How the Covid-19 Pandemic May Shape Our Future

The global pandemic has exposed several medical, public health, societal, and even structural limitations some of which are likely to see an increased focus during and after the pandemic ...

Published first on LinkedIn in March 2020

The global pandemic has exposed several medical, public health, societal, and even structural limitations some of which are likely to see an increased focus during and after the pandemic - presenting opportunities for investors, entrepreneurs, tech. companies, and startups.

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change" - paraphrased quote attributed to Charles Darwin

Covid-19 is a tragedy that has exposed some gaps in preparedness and management that are opportunities for innovation and change

The Covid-19 pandemic is a human tragedy and a catastrophic event of scale we have not witnessed in recent history. Time will tell whether this will be the watershed event of our lifetime but one thing is clear that neither the public health institutions nor governments (developed or developing) or the private sector were prepared for this and the ripples it has caused. Necessity is the mother of invention or innovation and Covid-19 pandemic will bring to light not only some opportunities for improvement and innovations but could fundamentally change the fabric of society and bring about structural changes to institutions, markets and the metropolitan living model.

A matrixed view of opportunities and changes

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Opportunities in pandemic management

The Covid-19 crisis is expected to last at least 2 seasons in the northern hemisphere. In order to manage the situation now and when normal life and business start getting back there are a few capabilities that need urgent development and mass availability:

1) Smart and verifiable tracking of current and past infections (immunity) with Immunoglobulins - Besides therapeutics and other treatments, in order to restrict spread through travel, a verifiable registry (perhaps blockchain based) of individual IgG/IgM against the pathogen could be used as a check for travel (Temperature and symptom checks obviously have failed)

2) Sharing economy models for healthcare on Telehealth is already happening with doctors helping hospitals across state line. Ride share companies like Uber and Lyft or EHR/Telehealth providers could rapidly implement a provider discovery and treatment service to address surge capacity needs in pandemic hotspots

3) GTech or G2B/G2C tech is government (all levels) using the power of tech to reach people and small businesses (and other governments) to provide accurate information, assistance, stimulus and disaster loans (instant workflow capital access). While this is already happening, the Government agencies like SBA could leverage unused fintech capacity and fintech innovations like alternative credit decisioning, blockchain and data aggregators to streamline their current processes.

Modernization of Healthcare with Smart Telehealth, AI, Robotics and edge devices for Dx

1) Digital and AI technology adoption in health care is quite lagging compared to other industries. We are close to having autonomous driving vehicles or know more about the the temperature and pressure of atmospheres of planets billions of miles away yet a medical provider can't measure quantitatively the symptoms like temperature and blood pressure of a Telehealth patient a few miles away (instead Telehealth implementation focus is on ensuring HIPAA compliance) let alone a CT scan of their lungs to assess the severity of high contagious infection. Covid-19 will likely see the modernization of health care with Digital, AI, Robots and edge instruments (like sensors connected to mobile phones and wearable that can provide facesheet of a patient). Opportunities are endless including things that are relevant to the pandemic we are in like leveraging Robots for swabs and intubation. It is conceivable that mobile phones and wearables will become mobile hospital pods allowing for effective distance care.

2) Immunogenic treatment as EpiPen for mass use for the vulnerable - blood plasma derived therapeutics like providing antibody from recovered healthy to vulnerable population to develop a strong immune response that can be made available like EpiPen shots. For example, an immune compromised patient when accidentally exposed to a pathogen and developing symptoms or other indicators (like IgM) can be given a shot of antibodies to augment their immune system. This would require studies, approvals and distribution but could be a lifesaver if it works for the most vulnerable amongst us.

Supply chain resiliency and 3-D printing based manufacturing for critical pandemic supplies

1) Permissioned blockchain networks of supply chain have already added transparency and efficiencies. While the adoption of these are in pockets, a macro blockchain based supply chain system for key food and medical items that provides transparency and ability to dynamically alter in response to pandemics or other disasters will improve the preparedness of the supply chain for disasters like this.

2) The Defense Production Act that President Trump invoked was enacted in 1950 in response to the needs of then Korean war. Manufacturing and production have changed in the 70 years and with technologies such as 3-D printing, why can't we have 3-D printing capabilities for N95 masks and even other medical equipments with inventory challenges. A modern version of Defense Production Act needs to address 3-D printing capabilities across the nation.

Immersive distance learning with VR/AR

In this new normal, students of all ages are becoming intimately familiar with distance learning (via Zoom, Google Meet and other digital collaboration tools or online education portals like Khan Academy, Udemy etc). The opportunity here is to augment distance learning with immersive learning like how a student would learn in a lab. (credit to Jim Blair at DVC for bringing this up). Zoom is worth $40 Billion (at a P/E ratio of 1800+ which is crazy) but the startup that creates immersive learning experiences integrated with MOOCs may well beat that by multiples.

It is conceivable that several conferences and expos this year will pivot to an immersive digital event format. iValley, the host and producer of FINTECHTALK™, the intersection of silicon valley and financial services event, is exploring such an immersive production in fall of 2020.

Decongesting metropolitan spaces - reducing population density

We don't have to be a data scientist to conclude that the most vulnerable places especially in the U.S. have been the metropolitan areas like New York City. High population density, network of public transportation, large number travelers in and out provides fertile ground for pathogen spreads. While we don't expect high density metros to go away anytime soon, city planners and government agencies will be looking at pandemic control codes in the future. I have always wondered if high density metros are also fundamentally less sustainable as they result in huge movements of food, materials and energy from points of productions.

Resiliency of markets

March 2020 saw equity markets throughout the world lose multiple trillion of dollars in a matter of days (some of which has been recreated in the recent rallies). While the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting social distancing was going to affect several businesses, most of the reaction in the markets was due to emotions and not fundamentals (and maybe some senators and billionaires moving to cash positions on non public information). There are circuit breakers in markets which get triggered by at thresholds and too much control in a free market may not be the right thing to do but one has to wonder in this age of algorithmic, high frequency trading, do markets need to be more immune to emotion and track to financial fundamentals.

Rethinking National security

What are the defense and intelligence capabilities that need to be developed to combat future threats from adversaries that may plan things resembling a Covid-19 attack. I am sure this is an area of focus for defense and intelligence agencies. Bio threats, cyber-security threats, supply chain disruptions will become paramount national security considerations.

This pandemic will indisputably shape our future and the areas we focus as communities, nations and the human race. Reminds me of the lines from the great Bob Dylan song The Times They Are A Changing

"Come gather 'round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown And accept it that soon You'll be drenched to the bone. If your time to you Is worth savln' Then you better start Swimmin' Or you'll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin'."

Out of great tragedies comes great purpose and will. Are we ready?

Paddy Ramanathan is Founder and Managing Director of the iValley Innovation Center in the East San Francisco bay area. iValley Innovation Center (http://www.ivalley.co) is a corporate venture studio and host of FINTECHTALK™. iValley's mission is to incubate and catalyze the development of big ideas and innovation.


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