A message of ‘stay safe’ is being said and shared repeatedly these weeks, and it’s echoed across communities with great sincerity. As COVID-19 spreads to over 80 percent of countries around the globe, and the death toll climbs to nearly 10,000, it’s worth reminding one another to follow instructions from local healthcare workers and leading health officials like the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Slowing the spread of the virus and saving lives is the foremost concern, and it’s recommended all entrepreneurs read these important guidelines for protecting employees and your community provided by the WHO and CDC.
Startups are also worrying about the rising economic uncertainty that comes with a pandemic. The United Nations (UN) has warned that the outbreak could cost the global economy $1 trillion this year alone, and tech leaders from top firms including Sequoia Capital and Founder Institute are providing advice to startup founders about bracing ourselves for turbulence.
Here are some resources for startup founders and small business owners from the public, private and non-governmental sectors around the globe to consider during these tumultuous times.
Government support for startups during economic uncertainty
Business organizations and entrepreneurs across the globe have looked to their respective governments to provide financial tools and to take measures to help ease the shock to businesses from COVID-19. Though responses from administrations haven’t been forthcoming across the board, here’s a rundown of some of the most noteworthy initiatives.
For those at the initial epicenter, China’s approach has been to shift the burden onto local authorities, ordering that they lower barriers to startup loans. Entrepreneurs in Australia, meanwhile, can now access cash grants up to $25,000 in addition to other tax breaks.
In the United States, the Small Business Association (SBA) announced it will offer ‘disaster assistance loans for up to $2 million for small businesses affected by the coronavirus,’ and has also provided an express loan program for exporters whose overseas sales have been affected by COVID-19. Other valuable information for entrepreneurs can be found on SBA’s coronavirus webpage, and the association continues to pressure the government to lift regulations and make access to capital easier for startups and small businesses.
Elsewhere in Europe, governments are generally rushing to help stave off economic hardship for startups. France’s Minister of State for Digital Affairs recently unrolled a number of measures for companies including funding for payroll supplementation for employers who are forced to cut employees’ hours; special loans for businesses affected by the outbreak; and business mediation support for companies owed payment from customers, or companies who owe payments to banks and other financial institutions.
Italy, hardest hit by COVID-19 in Europe thus far, announced a €25 billion relief package which includes select resources for small businesses, including: tax credits up to € 20,000 annually. Officials in the Netherlands will increase availability of bank loans and guarantees for entrepreneurs as well as relax requirements for tax payment deferrals for affected companies.
Germany is increasing support for startups that encourage social distancing and offering unlimited loans from its state development bank, while the United Kingdom is offering to underwrite loans for affected businesses, among other measures.
Private sector support for entrepreneurs amid crisis
While governments in countries like the United States debate the details of stimulus packages to aid small businesses during the outbreak, corporate leaders are stepping up to the plate to take a crack at the problem.
Facebook announced they’ll soon be offering $100 million in cash grants and advertising credits for up to 30,000 small businesses in 30 countries in which the company operates. And Citibank has waived fees and penalties for qualified small businesses affected by the outbreak.
Kabbage, an online lender for small businesses, developed a website where customers can visit and buy gift certificates for small businesses to redeem after the crisis subsides. The businesses receive the cash immediately to help them stay afloat.
The Next Web also earlier today introduced its Coronavirus in Context newsletter.
As more and more cities invoke mandatory “stay at home orders,” startups are forced to improvise communication and collaboration hacks for their employees working remotely. Tech giants like Google, Zoom and Microsoft are giving free, limited-time access to conferencing and collaboration tools for business. Founder Institute, the world’s largest pre-seed accelerator, introduced free webinars that encourage the continuation of education while practicing social distancing.
Some companies are even thinking outside of the box for support to startups. For founders reeling from the psychological trauma of these stressful times, certain VC firms in Silicon Valley are even paying for therapy sessions for their portfolio founders, while Vottun, a blockchain solutions company, can help folks looking for work more quickly access and share their educational credentials to employers, regardless of their location due to lockdowns.
Support for startups on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight
It’s also worth noting the support that’s being offered to those tech entrepreneurs and teams brave enough to face the crisis head on, in hopes of helping beat it. The startup community has come out in force to help healthcare workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak. From algorithms swiftly suggesting treatment options, to robots disinfecting Chinese hospitals — where some 3,000 healthcare workers have already been infected — startups are increasingly joining the global effort to stop the spread of the virus.
For the frontline fighters in the startup community, there is a small but growing set of funding and other support available.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mastercard and Wellcome are trying to make funding more accessible to companies working on treatment options. They recently announced the launch of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator backed by $125 million in seed funding. And former Y Combinator President Sam Altman wrote in a blog post that he’s opened a fund for COVID-19-related projects as well. Founder Institute also recently announced its Public Health Fellowship, which encourages qualified entrepreneurs from around the globe working to cure, prevent, and mitigate threats to public health.
From the public sector, the European Commission has urged startups and small companies with technologies and innovations that could help in “treating, testing, and monitoring” the coronavirus outbreak to apply for fast-track funding. The bloc’s call for applications is part of its multimillion-euro European Innovation Council Accelerator program.
The AI for Good series, a “global and inclusive United Nations platform on AI,” backed by the International Telecommunication Union and XPRIZE Foundation among others, recently announced the launch of The Innovation Factory, a program to help scale companies using AI for social good. One of their partners, Omdena, is calling on AI entrepreneurs to help governments design data-driven policy via its coronavirus challenge.
And from the private sector, French cloud computing company OVHcloud is offering its existing customers free services if they’re working to develop “free solutions associated with remote working, collaborative tools and the healthcare sector.” Nigerian VC firm Ventures Platform tweeted it would offer five, USD $1,000 grants to local startups working to combat COVID-19 if they are approved by Nigeria’s Centres for Disease Control.
Ultimately, current estimates vary widely on when the coronavirus will abate. The economic impact could last for much longer than the actual health risk. We all must do our part to help stem the spread of the virus, first and foremost. And as founders, we must also do everything we can to help our employees, customers and communities through these trying times.
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