This isn’t exactly the way I hoped to start blogging again but here we are I suppose. I’ve been thinking a lot about the pandemic (who isn’t?) and as an entrepreneur, I started to naturally think about innovations that need to exist to help us prevent, or at least slow down, the next pandemic. Here are some free startup or technology ideas that I think should exist. One of these I would even be interested in investing in (noted below).
I can’t believe that in this age of talking to every device around you — phone, car, television, some random little black box — that we don’t have voice control over elevators.
Well, actually we kind of do. When you get on an elevator and someone is crowding the selection panel most of us just say “3rd floor please”. And by social convention, that person presses floor 3 for you.
Lets just take the other human out of the equation.
Walk into elevator. How many people are there or where the panel is doesn’t matter. Say “3rd floor please” and a nice soothing voice confirms your selection. I’m not saying to get rid of the panel because we know what would happen (you say “3rd floor please” and the elevator decides you said “33rd floor please” and then you have to walk down 30 flights of stairs) but for most interactions, no more elevator button pressing needed. Gross buttons begone!
Hand Washing Monitor
One of the two biggest weapons we’ve had for this pandemic has been washing hands properly. But is this going to be a habit that sticks after the pandemic? I hope so because it will help the next pandemic be not as bad. But given what human nature is, we’ll probably revert so lets fix that with some monitoring and possibly even gamification.
We’ve got cameras and software for face detection and identification. Great — lets take that and use it to determine if a person is washing their hands properly. Wash vigorously and properly for twenty seconds gets you 100 points. We’ll just identify you with your face — easy. Wash your hands a certain number of times a day, you get bonus points.
Then we’re going to just use your points and use them to rank you on a local, national, or even global leader board. Who is protecting everyone the best?
As a side benefit, we get to know what restaurant workers, healthcare professionals, and others who are in a position to affect others health are doing at this critical exercise. As someone in human resources, you might want to check on the person you’re about to hire and make sure they have the right health protective habits which will translate into less risk for your organization.
Note: This is possibly a startup I’d consider funding. There is wide application for this idea. No, I don’t want to build it. I want someone else to build it so I can cheer them from the sidelines. If this is you, get in touch.
The Air Around Us
One reason why COVID-19 has been so widespread is because of the transmission via the air. Compare this to horrific epidemics like Ebola where transmission requires direct contact with bodily fluids, and you can see that this virus has a much more difficult to control distribution mechanism. With that and how humans work (we kind of need air as a basic necessity), means that we need to get serious about making sure that the air is clean — not just the things we touch and see.
Thinking about large scale event venues (think conference centers, indoor concert venues, etc.), there needs to be solutions for these places that allow them to clean, disinfect, and purify the air in their spaces on a very quick basis. Turning over the air at anything less than once per hour is likely to lead to a spread of a contagion. Traditional HVAC systems that serve these types of facilities are not cutting it. They are made to just heat and cool the air — not to disinfect it.
The challenge for any startup attacking this space is that increasing the speed of air through a system will likely reduce the ability of the system to capture and/or neutralize any dangerous substance floating in the air. A successful startup in this space will figure out a way where higher speed leads to higher disinfecting efficiency. Anyone solving that problem will crush this space. Bonus if you can capture/kill other dangerous particles beyond viruses and bacteria.
For many, many years my family and I look at restaurant health scores before going out to eat to a new restaurant (we usually check the scores for our usual haunts too). We take that as a way to determine if we’ll have a good (read: no food poisoning) experience.
But it doesn’t always work. I remember a few months ago where we went to a restaurant with a good score (mid 90’s) and after our meal was done we saw a kitchen cook eating while working on the line. In case you didn’t know, this is a huge health code violation. In today’s state of the current pandemic, you can understand why.
I think there is an opportunity to create a new level of hygiene in restaurants. First, everyone working in the kitchen should be required to wear a face mask (which must be disposed the minute they leave the kitchen and can only be donned after washing hands [see the above startup idea]). This prevents any errant cough, sneeze, or food tasting from happening.
But a manager can’t be everywhere and see everything happening at the same time. This is where the idea of camera usage to detect what is happening within the kitchen and ensure that nothing is happening that would violate the health code.
You see, a health score is only really good as a moment in time snapshot. Just because a health inspector didn’t see anyone eating while they were working doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. A system where a health inspector could come in and review 3 weeks worth of performance in minutes to determine if there were any violations would do wonders to protect public health and allow inspectors to spend more time determining if other deficiencies exist. Not to mention an opportunity to cycle through restaurant locations at a much higher frequencies.
There are a lot of opportunities as we come to grips with the reality of public health and how a market in China could completely disrupt life on the other side of the world. But I believe that this challenge presents an opportunity to solve these new problems and make sure that the next outbreak is a lot less life threatening. A market downturn is the best time to start a new company…
So who is going to launch these startups?