How Tech Can Help During COVID-19, From a Doctor Who Runs a Startup

It’s easy for founders to feel trapped when a global crisis like COVID-19 hits. Compared to the loss that others are facing, it can be difficult to focus on solving the problems related to your business, let alone focusing on scale.

Tech companies across Canada and the world can make a massive positive impact.

But Dr. Vipan Nikore, both a practicing medical doctor and startup founder, sees things differently. His belief is that tech companies across Canada and the world can make a massive positive impact, no matter what industry they’re in.

Speaking with BetaKit, Dr. Nikore shared how he’s building his company in the wake of COVID-19, and shared his suggestions for how entrepreneurs can make an impact in the middle of a crisis.

Fast, not lean

Dr. Nikore has a lot on his plate day-to-day. He’s the founder of home care marketplace startup Homecare Hub. He’s also a practicing doctor at Trillium Health Partners and Cleveland Clinic Toronto, a part-time professor at the University of Toronto School of Medicine, and TD Bank’s Chief Medical Director.

This busy schedule, he said, allows him to keep on top of issues in the world. So when his fledgling team of seven at Homecare Hub learned of COVID-19, they knew it would impact the business in a few notable ways. Dr. Nikore said that, in particular, the business had to stop being lean and start being fast.

“We had to accelerate things,” said Dr. Nikore. “We had this grand roadmap of things that we wanted to do – and a lot of them were 6-12 months down the road, or even a year-plus down the road. Some of them we had to put the gas on right now [because] this is what the world needs right now.”

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Dr. Nikore’s original goal was to build Homecare Hub’s marketplace functionality, find traction, raise money, and then attack the grander features of his roadmap. COVID-19 threw a wrench in those plans, and now the company is building additional, untested features like telehealth and explicit support for retirement homes.

“We were going to focus on the operational side, and we’re still doing that, but we had to divert some resources into that innovation and thinking piece,” he said.

Making an impact during a crisis

While Homecare Hub is in the healthtech space, making it well-positioned to respond to a health crisis, Dr. Nikore believes the way the company shifted applies to every tech startup looking to make an impact during COVID-19.

Change tactics, not mission

“Remember why you created your company in the first place,” said Dr. Nikore. “Eventually, we’ll get back to normal.”

Instead of making a fundamental business change, Dr. Nikore encourages startups to look at the scope of their mission or vision, seeing how they can help customers within that scope, as many in Canadian tech are already doing. For example, in Homecare Hub’s case, it became clear that patients who needed homecare also have trouble getting food delivered, so Homecare Hub is looking at partnerships with delivery services to ensure food access. In a non-healthcare startup, these changes could be more subtle, such as helping with remote work productivity or information management during COVID chaos.

“We’ve been thoughtful of what our scope is,” he said. “We’re not going to make a vaccine unless I had some magical way to make a vaccine.”

Look at downstream challenges

If your business is in a position to continue operating, build for the future.

“Think about all the people who are struggling from the economy being shut down, and all the measures that we’ve had to take in order to prevent the virus,” said Dr. Nikore. “Think about how we can help those people… the rest of the world outside of healthcare.”

From remote working and household management to financial and mental health, the world will be forever changed by COVID-19. Given the breadth of potential lasting effects, startups have many opportunities to build a helpful solution to a downstream problem.

Change scope only for unique impact

If your existing business infrastructure can help ease suffering during the crisis in a unique way, Dr. Nikore said it’s worth a temporary shift in your mission and operations scope. In the case of COVID-19, a noted shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers was something some Canadian tech firms have been able to pivot into manufacturing.

“I would go out of scope to be helpful, if it’s something that we are in a unique position to do better than most people,” said Dr. Nikore. “But not simply to say ‘I’m helping.’”

Now is not the time to be greedy

Riding on the heels of a bullish 2018 and 2019, Canadian tech was poised for more growth in 2020. COVID-19 all but ended that opportunity. For Dr. Nikore, though, there’s a silver lining: with growth off the table for most, building for the betterment of the world becomes the only viable option.

“This is a pandemic – let’s not think too much about dollars and cents,” said Dr. Nikore. “Just work on doing good things for the world.”

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While Dr. Nikore asks founders to remember their long-term visions for when the pandemic is over, in the meantime, he urges all people to come together as “citizens.” Unimpressed by COVID profiteers, especially around PPE, Dr. Nikore said they represent a small minority of the world.

“The better we come together to help the world, the sooner we can all get back to work normally,” he said. “When the world is in a good place, everyone will be in a better place to succeed.”

Stefan Palios

Stefan Palios

Stefan is a Nova Scotia-based entrepreneur and writer passionate about the people behind tech. He's interviewed over 200 entrepreneurs on topics like management, scaling, diversity and inclusion, and sharing their personal stories. Follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios.

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