This story is available exclusively on Business Insider Prime.
Join BI Prime and start reading now.
- More than 100 tech startups in Portugal have banded together to help the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- Portugal has so far suffered 33 deaths connected to COVID-19 and recorded more than 2,000 cases nationwide.
- Tech4Covid19 has recruited almost 4,000 volunteers, working on projects helping to house health workers, make thousands of medical visors using 3D printing, and analyze patient data.
- Amazon, Slack, and MailChimp have provided the group – which has been approached by governments and entrepreneurs around the world for advice – their services for free.
- Click here for more BI Prime stories.
More than 100 Portuguese tech startups have joined forces in an unprecedented effort to combat the novel coronavirus, recruiting thousands of volunteers from across the country and helping to coordinate the government response.
At the time of writing, Portugal has suffered 33 deaths from COVID-19, with more than 2,000 confirmed cases. Founders of the initiative say they felt compelled to take action after seeing how hard the virus hit Italy, where more than 6,000 people have died in a matter of months.
Porto, the second-largest city in Portugal, has become the nation’s tech capital over the last decade, with a growing number of startups securing seed investment locally before jetting off to the US to scale up.
Tech entrepreneur Felipe Avila da Costa has spearheaded the non-profit Tech4Covid19 movement, bringing together 120 companies and almost 4,000 volunteers in less than two weeks.
Da Costa is the cofounder and CEO of Infraspeak, a logistics startup whose clients include Siemens and Domino’s Pizza, and is a big name in Portugal’s tight-knit tech scene, having launched “Founders Founders“, a network for established and budding entrepreneurs, in 2016.
On Saturday, March 14, Da Costa and a group of friends with their own startups were exchanging messages about the crisis over WhatsApp. “We just thought: We have so many talented people at our disposal and resources to spare,” he said. “There had to be something we could do.”
Within days of putting the word out, the newly formed action group recruited 120 startups and an army of more than 3,000 volunteers from within the Porto and Lisbon ecosystems.
“It just grew exponentially,” says Joao Figueirinhas Costa, CEO of recruitment startup Humaniaks. “I’ve been putting all my energy into this. I work seven or eight hours a day while running my company at the same time.”
After just 12 days, Tech4Covid19 had as many major projects in progress, which include using 3D printers to boost the number of protective visors for doctors, helping the Ministry of Health better collect and analyze patient data, and sourcing safe housing for health workers infected by the virus.
Some volunteers are balancing their projects alongside their day jobs, while a select few have been allowed to dedicate themselves to the cause full-time while still being paid, with managers seeing the effort as a form of corporate responsibility.
Amazon, MailChimp, and Slack have offered their services free of charge, providing Tech4Covid19 with servers, group emails, and chat channels to help spread the message.
Although the Portuguese government was initially reluctant to usher the group into an active role, one project changed their minds within days.
Mario Mouraz is the cofounder and CEO of Climber, a firm that helps hotels use dynamic pricing to offer the best prices for available rooms. He drew on the network of hoteliers using his software to find free accommodation for doctors, nurses and other health workers, so they can avoid the risk of infecting their families at home.
Mouraz has so far found 120 places for them to stay –for free – prompting Portugal’s tourism board to set up a €200,000 ($216,000) fund to cover property owners’ bills, such as gas and electricity.
“Everything has moved so fast,” Mouraz told Business Insider. “Once they saw how effective we could be, I think it became clear it was worth getting us involved.”
The tech industry response isn’t quite so co-ordinated elsewhere.
In the US, Amazon and Microsoft have announced they are teaming up to help deliver testing kits, while Tesla CEO Elon Musk drew criticism for downplaying the threat before then stepping up to provide masks, protective kit, and ventilators.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has held talks with a number of startups, such as doctor app Babylon, blood-testing firm Thriva, Amazon, and food delivery firm Deliveroo, but their role going forward has yet to be clearly defined.
Entrepreneurs and governments around the world have reached out to Tech4Covid19 to ask for advice on replicating their success, Mouraz says, although he’s “not really able” to say who.
“Portuguese culture is built on helping one another,” he said. “Startups have been collaborating on projects together, organizing conferences, sharing expertise and experience…for the past ten years.
“If we didn’t have this infrastructure already in place, I don’t know how we would have pulled together so quickly.”
For more information on Tech4Covid19, visit their website here
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe