said that Run The World represents a “vision” of what the future of online events could look like. Set up by two former Facebook employees, the platform is like “a hybrid of Zoom video, Eventbrite ticketing, Twitch interactivity and LinkedIn networking”.

The platform enables event organisers to hold live online events where participants can learn from experts and connect with others, while “slashing” the environmental and financial costs associated with attending large conferences. The start-up has already powered dozens of conferences, hosting attendees from more than 30 countries. According to Chan, Run The World has responded to the Covid-19 crisis by waiving all set-up fees for any conference affected by the virus.

Wired also featured another start-up, Hopin, which combines livestreamed presentations with a virtual networking feature that enables attendees to meet each other. To date, the platform has hosted more than 200 events and has hosted 30,000 virtual attendees.

Hopin’s founder, Johnny Boufarhat, told Crunchbase News: “That’s why people go to events; it’s not for livestreaming. You go physically to network with people, to interact with people. And that’s what we solve.”


Another area where start-ups are trying to solve issues associated with the spread of a contagious virus is disinfecting. According to Crunchbase News, start-ups that use UV light to disinfect surfaces and items have seen a boost in sales since Covid-19 began making headlines.

PhoneSoap, for instance, makes devices that clean mobile phones and other electronics items with UV light. Based in Utah, the company noticed a surge in sales in mid-January, as more people grew concerned about personal hygiene.

Toronto-based CleanSlate UV, which uses UV light to sanitise items in hospitals such as stethoscopes, badges and phones, confirmed that the area of mobile device hygiene is one where the company has seen “fast-growing concern”, even before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Elsewhere, VentureBeat recently highlighted the role that Danish start-up UVD Robots has been playing in China, sending its robots into healthcare facilities and spreading UV light to disinfect rooms contaminated with viruses or bacteria. This is one of a number of robot-related solutions that China implemented to help prevent the spread of the disease.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic