5 Ideas for Downturn-proof Startups

By the SMUSocial Media Team

While the Covid-19 pandemic may have upended several industries and left many businesses struggling, every crisis may also give rise to an opportunity. In fact, history has proven as much. The Great Depression, which started in 1929 and stretched on into the 1930s, saw the founding of iconic companies such as Disney and Hewlett-Packard. In 2008, during the financial crisis sparked by the subprime mortgage crisis, companies like Airbnb, WhatsApp and Instagram seized the moment and ended up shaping the zeitgeist.

What new startups will emerge from the upheavals of this current crisis? Here are some areas that are ripe with promise.


1. Healthtech

During a global pandemic, healthcare technology has naturally become an area of focus. While medical technology, or medtech, refers to the technologies and devices that detect and treat medical issues, healthtech is about optimising personal and preventative care.

In recent months, as people have been encouraged to stay home, telehealth apps such as Singapore-based Doctor Anywhere have grown in popularity, not just for virtual consultations but also related offerings such as online marketplaces for health and wellness products and services.

Eldercare is another area with growth potential. Homegrown caregiving platform Homage launched a new service arm during the pandemic to offer services such as medicine delivery. With technology becoming increasingly essential to healthcare, innovation in this space can also focus on how to bridge the digital divide for seniors who need more support when it comes to using tech platforms to access healthcare services.


2. Edtech

As anyone who has tried to take an online class during these trying times (and even parents who have observed their children doing so) can attest, concentrating on a talking head and taking part in a group discussion onscreen can often be trying.

Nevertheless, with social distancing likely to continue for the foreseeable future and with many schools and universities worldwide shutting down again in response to new spikes in Covid-19 infections, digital platforms are set to play a big part in many people’s learning experiences for a long time to come.

And there are many opportunities for improving these experiences. New platforms that can facilitate more immersive and interactive sessions are just the beginning. Startups can also address technology training for educators, as well as one of the biggest challenges of digital education — how to even the playing field for students with poor access to Internet connectivity and resources such as computers.


3. Home improvement

With our homes now serving as office, spa, gym, cinema and more, there is no end to the ways aspiring entrepreneurs can improve the fun and functionality of this multi-tasking haven.

With more homeowners likely to put off upgrading to new properties due to economic uncertainty (and, in Singapore, labour shortage for construction and home renovations), home maintenance is more important than ever. The home repairs sector is notoriously decentralised and ripe for disruption by platforms that can make accessing such services more transparent and efficient.

With gyms closed or seen as potentially high-risk areas, companies such as Peloton, which offers live or recorded lessons from fitness experts that are then paired with proprietary equipment that can fit into home gyms, are thriving. Startups that cater to fitness-focused urbanites with more constrained living spaces are likely to find a receptive customer base.

There is also a lot of potential when it comes to improving home entertainment systems and related accessories. How can streaming platforms recreate the communal experience of watching movies in the cinema? Can gaming chairs (another product that has exploded in popularity during the pandemic) be designed to look more stylish while retaining their vaunted ergonomic comfort? Home sweet home is due for a radical makeover.


4. Farming

The supply chain disruptions of the pandemic has led to renewed emphasis on Singapore’s food security. Even before the current crisis, the Singapore Food Agency had set a goal of producing 30 per cent of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030 (up from the current 10 per cent).

How can a land-scarce island triple its food production in the next 10 years? Hydroponics and vertical farming technology were already part of the conversation and the government is spurring more innovation by funding agritech projects. From improving energy efficiency for indoor farms to educating consumers and businesses about these high-tech crops, there is enormous potential for startups in this field to impact not just Singapore but other countries facing the same food security problems.


5. Privacy

With governments worldwide adopting new ways of tracking individual movements in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19, concerns about data privacy among the general public have grown correspondingly worldwide. That means creative entrepreneurs have a potentially eager audience should they come up with new ways to protect one’s privacy while still staying responsible with regards to public health.

For instance, facial recognition technology was already becoming more widespread before the pandemic, and has now grown more prevalent, as it is used to help identify people with elevated temperatures in crowds and for contactless entry into buildings. In response, a slew of products have been designed to thwart such technology, and these range from clothing designed to trick surveillance software to a wearable projector that can project a completely different face onto your face to disguise your appearance. The possibilities here are tantalising, and could ideally help to create a more sustainable balance between social harmony and individual freedom.

It might be a challenge looking for that silver lining in times of uncertainty. But downturns may create opportunities for an innovative entrepreneur. Others may question your decision to take the dive into starting a new biz right now, but with the right research, risk mitigation strategy, and plenty of perseverance, you might just be the next big startup founder to watch.