How Startups are Pivoting (and Thriving) during the Coronavirus Pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic rages, several startups in a year-old master’s program in Salt Lake City are using their own innovations to serve those on the front lines and to help keep communities connected and healthy.

Telemedicine company has seen a 1,000-fold increase in demand and quadrupled its staff, serving some 274,000 providers and 6 million patients in March alone. True North Behavioral Health is going digital with its resiliency training for first responders. My School Dance is organizing four virtual proms for up to 40,000 homebound high-schoolers across four time zones.

The companies are among 20 startups supported through the Master of Business Creation program at the David Eccles School of Business and Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah. Designed to help entrepreneurs launch and scale their own companies, the program will soon graduate its first class.

Just a couple months into the spring semester, My School Dance, which runs an online platform to organize school events, lost virtually all its springtime business, or about 70 proms, when the pandemic forced event cancellations and postponements. To give teens an alternative, co-founder Taylor Buckley and her team developed the virtual-prom concept under the name Virtual Prom Live – complete with DJs and king and queen crownings.

“We want young people to feel at least some semblance of normalcy. I feel like that’s really important for teens who will be locked in their houses for weeks,” said Buckley, also the chief operating officer at My School Dance.

At True North, leaders are reworking services to ease the worsening psychological burdens and burnout felt by first responders, said Executive Director Andrew Sidoli. Responders such as police and paramedics are reporting dramatic spikes in virus-related anxiety, depression, and severe stress. They will soon find True North’s proven support offerings online, not just in person.

“What we’re facing is a pandemic stress response for everyone on the front lines as we wake up to the reality that our world is completely changed,” Sidoli said. He credits the MBC program for preparing True North for the crisis, including with the ability to scale operations.

Among clinicians trying to keep their patients safe, has seen exceptional demand, having logged some 6 million calls – for a total of 97 million minutes – in March. The telemedicine platform is HIPAA-compliant, relying on secure videoconferencing.

“Telemedicine has been slow to take hold in the United States,” said Dylan Turner, the COO. “But this outbreak might be the tipping point that pushes it into people’s lives and makes it part of routine medical care going forward.”

Another startup in the MBC program, Drift Products, is enabling snowboarders to keep active – safely – during mass shutdowns of commercial resorts. Drift products help snowboarders ascend slopes on their own, without a ski lift.

“We’re giving people an opportunity to recreate as long as it’s deemed appropriate by those in authority,” said David Rupp, company co-owner and co-founder.

Fallout from the pandemic has closed many commercial ski and snowboarding areas, limiting the ability of wintertime outdoors enthusiasts to stay engaged otherwise.

Formally, the MBC program’s first class – 25 company founders – will graduate at the end of the spring semester. It’s seen as the first program of its kind.

Startups represented in the first class range from fitness technology and travel gear to medical devices. Each graduating student entered the program in May 2019.

Click here for more about the first class in the program. Learn more about the Master of Business Creation program here:

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