If you existed in the world in March 2020, you know nothing felt as earth-stopping, confusing and disheartening than the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many businesses flew into survival mode, or pivoted to serve Philadelphians in the time of need. Companies, like our 2022 RealLIST Startups, who had formed right at the start, had tough choices to make. Becoming a founder and entrepreneur involves many stressors, but leading a team during a global crisis is not an expected one.
And while the four-alarm-fire days of early 2020 are gone, we still exist in (say it with me) challenging times — the war in Ukraine is having affects abroad and at home, the pandemic has wrecked havoc on healthcare systems, industries like travel and tourism are still in choppy waters, and inflation is reaching record highs.
Philly founders are feeling the effects.
Supply chain slowdowns
Julia Anthony, founder of SOLUtion Medical, which makes a patient-friendly drug delivery system for reconstitutable drugs, said her team is affected by the ongoing supply chain and economic issues. They’re seeking to launch a Series A round, but when they start will depend on the economy, Anthony said — especially amid a global VC slowdown.
She’s also had concerns for her team’s safety. Because they travel to different countries and locations for medical and medicine supplies, the chance a team member could catch COVID-19 and get stuck abroad is a very real possibility.
The founder launched the company two years ago to present a solution for the difficult to administer drugs needed for her own medical diagnosis, salt-wasting congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Supply chain issues show up when SOLUtion Medical is looking for specific parts for its signature product, the TwistJect, which is pre-filled for single use. But it’s also a good time for such a product, Anthony said, because it’s better suited for self-administration and is simpler to use in a medical emergency than alternatives.
“COVID has helped largely with decentralized healthcare,” Anthony said. “Healthcare at home is getting more attention than it has, and that is helpful.”
Eric Corkhill, CEO of stroke-monitoring device company Neuralert, can relate. The device, first developed at University of Pennsylvania, has seen supply chain issues with the chip sets they need. It’s not hugely affecting the company, Corkhill said, but it’s not a headache a founder needs when launching a product.
Morale in healthcare
The pandemic has also impacted each of the healthcare companies in obvious ways. The industry was at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and resources had been spread thin.
Shivani Shah, cofounder of health workers-focused dating app ForeverX, said much of her focus is on the morale of the healthcare community. She sees it every day in her work as a medical resident, she said. She aims for the app to be a place for romantic connections, yes, but also a sense of community and a wellness hub for workers who have been through so much in the last two years.
“The pandemic has inspired us, but at the same time, it’s been two years since [its start], and there’s staffing issues, nurses are leaving the field, people are extremely burnt out,” she said. “We’re all hoping it doesn’t get back to where it was, because I think the field is on the brink of collapse with staffing issues.”
Keeping eyes on the goal
Other founders who aren’t in such affected industries say the macro-sized issues haven’t affected their day-to-day too much, but that as people, it’s impossible to ignore.
It’s kind of the name of the game with SaaS companies, said Jake Stein, cofounder of contracts software platform Common Paper. The team has been able to do its recent fundraising remotely, giving them more time, energy and resources that flying across the country to pitch would have taken. But issues like war and the pandemic affect everyone, even if not directly.
“Some of these things weigh on our mental health,” Stein said. “We’ve been fortunate that actual operations haven’t been too much affected but my personal goal is, outside of paying attention to the needs of our people, stay kind of blind to the macro environment. We’re trying to focus on, ‘Do customers want the thing we’re building?’ knowing that sometimes things will directly impact us.”
That focus on users and product is central for Anthony Scarpone-Lambert, cofounder of Lumify Care, which makes a hands-free device meant to illuminate a workspace while decreasing patient sleep disturbances. One thing he’s particularly conscious about in the macro sense is that the company’s end users are in healthcare, and sometimes it’s insensitive to be too self-promotional, he said.
“We don’t want to be posting ‘Lumify!’ when there’s a staffing crisis, or there’s a nurse on trial for making a medical error,” he said. “We know how much that can affect people’s well being and mental wellness in that time. So we focus on the pulse check of our users. And that comes from checking in on them every day.”