Startups

How startups are realigning edtech, healthtech, communications, other sectors with pandemic challenges

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The effects caused by the pandemic are probably here to stay and may cause changes to the way people function. (Photo source: IE)

  • By Dr Srikanth Sundararajan

All of us in our regular day jobs are used to interacting with others, be it customers, startups, partners, technologists, and product & industry experts. In normal times, this would entail traveling and meeting people, attending networking events, seminars, and other informal meetups. Well, the pandemic has put an end to all of this. No travel, no face-to-face meetups without any accompanying safety measures. I must confess, the first two-three months were tough, dealing with people on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, WebEx conference calls, WhatsApp groups, email follow-ups, and one-on-one chats, etc. Kind of surreal! Then it dawned upon us that the pandemic was here to stay for much longer and these changes in our behaviour with respect to our work as well as spending more time at home in safer environments were also here to stay!

There was a realization that without the commute to work and the coordination for in-person meetings which can potentially cause delays, there was a significant improvement in productivity. However, the new work schedules required frequent breaks, routine family interactions, and a focus on mental & physical health. Amidst all of these personal work challenges and approaches that were going around, one can only wonder what would be some of the industry sectors that would benefit from a technology and investment standpoint during the Pre-COVID and Post COVID time. The fintech and insuretech segments have a well-established use of digital technologies as well as e-commerce & food–delivery platforms which have shown that they have done exceedingly well. However, there are certain industry sectors that will need to realign with the challenges posed by the pandemic, in terms of the nature of operations, skills required, and adoption of technology. Here are a set of perspectives on how certain sectors will be impacted.

Sectoral Impact: Communication Technology – The Enabler!

The primary area would be the companies that are into communication technologies, those that enable interactions. The last mile connectivity in India has been historically weak and the pandemic added a large quantum on it with a  majority of people working from home. Innovative companies such as Lavelle Networks, Aryaka Networks (specialist in SD-WAN optimization) can help deliver the required performance to digital businesses as well as the employee-communication infrastructure.

EdTech

The next area to be impacted is education, a segment that is directly related and subsequent to telecommunications. Companies such as Zoom and an Indian startup called Airmeet are focused on one-to-many communication in the context of events, such as seminars, lectures, etc. This could further provide the necessary impetus to online education technology platforms such as Simplilearn, Eruditus, INurture, TalentSprint, and BYJUs, as they can license their platform and focus on content & pedagogy. The teachers will also require a certain level of training to be able to utilize these platforms and technologies effectively.

Last Mile Problems

The challenges in the last mile optimization are being dealt with optimization based on application preferences and deep packet inspection, for the end-user as well as the employer. Indian companies such as Outpost Networks are working in this space. This enables a robust and secure corporate communications network in the Work from Home (WFH) or Work from Anywhere scenarios. With the advent of 5G and the upgrade of the digital infrastructure (towers and optimized network), there will be greater availability of bandwidth. However, the last mile solution will need to mature by the SD-WAN optimization players as well as the last mile bandwidth optimization players.

Also read: E-commerce value growth remains flat in Q4 2020 amid surge in small-town buyers, low-value goods

Manufacturing and Healthcare

The manufacturing segment has also made a lot of progress in terms of automation and the ability to monitor plans and predict failures of components well ahead of time. Startups like Altizon and Infinite Uptime are able to collect data and leverage the advancements in computing power by carrying out complex calculations based on Fast Fourier Transforms. They have the ability to filter tons of data and send it to the cloud to improve their predictive models. Baseline models today sit at the edge thanks to powerful edge processors. A Hyderabad based startup, Ecvinox, is focused on building specialized CCU processors with the ability to improve compute power of algorithms often required for image recognition and other complex tasks, all performed at the edge as opposed to round-tripping of inferences to and back from the cloud.

Dozee, a healthcare startup in Bangalore, is focused on building solutions that are based on non-invasive patient monitoring based on vibrations. The collation, filtering, and alignment of data to a model are done at the edge, and appropriate interventions are enabled. This is crucial to healthcare since we are already faced with an acute shortage of healthcare workers. Companies like eKincare and DocsApp are also making progress via their digital healthcare platforms – enabling online doctor consults. Sigtuple and Sigmoid are companies that are using ML refined models and AI to help with complex diagnoses; Sigmoid is able to enhance poor quality images from X-rays, and CT scans (low-end machines) and provide radiologists with markers. Similarly, the manufacturing sector is suffering from a shortage of workforce, where companies like Infinite Uptime and Altizon are capable of providing support.

Long Term View

The effects caused by this pandemic are probably here to stay and may cause changes to the way people function. Industries such as education, manufacturing, and healthcare will have to leverage innovations that are aimed at digitization, communication, and automation to be precise. Agritech as a segment will also see similar advancement, at a slower pace. Companies like Fasal, Ninjakart, and AIBoni are already making moves in this space with technology as a differentiator.

Then comes a critical question, how will the workforce adapt? No shortcuts here, they will have to be retrained; companies like Orion Edutech are focused on upskilling grey collar workers in newer areas, for example, working with consoles and enabling data-driven interventions as it applies to manufacturing and healthcare. Orion also works with companies like the UrbanCompany by helping them train the labour pool in areas like plumbing, electrical work, and other areas.

Jobs are also going to morph in the white-collar segments like financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, education – where the ability to monitor data, which would lead to efficient decision making will be fundamental. Upskilling and learning providers like Upgrad, Simplilearn, Edruditus are already offering courses through employers so that their respective workforces are better enabled for the future. In conclusion, these are exciting times for technology providers and the pandemic will ensure that we are forced to adopt these advancements in many different ways, both in our work lives and at home!

Dr Srikanth Sundararajan is General Partner at VenturEast. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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