ACT (Action Covid Team) Grants of 100 crores was setup to support ready to deploy disruptive scalable solutions to fight against the pandemic. The initiative has been a great success with grantees like CloudHealth and StepOne now working at pan India level. The Chairman of UnitedWay Bengaluru and Partner at Accel Partners, Prashant Prakash discussed with Apresh Mishra on the program, its journey and road ahead. Excerpts:
Please tell us about ACT Grants
Just before the lockdown early March, some entrepreneurs came together on a Telegram group called ‘Startups Against Covid’, which quickly became a group of over thousand people from the startup ecosystem. They wanted to create solutions. They had ideas on what they can do in their own capacity to fight Covid. What they required were a structured framework and a small capital that could help take their solutions to market. That’s where some of the investors came together. Venture partners from about 15-20 venture funds and private equity funds and investment banks came together to form ACT.
A grant corpus of INR 100 crores was raised both from venture partners and some of the seasoned industrialists and entrepreneurs to help entrepreneurs take disruptive scalable solutions to market to fight Covid19. We focused more on solutions that were ready to go to market and had great teams who had disruptive technology based thinking and were able to be scrappy and quickly take the solutions to market.
How has been the journey so far?
ACT grants has passed through multiple phases as the Covid19 pandemic evolved. Initially, in phase 1 we were largely focusing on prevention. Therefore, a lot of focus was around prevention interventions such as providing PPE kits and little bit of tele-medicine, among others. One of our initial successes was StepOne, a company providing tele-medicine solution, which is now working in nine states. We also supported one of the first testing companies in the country, the Pune based Mylabs.
So initially, our focus was on prevention which was triaging and providing help on IVR and tele-medicine and testing, helping companies that could provide and scale their testing solutions with capital and other forms of help.
ACT grants has a core IC (Investment Committee) which comprises of venture partners, founders and social sector leaders. IC contains various tracks. As we have one on testing, there is a track that focused on prevention, there was a track that focused on just scaling PPE and masks. All these tracks basically were manned by 100+ analysts and volunteers from the different venture funds
Consequently it became a big collaborative community kind of effort where people from multiple funds who otherwise would all compete with each other in their normal work were all working together very closely to identify which solutions would work and then bring them to the IC and provide funding.
When the migrant issue arose, we shifted gears and started supporting a little bit on the sustenance front. We had a sustenance track where we started providing solutions for migrants to find ways in which they could find transportation back home maybe a mobile solution to help them find – get themselves reemployed.
Now at an advanced stage of the pandemic, we are focusing on saving lives because that is right now the key area that we believe requires a lot of support.
What are your core focus areas?
India’s public health system was never geared for a pandemic of this scale and size. Our intent, therefore, has been to help improve the capacity of this public health system. We are focusing on some critical areas. One is home isolation and home quarantine support through companies like Swasth.
The other area that we’ve noted is hospitals in remote areas don’t have ICU capacity or they don’t have the right intensivist to support the patients, they have just a basic MBBS doctor. So we have a solution called Cloud Physician that provides virtual ICU support to these remote public hospitals in Bidar, Gulbarga, in remote areas of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The last critical area that we are focusing on is oxygen based therapy. What we realised is really the most critical component that helps save lives is timely availability of oxygen and that is by providing oxygen cylinders, low flow oxygen, high flow oxygen through devices called HFNCs.
We have provided hundreds of these devices in hospitals. These work much before one needs a ventilator. This is a great Make in India example as with the support of ACT grants, a company called InAccel have started producing these devices.
What is the next step for ACT Grants?
As the pandemic is not yet over, we see the continued need for providing these solutions at least the phase 3 solutions of prevention and continued support for testing. The other area is the Swasth kind of solutions which are to build a health stack for the countrywhich will not only serve for this pandemic but will serve for other communicable and non-communicable diseases which need to be managed at scale in this country. We are getting excellent support from NITI Aayog and the National Health Mission.
We believe that the technologies we have built and platforms that we constructed here can be leveraged to digitize public health systems and which can serve the masses much better even beyond the pandemic.
How would you encourage corporates to join hands in this program?
At ACT grants, we have worked closely with CSR foundations and we have been able to demonstrate that the power that the entrepreneurial world and its technology capabilities can bring to the CSR arena is enormous. We have shown how to put together very quick tech led solutions and how to work closely with the governments to further accelerate the solutions in a Pan-India manner.
This partnership will work well because ultimately corporates and other CSR organizations also want to see measurable impact through scalable and robust solutions. They are starting to recognize that and they are seeing us more as an enabler scale and impact and also a collaborator in that effort.