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Lending a helping hand during COVID-19 hard times

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In a scenario where the world is hit by a pandemic, it is must for more and more people and businesses to collaborate and deal with this crisis. Three startups – Medcords, MinionLabs and Melzo set an example by doing their bit

In order to boost India’s entrepreneurial and small business community, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Government of India (GOI), in partnership with WhatsApp, had organised ‘Startup India – WhatsApp Grand Challenge’ last year wherein a total of five startups had won a grant of $250,000. This year, three of these winners– Minionlabs, Medcords and Melzo are helping the country to fight the COVID-19 battle.

In its contribution to the Indian healthcare sector, Kota-based MedCords is building a healthcare network by Bharat, for Bharat. It digitally manages patient medical records, provides comprehensive e-consultations and delivers insights using data science. “We are a closely connected hyperlocal ecosystem of families, medical stores and doctors bringing effective healthcare to people across India. We are enabling the fastest and most trusted delivery of healthcare, and have now reached three million users across two million families in 13 states,” informed Shreyans Mehta, Co-Founder, Medcords.

The company has an app called Aayu that helps its users to take care of their health records. Mehta added, “Aayu is a complete health management app for families to digitally manage their health records, take virtual consultations, order medicines from their nearby medical stores and watch health content. Further, our network of ‘Sehat Sathis’ helps provide quality healthcare in rural and semi-urban India. It helps medical stores serve people better and can effectively connect to our network of doctors. Our contribution has been majorly providing healthcare access to the grassroots.”

According to Mehta, digitisation of medical records is the most important factor in improving healthcare outcomes. “In our research across 75,000 kms and 800 villages in four major Indian states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – we have learnt that misplacing records can cause major problems for people belonging to low-income groups in semi-urban and rural India.

“Even the government does not have accurate health data for preventive actions, which is why a people-centric centralised health records management system is of the utmost importance,” he emphasised.

Medcords recently partnered with the Government of Rajasthan to help citizens with free consultations and follow-ups. Mehta notified, “We helped with full tracking of quarantine patients and leveraged our network of medical stores to help people with timely medicine deliveries. We have added 6,94,932 families and 7,572 Sehat Sathis, and have facilitated 88,815 consultations in the state. It is now keen to support other governments or hospitals free of cost.”

Since the company is willing to cater to people in need, its services cost low. It charges a flat Rs 99 for any consultation and also comprises family health subscription plans which make family health management as low as Rs 40 per consultation.

Similarly, Bengaluru-based MinionLabs, which was also the winner of the WhatsApp Grand Challenge, helps businesses to save 12-16 per cent on their annual electricity costs, leveraging a machine-learning approach, and improve productivity by providing real-time electricity consumption insights.

Of late, the start-up has introduced Minion UV Saaph (MUVS) to ensure that everyone is prepared to face the challenge and threat posed by the growing pandemic of COVID-19.

Priced at Rs 10,999, MUVS looks like a 28-litre microwave oven and can disinfect any and everything using UV-C. As of now, it has not secured any big hospitals but has been sold to over 20 small clinics in Bengaluru.

With regards to battling COVID-19, Gokul Srinivas, Founder and CEO, MinionLab, informed that MUVS solution is designed to disinfect surfaces from pathogens like virus, bacteria, fungicides and other microorganisms by using UV-C lamps in less than 10 minutes. “It cannot offer a cure for infected patients but can prevent the virus from spreading through packages, supermarket deliveries or takeaway. It is our unwavering belief that technology is and should contribute to this collective fight against COVID-19 that could be a potentially long-lasting public health crisis,” he said.

In his opinion, as the coronavirus pandemic has paralysed the lives of people across the world, frontline health workers and doctors have been putting up with unpleasant events to treat the infected. He is aware that non-critical medical devices and other items used at a patient’s bedside may present certain infection risks, and that’s where he saw the need for a product like UV Saaph.

He appprised, “Initially, we will be focused on three areas: non-critical and point-of-care medical devices, environment-of-care items that patients come in contact with, and hospital personnel health and wellness items. Non-critical devices include items like radios/phones, tablets, thermometers, glucometers, otoscopes, stethoscopes, oximeters, pads/sensors, cords/cables, doppler probes, PPE kits, masks, gloves, etc. Patient-use items include remote controls, phones, tablets, call buttons, etc. Finally, at the end of a shift, a clinician’s personal items like phones, keys, ID badges, jewellery, etc. can be thoroughly and quickly disinfected prior to going home.”

As a winner at the Startup India-WhatsApp Grand Challenge, Minionlabs seeks to recognise and reward technology and ecosystem enablers that are building innovative products or solutions and scalable enterprises, with high potential of employment generation demonstrating measurable social impact. It has also applied for ‘COVID-19 Research Consortium Follow-Up Call and Seek Letter of Intent’ (LOI) announced by the Biotechnolgy Industrial Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) and is waiting for the results.

Melzo – the third WhatsApp Grand Challenge winner from Surat – offers a variety of Virtual Reality (VR) solutions for the healthcare industry. “From patient education with Augmented Reality (AR) to using VR for training future doctors, our cost-effective technology has the potential to change the way healthcare professionals deliver healthcare. Melzo’s VR expo software gives healthcare companies and medical institutes the opportunity to organise product expos inside virtual reality. Melzo’s VR expo offers a social 3D 360 VR media platform where they can exhibit medical products, pharma technology, and host webinars on disease awareness, medical safety, etc. globally, by turning them into interactive immersive experiences for masses. While the specific cost depends on the final applications, typically these start at Rs 33,000; the average cost is about Rs 1,00,000 and for high-end, intensive experiences, it can go up to Rs 11,00,000 as well. A host of functionalities like training, virtual conferencing, AR touch-free diagnosis and automatic digitisation of prescription are included in the Rs 11,00,000 package for hospitals,” claimed Hardik Desai, Co-Founder, Melzo.

In addition to it, he said, “Currently, we’re also developing our new product – ‘Melzo Saathi’ which would be a doctors’ professional healthcare companion. It is a product of wearable smart glasses paired with a smartpen that enables doctors to record, save and upload data by converting hand-written prescriptions to digitised notes. Armed with a next-gen AR technology, it can provide patient history records and critical real-time data whenever needed.”

Desai also highlighted that once his product is fully developed, it will have the potential to transform the healthcare industry. “From administrators and nursing staff to pharmacists, everyone will be able to benefit from this solution since it will provide them with critical real-time data,” he stressed.

However, being a startup has its own set of problems – the biggest concerns being when and how to seek funding. The grant received after winning the WhatsApp Grand Challenge helped Melzo overcome that issue and impacted its ability to fully develop its vision and technology. It now plans to approach BIRAC to seek support for ‘Melzo Saathi.’

With Startup India initiative launched by GOI in 2016 to boost startup culture and create an environment of entrepreneurship in India, the country is now the third-largest start-up hub in the world. As per the latest data available on makeinindia.com, about 31,945 startups have been recognised by DPITT.

“Startups are critical to the future of India and we are proud that the winners of the StartUp India-WhatsApp Grand Challenge have been able to create an impact on society, especially during this tense period. We remain committed to the entrepreneurial spirit, and play a key role in driving economic value for businesses across India,” said Abhijit Bose, Head – India, WhatsApp.

Just as these three start-ups have in a small way extended the right support to the nation, we need more and more of companies to come forward and help the country fight the battle against COVID 19.

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