UPDATED - Coronavirus: Spanish startups offer solutions from contact-tracing app to free online content

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Covid-19 symptoms checker and contact-tracing apps, virtual classrooms and 3D video-conferencing platforms are among the array of solutions for homebound adults and kids


Spain has become one of the worst hit countries in the current coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, with nearly 40,000 confirmed cases of infection and almost 2,700 deaths as of Tuesday March 24 afternoon, local time. Madrid will likely soon become the world's most affected subnational region, surpassing Wuhan and Lombardia, predicts the Financial Times. The capital currently has more than 12,000 infections, with over 1,200 dead.

The government on Sunday extended the nationwide “state of alarm” to April 11, so the country remains under lockdown and people housebound in order to curb the exponential spread of the virus. An economic aid package worth €200bn, about 20% of Spanish GDP, was also announced, mainly aimed at helping SMEs and freelance workers, providing liquidity to the system and helping the vulnerable survive short-term cashflow issues as most economic activities grind to a halt and companies send employees on no-pay leave.

The private sector has also stepped up to help the country battle the current crisis. 

To take some load off the overburdened public health services and saturated hospitals, a group of Spanish startups – location intelligence platform CARTO, sales-focused CRM SaaS ForceManager and digital product design studio MendesAltaren – has created an app, Asistencia COVID-19, for symptoms checking, contact tracing and receiving official updates. Catalonia also has launched a similar app, Stop Covid19 CAT. Both apps were inspired by South Korea's success so far in capping the growth of the pandemic.

Available in Android and iOS, the apps will also help authorities track and detect new and growing clusters of infections in each area, ultimately giving them a clearer overview of the pandemic and how to better manage it. 

Developed with input from Madrid health officials, the Asistencia Covid19 project is also supported by state telco Telefónica, state railway operator Ferrovial, Google and Goggo Network. 

Where possible, companies have also switched to working from home. As more adults and children are being confined to their homes in this crisis, whether in Spain or elsewhere, and economic and educational activities are disrupted, consumers and businesses will be seeking online solutions that could help plug the gap. Here are several Spanish startups offering online solutions in healthcare, education, and events and conferences worth checking out. 

Murcia-based edtech Odilo, for example, said last Friday all its online learning resources would be opened up for free access, including to non-paying users, in regions affected by school closures due to the coronavirus outbreak, around the world. 

Online education for kids

Smile and Learn: the Netflix of education for kids

Smile and Learn is a Madrid-based edtech that offers more than 4,500 affordable educational video activities for three to 12-year olds. Available in Spanish, English and three other languages, the SaaS leverages AI to personalize and assess each pupil's progress. 

Founded by management consultants Victor Sánchez Rodríguez and Blanca Rodríguez Montero in 2013 over concerns that Sánchez's children were not receiving any form of digital learning at school, the platform covers all children's curricula subjects and cognitive learning areas.

The edtech, which was eventually launched in 2016 after spending two years developing its proprietary content with teachers, is endorsed by the Spanish Ministry of Education and used by state schools in a growing number of regions. 

Sánchez, who labels his edtech as “the Netflix of education,” currently has over 165,000 users from over 3,000 educational providers, as well as some 400,000 weekly views on YouTube, for its native multimedia content. In 2018, it was a finalist at the world's biggest edtech event, BETT, and is currently seeking €4m in Series A investment, after receiving €1.2m in European innovation grants in 2017.

Odilo: Edtech’s Amazon helping developing nations

Murcia-based Odilo has opened up its all online learning resources for free, including to non-paying users, in regions affected by school closures due to the coronavirus outbreak, globally. The startup has expanded far beyond the small southern Spanish autonomous community to provide free access to cloud-based digital books to 140m adults and children in 43 nations. 

Founded in 2011 by ex-telecommunication engineer Rodrigo Rodríguez, Odilo is the first digital content-as-a-service edtech platform and earns revenues mainly from subscriptions from education authorities and private institutions, such as, universities, but provides free services in developing nations.

The platform has over 2m copyrighted, licensed publications for loan and allows integration with didactic tools for customization by educational centers. It has been recognized by the European Parliament as “a European tech success story that has had a global impact and made a notable improvement in the life of European citizens.” 

The company has offices in Madrid, New York and Mexico City. It raised €7.3m in its Series B investment round in 2017 and currently has more than 3,500 institutions as subscribers in Spain, Chile and Uruguay. It also allows individual subscriptions.

Edpuzzle: Turning YouTube videos into lessons

Edpuzzle is a San Francisco-based Spanish video-based education platform that also uses analytics to assess students' progress. Established in 2013 by four Catalonian entrepreneurs, including a teacher, Edpuzzle currently has more than 20m student users participating in over 8m lessons across the US. 

The co-founders, Santi Herrero, Quim Sabrià, Xavi Vergés and Jordi González, launched Edpuzzle when they found that more than 65% of students tended to be visual learners and over 95% were watching YouTube regularly.

