Come l’ecosistema startup affronta l’emergenza sanitaria
La resilienza delle startup
All economic sectors have felt the repercussions of the public health emergency triggered by Covid-19 and this has not excluded the 11,000 start-ups in Italy that have had to cope with the global pandemic. However, VC Hub Italia’s survey of the impact of Covid-19 on Italian start-ups and the innovation ecosystem shows that these digital entities have shown greater resilience and have been less affected by it compared to traditional businesses.
Unlike other companies, many start-ups have continued to grow, both in terms of new hires and turnover. Specifically, 58% have increased their workforce, 32% have seen a rise in demand and 27% an increase in revenue.
In fact, most start-ups have used the crisis as an opportunity to evolve and develop their digital characteristics as shown by the most recent study of the Startup Hi-tech Observatory of the Polimi School of Management: one third of the Italian start-ups have revisited their business models to adapt to the current scenario. Specifically, 63% have focused on initiatives and projects linked to the public health emergency with over 265 authorised initiatives in vastly dissimilar areas: e-learning, sanitisation, leisure, social distancing systems, delivery and healthcare devices are just some examples.
Il fondo Rilancio
The importance of start-ups to the Italian economy is shown by the various measures launched by the government, demonstrating that they are a strategic resource for Italy’s development and competitive edge in economic terms as well as for their scientific and technological contribution. The government has earmarked €200 million to be allocated by the Ministry of Economic Development as part of the Relaunch Fund (introduced by the relevant legislative decree of 19 May 2020) to innovative start-ups and SMEs to support them and foster their recovery.
According to the guidance of CDP Venture Capital SGR (Cassa Depositi e Prestiti’s asset management company which set up the Relaunch Fund), qualified investors such as business incubators and accelerators, as well as regulated investors can candidate the start-ups and businesses in which they are investing or have invested in the six months before the Relaunch Decree was enacted. They can present their candidates using an online application on the portal activated on 7 January 2021.
Start-ups were the first off the block to make their services available to their communities. A plethora of life-saving, prevention and diagnosis projects were conceived and launched in recent months to combat the public health emergency.
An interesting case is that of VoiceMed involved in testing people for Covid.
VoiceMed is an innovative voice recognition software able to give an immediate assessment about possible contagion based on a phone call. Artificial Intelligence and the use of special voice markers facilitate a comparison of the voice of the person to be tested with the voices of people who have tested positive, providing a reply in a very short period.
Another issue arising from the public health emergency is the scarcity of resources. The open source Cura – Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments – project provided a solution to the limited number of beds in intensive care units. It was developed in just four weeks by an international team and involves the conversion of shipping containers into intensive care units that can be installed and used immediately. The principle is that of hospital tents with the guarantee that the isolation conditions necessary to treat the virus could be obtained. The project’s great advantage is the modular nature of the individual units. They can be joined together using inflatable structures, creating proper secure temporary hospital units. Each container can house between 4 to 40 beds as well as all the necessary medical devices for two ICU patients with Covid.
Start-ups have also developed solutions to overcome social distancing constraints imposed by the pandemic. For example, DaVinci Salute is a telemedicine project launched by entrepreneurs Andrea Orani, Stefano Casagrande and Francesco Mainetti in 2017 for the remote monitoring of patients’ health. Medical check-ups can be booked, carried out and paid for remotely. GPs can also provide free consultations to assess potential Covid symptoms.
Un modello per tutti
In a dramatic and unpredictable scenario such as that imposed by the global health emergency, while traditional companies appeared disoriented, start-ups have responded by taking an alternative approach. They have shown how a crisis situation can be dealt with and made the best of it by harnessing their expertise and skills to make a difference. The search for a solution to an urgent need pushes us to innovate, but it is not possible to do so without technology. Indeed, we have understood the strategic value of digital innovation in this past year. Interest in digitalisation has soared and companies and institutions are more willing to work with start-ups to respond to the crisis.