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Yes, small businesses are suffering – but some are helping to fight coronavirus

By March 20, 2020No Comments

(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

The coronavirus pandemic is turning economies and our daily lives upside down. Some larger companies that provide home entertainment, hand sanitizers, delivery services, pharmaceutical research and even toilet paper (who would’ve guessed?) are poised to take advantage. But it’s not just these large companies that are benefiting and looking for ways to help.

Challenging times can create opportunities for some small businesses too. And while many of my smaller clients are struggling, and no one is happy about their financial portfolios nowadays, some entrepreneurs are finding themselves in a better financial situation just because of the types of products and services they sell. Here are a few examples.

Revenues at PhoneSoap, a Utah-based company that makes devices to clean phones and other items with UV light, have grown more than 1,000% year over year in just the past week. Co-founder and president Dan Barnes told TechCrunch that the company’s not into backorders yet, but expects to be soon. CleanSlate UV, another company doing similar things for “device hygiene”, has also been seen their sales explode.

In Seattle, the team at Slightly Robot is now selling an iPhone and Android app designed for wearable devices for $50 that encourages users not to touch their face. Called Immutouch, the app was first designed for people that suffered from compulsive hair pulling, skin picking and fingernail biting. “We’re not looking to make money,” one of the founders, Justin Ith, told GeekWire. “We are selling each unit nearly at cost, accounting for cost of materials, fabrication, assembly and handling. We are a small team with limited upfront capital so we have to order components in small batches. Our hope is that as more people show reception to the idea, we can order larger quantities, reduce the price and make it more accessible.”

The Wall Street Journal reported this week on Biofourmis, a Boston-based company that gathers information from patients using a special sensor and then leverages its proprietary artificial intelligence-based analytics to identify changes in their health. The technology can be administered remotely and would play an important role in determining if a person’s condition is deteriorating because of coronavirus, or other viruses and diseases. The company hopes to enroll up to a thousand quarantined people in Hong Kong for monitoring in the next few weeks.

A Seattle teenager has built an amazing Covid-19 tracking website that has become wildly popular. The site, which scrapes data from reliable sources around the world, provides up-to-the-minute statistics on confirmed cases, serious cases, deaths and recoveries by country. “I am getting 1,000 messages a day,” 17-year-old Avi Schiffman told the Times of Israel. “Some are from people thanking me for the site, some are from media outlets reaching out for interviews, and many are from PhDs who have suggestions for information I could add.” Schiffman’s not making any money on the site, which has been visited by more than 12 million people since it launched in December. But given the number of offers he’s getting I’m betting he’ll be doing well in the future.

As many companies are having their employees work from home, big collaboration apps like Zoom (which has added more videoconferencing users this year than in all of 2019 thanks to coronavirus), Microsoft Teams and Slack are seeing increased usage. But many smaller players such as FridayFreeConferenceCallBrandliveBluescape and LogMeIn are also experiencing dramatic demand for their services, according to another report in TechCrunch.

Companies big and small that provide telemedicine services are now finding themselves in demand. One example is AmWell, a Boston-based telehealth provider that already serves more than 150 million individuals across 55 health plans, is seeing an opportunity to expand its reach. “Telehealth is being rediscovered,” Dr Peter Antall, the chief medical officer, told the New York Times. “Everybody recognizes this is an all-hands-on-deck moment. We need to scale up wherever we can.” Other telehealth companies such as RoTeladoc and MDLive are providing free online assessments to help patients diagnose Covid-19, according to a recent report from Fast Company.

I’m just scratching the surface here. The coronavirus pandemic is a major issue and people are dying because of it. Let’s be careful and kind. And let’s also be grateful that there are many entrepreneurs and small businesses who are already helping to fight this battle.

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