Edpuzzle allows teachers to easily edit any video from YouTube or other platforms, recording their voice over it to personalize it and embed questions in the video. The video lesson can then be assigned to students remotely or shared across educational platforms for use by other teachers or schools, with progress checked in real time via Edpuzzle's analytics. Pupils are scored on their responses and the time taken to complete them.

The co-founders' lucky break came when they were invited to ImagineK12, the first US edtech incubator, now part of Y Combinator, where Airbnb and Dropbox were born. The invitation was on the strength of their idea, as no product – let alone a line of code – had yet been created. In 2014, the startup was judged the best edtech startup in the world at the Global Edtech Startups Awards. 

Sharing Academy: Swotting up for university students

Sharing Academy is a P2P Spanish marketplace for university students seeking tuition. It offers lessons taught by user-rated tutors in multiple disciplines, for specific exams. 

The startup was founded in 2014 by Catalonian Jordi Esteve, a former pilot, whose return to university and subsequent thesis eventually inspired him to establish this Barcelona-based collaborative marketplace. 

Sharing Academy's platform hosts more than 8,000 students and tutors from 53 Spanish universities. In 2016, it won the Mobile Premier Awards' Best App of the Year at the Mobile World Congress. The platform provides a trustworthy and safe place for students to find quality tutors. In 2017, it received undisclosed seed funding from SEK Lab, Spain's first edtech accelerator.

Healthcare apps 

Zensei: Virtual “doctor” in an app

Zensei is a health app for people with respiratory problems. Founded in Madrid in 2017 by CEO David Martín-Corral and CTO Carlos Hernando, Zensei makes use of machine learning and big data collected from users and devices to act like a virtual doctor. It helps users make better and more informed decisions regarding their respiratory problems. 

Zensei caters to people with allergies and asthma and also more serious conditions such as bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. The app is programmed to predict and warn users on air quality, including pollen in the atmosphere, pollution levels, UV index and even possible viruses.

Zensei is currently eyeing the B2B insurtech sector and has started to collaborate with big players in the industry like MAPFRE. It was bootstrapped with €100,000 from its founders. A further €60,000 was raised from angel investors like Karel Escobar Sánchez, Google Campus's Lead in Madrid. 

Corina: Plug&play chatbot for coronavirus

Corina is Spanish chatbot developer 1MillionBot’s virtual assistant specifically developed to tackle the coronavirus emergency. It answers citizens’ questions on the virus. The chatbot was developed and launched in less than 24 hours by a multidisciplinary team of nine people with experience in AI, biology, sociology and linguistics.

Corina currently answers questions in Spanish and English, as the team is working on translating into more languages. The chatbot’s answers have been gathered and validated by trusted sources, including medical centers and the Ministry of Health.

1MillionBot was founded in 2018 by Andrés Pedreño Muñoz, a former executive at the University of Alicante and a passionate tech entrepreneur in the field of AI and virtual assistants. The startup has offices in Alicante and Madrid and is specialized in chatbots for different sectors. 

1MillionBot’s intelligent virtual assistant has a 90% positive response rate and can be integrated across AI and NLP-powered platforms as well as Amazon Echo and Google Home. The company is currently working on the development of a "virtual butler" designed to manage houses and to respond to hotel guests’ requests.

Last year, the company raised seed funding round of €1.5m from a group of undisclosed investors from key sectors where 1MillionBot is looking to establish partnerships and collaboration, such as healthcare, banking, insurance, food, transport, education and retail.

Remote conferences and meetings

Virtway: facilitating remote attendance in 3D

Headquartered in Oviedo, Virtway is a startup providing 3D technologies that transform meeting rooms, conferences and trade fairs into virtual spaces accessible from all devices: mobile phones, tablets or computers. By facilitating remote attendance to meeting and events across the world, Virtway helps companies to save travel costs and reduce CO2 emissions. 

Virtway integrated a 3D VoIP that gives an extremely realistic and engaging user experiences going beyond traditional webinars and conference calls. While competitors have developed similar technologies that support only simultaneous participation up to 50 people, the platform supports up to 500 users in the same virtual room letting them talk, present and network with each other as if they were in a real-environment. The solutions can be used in multiple scenarios such as trade fairs, employees’ training and remote working. 

Used by companies such as Naturgy, Roche, Accenture, Everis and Manpower, Virtway recently raised €4m in a funding round to expand the business outside Spain, particularly into the UK, as demand for its platform is mostly from English speaking countries.

Walcon Virtual Events: 3D, VR conferencing from Alicante to the world

Walcon Virtual Events is the first Spanish company specialized in the organization of events and advertising in virtual environments. Its vision is “humanizing the digital world”. 

Specialized in immersion experience through VR technologies, the startup, founded in 2018, can virtualize any kind of events, corporate meetings, training, congresses or fairs, and product presentations. Founded by Matilde Albert and based in the Digital District of Alicante, the company can manage any type of international event without physical barriers with 3D software, 360 degree video photography and VR. 

Walcon Virtual recently joined forces with Virtway and made a formal proposal to the organizer of the Mobile World Congress to organize a virtual version of the event.

UPDATED: This story was last updated on March 24, 2020.

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Edited by S. Mani, Bernice Tang

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