Rise of the Underdog
By Shweta Shrivastava, Date published: 2020-10-13
By StartWright Business Solutions
6 months since its outbreak in late 2019, we are witnessing adverse impact of Covid-19 on businesses and the economy. Several companies are on the brink of bankruptcy and others may follow suit. Massive degrowth, decline in market cap and loss of jobs is inevitable across most sectors. On the other hand, the tech sector is poised for growth. In our latest article, we focus on the not-so-obvious front running tech sectors like E-comm, Edutech, Insurtech, Fintech etc. But on certain tech sectors that have been around for a while but always played in a ‘niche’ territory. For these 5 sectors, the pandemic has provided a silver lining and helped to catapult them to an unforeseen growth trajectory. And, 2020 may well be the year when these sectors rise and shine in an otherwise bleak business scenario.
The exponential transmission rate of Covid-19 pandemic disease has led to an environment of social isolation. The patients are not going to hospitals unless it is an emergency. This has led to loss of business at several established hospitals and health clinics. But their loss is the gain of Telemedicine, a sector that has been around for quite some time. For the uninitiated, Telemedicine, or telehealth means remote delivery of healthcare from doctors to patients, via live video, chat, online prescriptions, and medicine delivery. Telemedicine not only facilitates the patients’ consultation in the sanitised confine of their homes, but also helps to increase productivity of the hospitals in reaching substantially more patients without adding those many doctors.
Despite being a great concept, Telemedicine did not quite pick up as the patient quintessentially wanted to see the doctor physically and the same went true for the doctor.
The global market for telemedicine has already seen a growth spurt in the last 2 months, with shares in Teladoc, the sector’s only publicly traded firm, have doubled in value since the start of the year while the S&P 500 is down about 30% in the same period. French firm Doctolib SAS has seen an 18-fold jump in the number of video consultations since March. In the US, Telemedicine startup, CirrusMD raised $15 million in a series B VC funding earlier this month. Closer home, Doctor Anywhere, a Singapore based telemedicine startup has raised $27 million in a series B funding round in March of this year. According to APAC Healthtech Funding Report by Galen Growth Asia, Telemedicine recorded 8.5 times increase in funding value in Q1 2020, the biggest deal value increase compared to same period last year. So, the signs are clear that Telemedicine is finally poised for the growth that has hitherto eluded it, provided the players work on long term retention of both doctors and patients on their platform.
2. Virtual Reality
The exact origins of virtual reality are disputed, but concept of an alternative existence or virtual reality has existed from as early as the mid-19th century! The term ‘virtual reality’ was popularised by Jaron Lanier, founder of VPL Research in 1985. VPL licensed the DataGlove technology to Mattel, which used it to make the PowerGlove, an early affordable VR device.
The 1990s saw the first widespread commercial releases of consumer headsets to gaming and later, 3D Cinema and theme parks. However, the last 20 years have seen relative public and investment indifference to commercially available VR technologies with few exceptions like Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion or Samsung giving away Oculus headsets with its phones in 2017.
The slow VR adoption is because of health and safety concerns around this technology, especially due to prolonged use and its adverse impacts especially among children. From the perspective of early adopters, comfort of the gear wearability and qualitative content variety have limited a stronger take-off of VR. Even when Samsung gave away 3.65 million headsets for free with its phones in 2017, only about a third of the owners were regularly using them. Cost-effectiveness for business has been limited due to slow adoption and also its focus largely on entertainment and gaming.
However, in 2020, the world may find VR branch out to sectors other than entertainment and gain from sectors adversely impacted due to the environment of social isolation created by Covid19. Some examples that come to mind are using VR to vicariously tour the world, thereby gaining from the decline in tourism and travel industry; or VR applications to conduct weddings online. People have already taken to Zoom and online meetings in a big way. But workspaces need a lot more applications than just online meetings. So, a widespread application of VR can be simulating real workspaces, especially for occupational safety and health purposes, educational purposes, and training purposes, especially for future architects, engineers and medical professionals. It can be used to provide learners with a virtual environment where they can develop their skills without the real-world consequences of failing.
VR may also branch out into alternative channel for digital marketing and, particularly in an environment where people thronging at physical stores has taken a back seat. VR applications to diverse industries can be of great utilitarian value to consumers on one hand. On the other, it may help to mitigate its excessive dependence on gaming and entertainment segments for growth. Of course, such large scale expansion requires cost effective and easy to use solutions both from a software and hardware perspective.
Drones being used to provide surveillance in Lockdown or Circuit breaker situations or robots used to sanitise malls and workplaces, provide a clear insight into the world we are heading to. Robotics and automation have long provided large scale productivity improvement in manufacturing and related sectors. But the Covid-19 crisis has made essential, the use and application of this technology to several other sectors like surveillance, deliveries, sanitisation, and supply chain execution.
Tech companies such as JD.com and others are getting more robots out to deliver medical supplies within healthcare environments or delivering essential items to online buyers quarantined at home. Alibaba’s local delivery app, Ele.me used robots to deliver meals to quarantined individuals held in a hotel who were suspected of having the virus. At the Wuchang field hospital, a ward was staffed with 5G-powered robots to not only help alleviate the strain on human personnel but to contain the contagion.
