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London and Berlin Startups Pivot in Response to COVID-19

By Julia Neuman | Startup Life

The Bridge is a series of articles exploring connections between the European tech capitals of Berlin and London supported through our partnership with London & Partners.

Resilience is a key skill for entrepreneurs and startups – one that they typically exercise on a daily basis in the ever-changing tech landscape. But few of us could have imagined the resilience and resourcefulness that have sprung up from companies over the last couple of months in response to Covid-19. 

We’ve seen healthcare startups building in-demand features in less than a week, brand new initiatives popping up to support local businesses and large-scale collaborations coming together to combat challenges such as lack of critical supplies and increased unemployment rates.

We’ve also witnessed some of the most remarkable pivots we may ever see in our lifetime – that is, companies fundamentally altering the course of their foreseeable business operations. Transformed transportation, repurposed factories, reimagined technologies – at this point, the list of Covid-related pivots is long and all over the map as companies rise to the challenge. 

Let’s take a moment to explore some of the best, most innovative, unlikeliest and most helpful pivots that have taken place in both Berlin and London – two of Europe’s biggest tech hubs showing their resilience in the face of the crisis.


Berlin

Tech Open Air, a multi-disciplinary tech and arts festival, is using its resources for a new health accelerator.

One of Europe’s most multi-faceted tech conferences has always taken a cross-disciplinary approach, blending technology, arts and lifestyle innovation into one event. With the forced cancellation of the annual summer conference, the Tech Open Air (TOA) team joined up with the founders of the brand new accelerator, GesundZusammen (meaning ‘Healthy Together’), to launch an accelerator program called FuturePerfect. At first glance, the pivot seems an unlikely choice. But on closer inspection it makes perfect sense: healthcare solutions that are truly effective on a global scale take cross-collaboration between many different sectors. That’s what the accelerator aims to do: support long-term transformations in healthcare through a well-rounded, supportive approach. London & Partners Germany are also supporting as a local Ambassador Partner of the TOA Accelerator.

“We know from our experience what it takes for an idea to become a widely used product and service,” TOA founder Niko Woischnik told Silicon Allee. “With these partners involved, we thought we could drum the beat for these ideas and help get them off the ground.”

BerlKönig, a rideshare van service, is now offering service exclusively for healthcare workers.

The ridesharing service from European mobility startup ViaVan and the BVG (Berlin’s public transport authority), BerlKönig, is now offering its services for free and exclusively to health workers. It’s also operating in an expanded zone within the city to ensure that no workers are left out. 

Chris Snyder, CEO of ViaVan, said about the pivot: “Digitally-enabled transport services like the BerlKönig can play a key role in allowing public transport to adapt to demand amidst rapidly changing situations.” Indeed, the pivot is a prime example of how technology can help transform existing infrastructure into a supportive lifeline in times of crisis. 

ArtNight’s offline workshops have become online tutorials that combat creative slumps and social isolation woes. 

Cultural landmarks and meetup spots may be closed, but art is still thriving. Founded in Berlin, ArtNight helps artistically-minded people gather to create in over 80 cities in five countries. Normally, it helps organize small gatherings and interactive workshops in trendy bars and restaurants. During COVID-19, the company pivoted its offline-based business model to an online tutorial-driven marketplace. Now, those who are in social isolation but are itching to be creative have a place to learn and practice new artistic skills as part of an engaged, passionate community. 

Events admission and ticketing expert Connfair has adapted its technology to create supermarket traffic lights.  

With supermarkets around the world remaining open, it only makes sense that technology would play a role in regulating entrance into these stores. What better expert to create this type of gadget than a maker of event admission technology? Connfair has pivoted from its events admission focus to creating traffic lights and management solutions for supermarkets. Its customer flow solution aims to help fight the unnecessary spread of the virus by ensuring establishments can fulfil their capacity and distance protocols. 


London

The international beer legends at BrewDog are now using their factories to produce hand sanitizer.

BrewDog have jumped from one type of alcohol production to another, going from the drinkable kind to the one that safely sanitizes (although, ahem, certain political figureheads may say they’re one and the same). The affectionately branded Punk Sanitiser is being given away free to charities and hospitals. 

Fun fact: The first batch was rejected by the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for not meeting 100% of the strident criteria for hospital grade sanitizer. At the time, BrewDog founder James Watt said, “The production of sanitizer is completely new for us, we are working closely with the NHS to understand how we can best meet their requirements for clinical care.” It didn’t take long for the formula to be perfected, however, and Punk Sanitiser finally received the seal of approval from the NHS less than a week later.

Koru Kids has pivoted from training after-school nannies to training medicine students to care for NHS workers.

Koru Kids, the UK childcare service that specializes in after-school nannies, is making it easier for medical students to provide childcare services for NHS workers. In response to the volunteer initiatives from universities – and schools closed around the country – the company has focused on making available a free online training course for volunteer medical students. 

ChargedUp’s phone charging stations have become hand sanitizer stations.

Utilizing its UK manufacturing partners, ChargedUp is transforming its public phone charging stations into free-standing hand sanitizer dispensers. With this new initiative, CleanedUp, the company announced its capacity to produce over 1,000 of these dispensers per month, and keep them topped up with either alcohol and non-alcohol based sanitizer. CEO Hugo Tilmouth said, “We have a strong creative team, so we put our heads together, and CleanedUp was born. We really hope it can help both workers and customers stay safe now and in the future.”

Starling Bank has introduced an additional bank card so that customers can give it to trusted friends and neighbours to pay for their shopping.

While it may not be a total pivot, Starling Bank’s new card initiative is a branching out from the norm of privacy and secrecy when it comes to bank cards. The initiative is designed to allow friends to help other friends who may be self-isolating and unable to get to the store; no cash exchange or bank transfers necessary. We do wonder: will these kinds of sharing initiatives push people towards being more open about finance among their peers?

Speaking of finance: Next month on The Bridge, we’ll dive deeper into Berlin and London-based fintech. Stay tuned, and be sure to follow along here: Instagram & Twitter.