How different countries and startups are emerging from lockdown


From a startup incubator in France to an autonomous vehicle business in Sweden, startups are adapting to an easing of lockdown restrictions by introducing new technologies and new ways of working.

Here we look at different international approaches and examples of innovation.

France — action stations

France has cautiously begun to lift its lockdown, with millions back in work after eight weeks of restrictions. Most shops were allowed to reopen from 11 May, except those in shopping centres, and public transport is back up and running, with 70% of the Paris network now operational. No date was given for cafes, bars and restaurants.

Paris-based Station F, one of the world’s largest startup incubators, also plans to reopen. For its 3,000 resident entrepreneurs, people traffic is being rethought. People will now be able to enter the building from multiple locations to reduce pinch points and social distancing marks will become the norm. In the short term, Station F will also use meeting cubes to provide some protection while operating at lower capacity.

Elsewhere, French startup Datakalab is working with the local authority in Cannes to deploy surveillance software on buses and in markets. It says the technology will help local authorities spot breaches, making it possible for business to reopen safely.

China — technology all the way

More than three months after authorities introduced lockdown measures, factories and offices are beginning to return to some semblance of normality. Industrial production surged more than twice as fast as most economists expected, according to official data from the country’s National Bureau of Statistics. However, retail sales fell, with supply outpacing demand as shoppers stay home.

To allay any fears at work, many businesses and startups are asking workers to take their temperature three times a day and submit the results via an internal chatbot. Chinese startup Rokid has even developed Glass T1 thermal glasses to detect temperature related Covid-19 symptoms. And a health tracking app developed by Tencent and Alibaba is being used by many businesses as a way to ensure customers and employees have a clean bill of health. It gives users a colour-coded designation based on their health status and travel history. Then there’s wearables startup Huami – the Chinese equivalent of FitBit – which is pivoting to develop a range of clear plastic masks that have built-in ultraviolet lights to disinfect filters within 10 minutes.

Germany — PropTech and the pandemic

The German response to coronavirus, which featured mass testing and quick lockdown, was seen as a model approach by some. Schools are beginning to welcome pupils back and borders will soon reopen, as will museums and restaurants.

Germany was swift to reopen its shops, though restaurants, cafes and bars remain closed. Anything with retail space above 800 square metres must also remain closed. German property technology (PropTech) startups are leading the charge against the pandemic, looking to introduce new technologies to help get people back into shops and work. Automated entry, intelligent buildings and package lockers are just a few of the technologies being explored.

Germany’s biggest PropTech business Unissu says it’s likely we’ll start to see touchless door access, heat-mapping software and air conditioning that utilises hospital-quality air sanitisation. It even suggests that warehouses might use drones to sanitise the area once workers go home.


Sweden — automation and social distancing

Sweden was one of the few European countries not to issue a lockdown order. Offices and schools are open, people can visit restaurants and households are allowed to mingle. That said, the country’s central bank, The Riksbank, still estimates GDP will contract by 7-10 % and that unemployment will rise to around 10%.

One startup that will emerge from lock-down stronger is self-driving truck company Einride. It just announced an expansion of its partnership with German grocery chain Lidl to provide automated delivery trucks. Now, it will focus on electrification in the short term, with automation coming in the next phase.

United States — a patchwork quilt

The rate of new cases is mostly in decline and all 50 US states have reopened to some de-gree. States like New York and Washington, which were among the hardest hit, are record-ing sharp declines, though infection rates are still rising in some states, including Arizona and North Carolina. Rules within states vary, with regions allowed to open shops and res-taurants if standards are met for testing and infection rates.

Businesses are taking a range of approaches to reopening, with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey saying that many employees will be allowed to work from home permanently, even after the pandemic is over. In contrast, Apple is reopening offices with safety measures including daily temperature checks. (It is also developing a contact-tracing app for wider use).

Chicago-based Kinexon has pivoted its business making sensor badges, originally used to help people network at conferences, to provide health information about people they inter-act with. Just another example of the ways in which innovative businesses are adapting technology to help the world return to work.

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