Coronavirus brings out Silicon Valley's inner problem-solver
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The coronavirus pandemic is bringing out Silicon Valley's penchant for problem solving.
The big picture: Tech companies, entrepreneurs, and investors have rushed to find ways to apply their skills, resources, and creativity to tackling the virus and its public health and economic impact.
A number of health care startups, including Everlywell, Carbon Health and Nurx, shifted quickly to working on developing COVID-19 testing kits.
- A ban by the FDA on the collection of at-home samples halted some of these efforts.
- Telehealth startups like Ro and American Well are also providing assessment services that attempt to aid patients figure out their likelihood of infection.
Other companies are tapping into their existing supply chains and expertise.
- Freight management company Flexport is using its supply chain expertise to work on procuring medical supplies.
- Fuel cell company Bloom Energy took on the task of repairing broken ventilators procured by the state.
- HP and Carbon put their 3D printing technologies to work to try to speed production of medical equipment.
Many software companies decided to offer some products for free to those coping with the crisis.
- They include messaging service Slack, meditation app Headspace and business information provider Yext.
Investors jumped into action as well.
- Some marshaled financial resources to work on the problem, as with Y Combinator's decision to expedite the acceptance of relevant startups into its program.
- Others launched efforts to support their communities, such as sponsoring restaurants to deliver meals to health care workers, sourcing medical equipment, or Instagram's co-founder creation of a gift card mall aimed at getting cash into the hands of restaurants and businesses that can't operate normally.
Tech giants also moved swiftly to finish projects and build solutions.
- Companies like Apple and Google set out to procure supplies and stood up websites providing information and guidance to the public.
- Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and other companies sponsored a coronavirus-focused hackathon.
- Facebook quickly rolled out information about the coronavirus to its users and banned ads for face masks and cures, while Twitter issued strict rules about spreading misinformation about the pandemic.
- California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that Facebook will help pay for housing, child care, transportation and other costs incurred by retired health care professionals who agree to work during the pandemic.
Yes, but: Some tech leaders have also been criticized for their armchair epidemiology on Twitter.
- Tesla founder Elon Musk has been both help and hindrance, initially downplaying the disease but later agreeing to help make ventilators and other gear.
The bottom line: Most Silicon Valley leaders and workers understand that the key fight right now belongs to medical science and healthcare professionals, but they're eager to pitch in — and have plenty of both ideas and resources.