• Ekin Gunaysu

How Are the Bay Area Accelerators Responding to COVID-19?

Updated: Jun 26

Apart from its sunny weather, diversity, liberal politics and high-tech industry, the Bay Area is known for its start-up accelerators which are crucial for California’s innovation ecosystem. While they differ in execution, these accelerators typically provide education, mentorship, and financing to early-stage companies for a period of three to six months, in exchange for equity in the company.[1] Though the amount of funding and equity can vary a lot, the companies can expect to receive $100,000-$150,000, in return for 5-7% equity.

As most of the accelerators in the Bay Area continue to carry out their programs virtually in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, they have been looking for start-ups to scale emerging solutions to address the global pandemic. Considering the possibility of having a second wave of contagion in the future, the investors are also becoming increasingly interested in healthcare and remote work solutions.[2] In addition, California’s poor record in COVID-19 testing compared to the other states in the US is just another reason for accelerators to support health-tech companies, particularly focusing on diagnosing the virus and testing for antibodies.[3] From remote testing to supporting frontline healthcare staff, dozens of start-ups in the healthcare industry are being supported by the accelerators throughout the Bay Area.

Y- Combinator (YC) is one of the top accelerators in the world, with more than 25 startups in its portfolio specifically helping with the COVID-19 crisis. For instance, Luminostics, accelerated by YC, has developed a hardware and software platform used on smartphones for home testing. The technology, compatible with most smartphone models, is designed to detect or measure bacteria, viruses, proteins, and hormones from swabs, saliva, urine, and blood.[4] The company is developing a 15-minute point-of-care test to diagnose active COVID-19 infection through respiratory samples and detect antibodies from finger-stick blood to test for COVID-19 immunity.[5]

As testing is one of the major indicators, experts are tracking to determine how prepared the Bay Area is to open up, emerging technology for more efficient population-scale testing has become increasingly vital. Opentrons, another YC start-up focused on large-scale testing, develops lab robots for biologists. The company has been installing lab automation systems that can process up to 2,400 tests per day, and so far, they have deployed more than 50 robots to labs in the US and Europe.[6]

Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been a major challenge for hospitals to find and purchase masks and ventilators as the suppliers have struggled to keep up with the surging demand for medical equipment. Medinas Health is a Berkeley-based healthcare tech startup, accelerated by YC, providing management and logistics services for hospitals to facilitate their asset disposition. Through its wide manufacturer network, the company has been supplying hospitals with medical equipment, mainly masks and ventilators. Medinas has provided the US hospitals with more than 18mm masks since March 20.[7]

Berkeley SkyDeck is another top accelerator, located right next to one of the world’s leading hubs of innovation and education, UC Berkeley. Ariadne Maps is one of its Spring 2020 cohort companies that seeks to utilize its technology to contain the contagion more efficiently. Ariadne uses artificial intelligence for precise and anonymous tracking of passengers and customers in publicly accessible areas. By tracking people inside buildings in real time, it enables visitors to observe the safety distance of 3.2-6.5 feet (1-2 meters) with each other to avoid the contagion. It also allows for contact tracing of individuals diagnosed with the coronavirus by reconstructing their movements for up to 2 weeks within a given space. The technology is especially useful for venue administrators who would be able to monitor the movement of their employees diagnosed with the virus, and identify the persons who might have been infected recently. [8]

500 Startups and Plug and Play are also among the top Bay Area accelerators that have a wide-ecosystem of health-tech companies spread throughout the world, seeking to address COVID-19 crisis. For instance, Carbon Health, a portfolio company of 500 Startups, is providing free COVID-19 assessments through its app as well as virtual telemedicine where the patients can discuss their symptoms. The patients can also book an appointment online, visit COVID-19 testing clinic stops throughout the Bay Area without waiting in line and get tested.[9] OhmniLabs, is another 500 Startups company that deploys “telepresence robots” in hospitals to connect COVID-19 patients with their families. The robot also allows healthcare staff to monitor and treat patients remotely, reducing its virus exposure.[10] Life 365, accelerated by Plug and Play, provides a digital health platform to serve special patient populations throughout the US. The company integrates devices, software applications, and patient engagement tools to reduce the overall cost of care, and improve the access to care for patients across the country.[11]

Medical technology has a crucial role in testing who may have been in contact with COVID-19, protecting healthcare professionals at the frontlines and making treatment services accessible to everyone. As startup financing has been disrupted due to the economic shut-down, accelerators seem to be vital actors in supporting businesses that protect lives, support communities and keep the economy going.

[1] Creamades, Alejandro. (2019, January 10). How Startup Accelerators Work. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alejandrocremades/2019/01/10/how-startup-accelerators-work/#66e5b77244cd Hathaway, Ian. (2016, March 1). What Startup Accelerators Really Do. Harward Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/03/what-startup-accelerators-really-do [2] 500 Startups Survey Results. (n.d.). https://survey.500.co/investor-survey-report-download/ [3] Brimelow, Max. (2020, May 18). Why Researchers Hope to Test High-Risk Groups in California. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/18/us/california-testing-for-covid-coronavirus.html [4] Luminostics. (n.d.). Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from https://luminostics.com/ [5] YC Companies Responding to COVID-19. (n.d.). Y Combinator. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from https://www.ycombinator.com/covid [6] YC Companies Responding to COVID-19. (n.d.). Y Combinator. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from https://www.ycombinator.com/covid [7] YC Companies Responding to COVID-19. (n.d.). Y Combinator. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from https://www.ycombinator.com/covid [8] Our Proposal To Coronavirus Outbreak. (n.d.). Ariadne. Retrieved on May 30, 2020 from https://ariadnemaps.com/coronavirus-response/ [9] Doing Our Part to Fight COVID-19. (n.d.). Carbon Health. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from https://carbonhealth.com/coronavirus [10] Healthcare. (n.d.). OhmniLabs. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from https://ohmnilabs.com/solutions/healthcare/ [11] Dicks, Kent. (2018, May 22). Life365 and American Medical Response (AMR) to Offer Enhanced Care to Patients at Home. Life 365. https://www.life365.health/post/life365-and-american-medical-response-amr-to-offer-enhanced-care-to-patients-at-home

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