Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine just got a lot easier to transport and distribute

The COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech now has less stringent and extreme transportation requirements than it debuted with. Originally, the mRNA-based vaccine had to be maintained at ultra-low temperatures throughout the transportation chain in order to remain viable – between -76°F and -112°F. New stability data collected by Pfizer and BioNTech, which has been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for review, allow it to be stored at temps between 5°F and -13°F – ranges available in standard medical freezers found in most clinics and care facilities.

The vaccine should remain stable for up to two weeks at that temperature, which vastly improves the flexibility of its options for transportation, and last-mile storage in preparation for administration to patients. To date, the vaccine has relied largely on existing “cold-chain” infrastructure to be in place in order for it to be able to reach the areas where it’s being used to inoculate patients. That limitation hasn’t been in place for Moderna’s vaccine, which is stable at even higher, standard refrigerator temperatures for up to a month.

This development is just one example of how work continues on the vaccines that are already being deployed under emergency approvals by health regulators across the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Pfizer and BioNTech say they’re working on bringing those storage temp requirements down even further, so they could potentially approach the standard set by the Moderna jab.

Taken together with another fresh development, study results from Israeli researchers that found just one shot of the ordinarily two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could be as high as 85 percent effective on its own, this is a major development for global inoculation programs. The new requirements open up participation to a whole host of potential new players in supporting delivery and distribution – including ride-hailing and on-demand delivery players with large networks like Amazon, which has offered the President Biden’s administration its support, and Uber, which is already teamed up with Moderna on vaccine education programs.

This also opens the door for participation from a range of startups and smaller companies in both the logistics and the care delivery space that don’t have the scale or the specialized equipment to be able to offer extreme ‘cold-chain’ storage. Technical barriers have been a blocker for some who have been looking for ways to assist, but lacked the necessary hardware and expertise to do so effectively.

8 investors discuss Stockholm’s maturing startup ecosystem

In the realm of European startup ecosystems, Sweden — largely Stockholm — ranks very close to the behemoths of London, Paris and Berlin. And with 10 million people, the nation certainly punches above its weight, having produced unicorns such as Spotify and Klarna, to name only two.

As a result, the eight investors we surveyed are characteristically bullish about the future, despite a pandemic strategy that became more restrictive in the second half of last year.

Sweden’s initially laissez-faire approach to controlling COVID-19 might have helped its tech ecosystem ride out the uncertainty. “Sweden is more open and is ahead of the pandemic curve, so more people are coming here than the other way around,” said Jacob Key, founding partner with Luminar Ventures.

Several people we spoke to said they saw green shoots regarding revenue growth and retention in their portfolio companies as founders adapted to the pandemic. Areas that are benefitting include digital health and remote work for obvious reasons, but given Sweden’s strength in fintech and gaming, those sectors are both well positioned to thrive.

As consumers become more desirous of sustainability, responsible shopping, green travel and plant-based food alternatives “will likely contribute to a surge in companies in this space,” said Sofia Dolfe of Index Ventures.

Oversaturated areas are media/adtech and wellness/fitness apps.

Some of the trends these investors are excited about include deep tech, AI, machine learning, healthcare/medtech, industrial IoT, energy storage and energy-efficient power generation, robotics, intelligent production and additive manufacturing.

“I think there is a lot of interesting stuff coming out of Stockholm and accelerating with all recent success stories,” said VNV Global’s Bjorn von Sivers.

Here’s who we spoke to:


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Jacob Key, founding partner, Luminar Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
AI automation, democratization, SMB SaaS.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Hiberworld.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Real-time sustainability health trackers for both consumers and businesses.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Super dedicated and talented team going after major problems.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Adtech companies, consumer lending companies, e-commerce retail, niche problems.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
100% in the broader Swedish ecosystem.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Gaming, fintech, applied AI, security, e-health. Mindler, Insurello, Hiberworld, Greenely, Normative, Marcus Janback, Tanmoy Bari.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Strong momentum, more and more serial founders and experienced founders, strong broader ecosystem, product and tech-led founders with a global view.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Sweden is more open and is ahead of the pandemic curve so more people coming here than the other way around.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel, mobility, nice-to-have SaaS, recruiting. They should focus on work, event, travel 2.0 security, sustainability, e-health and entertainment.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Not really. Focus on resourceful execution, digital-first sales, extend runway. Biggest worry is a much cooler investment climate.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
E-health, gaming, remote work, fintech.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Founders seem even more dedicated, digital transformation happens much faster.

