Business Unusual: Time for tech to move fast and fix things
Coauthored with Jason Greenblatt
The rapid spread of the coronavirus has thrown our vision of a connected digital world poised to solve any crisis through global communication into disarray. We must acknowledge that despite the incredible advances our society has made as a result of technology, we failed to spot the patterns of this pandemic before they spread.
COVID-19 has changed the world, creased the social fabric, upended business, and threatened supply chains. People are fearful and hunkering down at home.
And it’s likely to get a lot worse before it gets better.
It’s time for tech to shine and help things get back to normal and to prepare for a more successful, healthy and safe future. Now is the time to move fast and fix things.
This world-wide crisis presents the greatest challenge yet faced by digital technology. This new struggle against an invisible lethal threat will result in the creation of new areas of business activity. Some that exist already will expand dramatically: digital medicine; artificial intelligence-powered diagnostics; remote social and business networking; online freight and logistics; one-click cybersecurity and payment systems for small businesses; 3-D printing for vital medical equipment; training for distance learning — just to name a few. Other entirely new industries will appear.
Together we must plan for future pandemics because this story is just beginning. Society urgently needs mass testing capabilities, either through the worldwide licensing of successful technology that proves itself during this crisis, or the development of new, reliable and fast methods. We need technological solutions based on what we learn from this emergency.
To ensure we get back on track, and stay on the track as much as possible, there is now an urgent need for innovation. Technology can help us overcome many of the problems resulting from the crisis. The switch to digital will create a mass of vulnerabilities and challenges. Destructive cyber-jackals will swoop in even as our communities circle their digital wagons to protect themselves.
We must look inward and ask ourselves tough questions: could we have tracked the spread of the virus earlier? How do we track data more efficiently while still respecting privacy and civil liberties? Is that really possible, or must we sacrifice some privacy and liberty for the greater good of humanity? Can we deploy new technology so that epidemiologists forecast more accurately and physicians treat more effectively? What could we have done better?
At this pivotal moment of human history much may change. Entrepreneurs are uniquely skilled to provide fast, effective, efficient solutions to some of our greatest challenges. The tech world has the ingenuity, resources, imagination and drive to tackle these new challenges.
Like all businesses based in Israel, OurCrowd is complying with government instructions. All our staff are now working remotely from home. Our various teams video conference several times a day and share cloud-based documents. We held our first global webinar for portfolio company CEOs on March 17. The team planning our rolling worldwide program of events for our community of 42,000 investors has pivoted to virtual web-based events accessible from home.
I plan to host a weekly web-based TV show for all our investors and everyone interested in keeping abreast of developments in technology investment during these difficult times.
Many OurCrowd portfolio companies are responding to the urgent needs created by the pandemic, demonstrating the ability of startups to rapidly deploy their technologies to save and improve lives.
In the quarantine wards at Israel’s largest hospital, the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer near Tel Aviv, TytoCare’s technology is being used for remote medical examinations by physicians of COVID-19 patients, enabling vital lung and other examinations with minimal physical contact to protect front-line medical staff.
In the same quarantine wards, Sight Diagnostics’ sealed-unit complete blood count testing is deployed to support management of coronavirus patients while reducing the risk of cross infection.
As researchers rush to find a vaccine, treatment and cure, SaNOtize is testing a nasal spray and hand sanitizer for use against coronavirus with the Institute for Antiviral Research at Utah State University. The SaNOtize platform releases a nitric oxide solution that kills bacteria and viruses to treat and prevent disease caused by microbial infections, including by drug-resistant microbes.
Meanwhile, MeMed’s blood tests distinguish between bacterial and viral infections to help target correct treatment by decoding the body’s own immune response through the measurement of host proteins.
As communities try to tackle the challenge of mass screening to identify and isolate COVID-19 carriers, VocalZoom’s Polaro laser sensor technology uses spectral skin imaging to detect medical vital signs. Doing so enables non-invasive, rapid screening of possible COVID-19 symptoms in hospitals for real-time detection and triage of symptomatic individuals, and at mass transit hubs including airports and train terminals.
Beyond the immediate medical emergency, businesses, schools, colleges and sports arenas have closed around the world. Millions of people are confined to their homes to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Millions of people will temporarily stop earning an income and a countless number of businesses around the world may collapse.
Technology must step up to meet these challenges as well, and several OurCrowd companies are. Distance-learning technology like MagniLearn can step in during the suspension of school classroom learning. MaginLearn’s online personalized educational platform teaches English using natural language processing and computer intelligence to dynamically tailor instruction to each student according to their ability.
What about isolated people on medication, like diabetes patients? DreaMed Diabetes provides a personalized, cloud-based diabetes management solution that delivers optimal glycemic control to patients in their own homes without the need to attend a clinic.
Even before the virus struck, isolating the elderly in their homes or in care facilities, the ElliQ friendly virtual assistant from Intuition Robotics had been field tested for thousands of hours with excellent results. ElliQ reduces loneliness and helps isolated people, especially seniors, with routine but vital tasks such as reminding them to take their medication.
Even if you’re young and healthy, it is hard to stay fit when stuck at home. Kemtai’s home workout platform is a virtual interactive personal trainer that uses a standard laptop for enhanced home exercise routines that track progress and can be shared with friends online.
The business world will also have to adjust to a long period of dislocation and decentralization. As supply chains buckle and shift, the Freightos online freight logistics platform, already a major player in the world market, will come into its own, allowing dynamic chain supply management and rapid redeployment of supplies and resources at the touch of a button.
Hiring new staff is challenging. One solution is offered by Codility, a developer recruitment tool to assess applicants for programming engineer positions through online coding tests that help predict the real-life skills of candidates at scale.
Technology failed to predict or halt the current crisis, but technology will be an essential part of the solution.
Jason D. Greenblatt is a former assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations in the Trump administration. He is now a partner at OurCrowd, the world’s largest equity crowdfunding platform. Follow him on Twitter at @GreenblattJD.
Jon Medved is the Jerusalem-based founder and CEO of OurCrowd, the world’s largest equity crowdfunding platform. Follow him on Twitter at @jonmedved.