MicroMultiCopter Aero Technology, a Chinese tech enterprise, deployed more than 100 drones to many Chinese cities that could patrol areas and observe crowds, traffic and also identify those not wearing masks in public spaces. Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), has developed drones for disinfection of larger areas, and drones equipped with infrared cameras to help in thermal screening of groups without human intervention and identify suspected COVID-19 cases. Another IIT has developed a trunk-shaped device fitted with ultraviolet germicidal irradiation technology, which is placed at doorsteps to sanitise all items brought from outside including grocery and currency notes.
In the post Covid world, the time for companies to transform their supply chains with robotic technology is now. Amazon has already proven that there is tremendous value to be gained using robotics within its fulfilment centre. From robotic process automation to self-guiding, Robotics can provide significant improvements in productivity, efficiency, safety, fulfilment rates, and ultimately, customer satisfaction.
Drones and Robots have provided the most expedient and safe way to grapple with the Covid-19 outbreak and limit contamination and spread of the virus. The only drawback would be this means loss of several blue-collar jobs and hence governments will have to carefully weigh the pros and cons of large-scale use of robotics in the post Covid world. However, the job market has always evolved with changing technology and people have upskilled themselves to gain a higher share of income from new sectors in the long run. So, hopefully it will be a glass half full.
4. Online Enrichment classes
Enrichment classes have been the biggest losers in the lockdown posed by Covid-19. Unlike regular schooling and education, enrichment classes are not considered essential services by either the authorities or by the consumers. Hence, the future of brick and mortar enrichment classes seems bleak at least for a year or two. So, this is a great opportunity for enrichment classes to go online. But existing Enrichment class providers are facing the conundrum of neither having the right infrastructure for conducting classes online, nor the right training for its teachers. On the other hand, this is a great opportunity for a platform to bring together enrichment providers and seekers from all over the world, rather than focus on just the current students of the existing brick and mortar enrichment classes, most of which target kids. For some time now, brands have been talking to consumers for ‘living their dreams’ or ‘discovering their hidden passions’. There is no reason why the adults, who wish to embark upon learning a new hobby, a new language, or playing an instrument cannot be tapped via online enrichment classes. Time management has been a big problem in adulthood, where one’s hobbies and zeal to learn something new takes a backseat. This problem can be addressed by online Enrichment classes. Few players are like beMyJinee are trying to get the dreamers and coachers together on their platform. Other than that, this opportunity is largely untapped and ripe for growth, if targeted via a strong platform that brings varied enrichment classes to enrichment seekers of all ages and passions, from across the world.
5. Online Gaming
Modern gaming platforms on PCs, consoles and mobile devices span many genres, including first-person shooters, strategy games and massively multiplayer online role-playing games. In addition to being fun, playing video games can reduce stress, lighten depression, increase vision, improve the ability to multi-task and improve decision-making skills. However, the flipside of Online gaming has long scared the common masses and prevented parents ‘allowing’ the kids from lapping up online gaming in a big way. The side effects of online gaming are linked to obesity, poor grades, addiction, and depending upon the game, cyberbullying or increased aggressive or violent behaviour.
However, in the post Covid-19 world, the social aspect of virtual gaming has risen to public awareness. Online gaming is allowing people social interaction from a safe distance. Multiplayer games have highlighted the boon of gaming, in that being at home does not have to mean seclusion. Instead, in online gaming, they are finding a way to reconnect with friends and even make new ones. Time spent on games has dramatically increased, more people are playing online games and more gaming companies are cashing in on the rising interest.
Casual gamers are turning serious and online gaming is no longer restricted to the ‘nerds’ or ‘geeks’. Thus, online gaming is being democratised with more and more demographic user profiles joining the online gaming bandwagon primarily led by mobile gaming. There is a trend of traditional games like Ludo and Scrabble made available online with multiplayer feature, which are responsible for increased adoption into online gaming without the usual negative halo around gaming. With that emotional barrier to gaming gone, one can only hope that this sector will continue to grow leaps and bounds with more and more innovative ways to enlist and engage the ever-increasing online gaming community.
Clearly, Covid-19 pandemic has given a fresh impetus to these sectors and they are here to stay- provided the innovators look at this window of opportunity with a long-term view. The consumer will adopt to this new normal and will continue to do so, if these sectors continue to offer them value much beyond the Covid-19 pandemic is over. With that hope, I sign off!
Disclaimer 1: The article focuses on the not-so-obvious front running tech sectors like E-comm, Edutech, Insurtech, Fintech etc or OTT since they outgrew the ‘niche’ definition way before this article was written.
Disclaimer 2: The name ‘underdog’ has been used loosely to highlight the ‘niche’ sectors. The intent is not to downplay the burgeoning popularity of ‘Robotics’ or ‘Gaming’ or similar sectors which, strictly speaking, do not fit the definition of ‘underdog’. So pardon me for want of a better description for the intent of this article 🙂
Shweta Shrivastava is a senior Marketing and Strategy leader turned start-up mentor. Having served as Marketing Head across large multinational companies, Shweta is currently an Investor & advisor to health and consumer tech start-ups in the Asian markets. Passionate about the intersection of healthcare and technology in democratising healthcare, Shweta features her blogs at StartWright Insights page. To get more updates on upcoming trends in healthtech and consumer tech, please follow her on linkedin
This article does not constitute legal advice.
The opinions expressed in the column above represent the author’s own.