Bjorn von Sivers, partner, VNV Global

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Business models with strong network effects. Mobility and micromobility services, Digital health, online marketplaces.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
SWVL, Babylon Health, Voi Technology.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Startups addressing climate change, either indirect or direct. I think it will grow immensely over the coming years.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Business models with strong network effects.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
VNV Global has a global mandate. Approximately 10% of the portfolio is Sweden/Stockholm based.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Any consumer service coming out of Stockholm eco system. In the portfolio I would highlight Voi Technology and Fredrik Hjelm (micromobility) and Grace Health founded by Estelle Westling and Thérèse Mannheimer that is building a digital health clinic for women in emerging markets.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
I think there is a lot of interesting stuff coming out of Stockholm and accelerating with all recent success stories. Spotify, iZettle, etc.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
It will probably increase a bit, but not significantly.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
International travel still has a lot of uncertainty and low visibility. Digital health and micromobility is defiantly seeing unprecedented demand.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Not really impacted our strategy. I would say founders think a lot about the funding climate and how to best plan in this lower visibility environment.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, all across the portfolio.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The fast recovery in our mobility businesses, which essentially saw activity drop significantly in late March/early April and has rebounded strongly since May

Ashley Lundström, partner, EQT Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
I’m personally excited about investing in teams solving important problems — the ones that affect disadvantaged populations, society at large, the environment, etc. And the exciting part is that we’re seeing more and more of this — especially from serial entrepreneurs who have built companies, maybe even had good exits and now want to dedicate their skills to meaningful journeys.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
It actually hasn’t been announced yet as we literally closed a few days ago and it’s one that our AI platform Motherbrain pointed us to. It’s one of those companies that when you hear about what they’re building you just say, “Oh of course, that’s a no-brainer.” It’s a great example of a product-led company seeing strong organic growth from a global user base and we’re chomping at the bit to start working together. Prior to this, my latest most exciting investment is Anyfin. Anyfin is a prime example of the potential of Stockholm’s second generation teams, coming out of the Swedish unicorns iZettle, Klarna and Spotify. They’re a fintech building financial wellness products for users who need it the most. They’ve started with targeting interest rates head-on via a refinancing product and are launching more products and markets with the Series B funding raising they secured this spring.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
I’m keen to see teams who combine market experience with startup experience. All too often teams are either one or the other and I’d love to see a team come together where one co-founder says, “I know this problem inside-out because I’ve lived it” and another co-founder who says, “I know how to build and bring ideas to life.” This combo would be really powerful. Over and above that, I’m generally focused on investing in teams solving problems that are shared by huge bases — either consumers or the long tail of B2B. One must in my book is that the product has to be consumer grade. This is obvious for consumer (although not always a given), but it’s something that we’ve become religious about in B2B too.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
We’re in the business of exceptions so I find it hard to rule out a category altogether due to competition. That being said, there are always sectors where it’s tricky to envision a winner-takes-all or winner-takes-most, for structural reasons, such as some types of recruiting or staffing, D2Cs or digital health services.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Our strategy is to be local with locals and we invest broadly across Europe and, in specific cases, in the U.S. So, while personally my time’s spent somewhat weighted toward the Nordics, more than 50% of the companies I work with are outside the Nordic countries. Motherbrain has helped us flatten geographies further, discovering great startups regardless of where they’re located, and we regularly invest in great teams outside our local ecosystems.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
There’s a lot of talent for consumer products coming out of the Nordics — particularly fintech in Stockholm (Tink, Anyfin, Brite), gaming in Finland (Small Giant Games, Reworks, Traplight), and a range of products out of Copenhagen including edtech and health tech (Eduflow, Corti). The great engineering talent we have in this region is also producing incredibly strong tech teams — particularly in Finland, such as Varjo, Speechly and Robocorp. We’re even starting to see some interesting activity in quantum computing (e.g., IQM) in the region. There are also some moonshot companies coming out of the Nordics that we’re excited about long term, such as Solein, Einride, Heart Aerospace and Northvolt.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The Nordic countries continue to punch above their weight and I am confident that this trend will continue — meaning the investment opportunities will be many. As the ecosystems mature, the quality will continue to improve, which also speaks to this trend over time. Historically, downturns have produced strong tech companies, so I wouldn’t be surprised if investors are keeping a close eye on the region to make sure they get the chance to back some of the most seasoned entrepreneurs who will most certainly be looking for ways to make the most of the current climate.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I believe we’ll see more remote teams, absolutely. However, I still think the hubs will be strong and important pieces of the ecosystem and I don’t think we’ll see these cities shrinking by material numbers. Though if people leave the most expensive cities, who could blame them? I do, however, think we’ll see a more sharp trend of teams that were fairly local in the past, expanding to new geographies. And what may happen is that in itself will reveal new talent pools, which over the long term could create more hubs.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Tech is in a great position overall because businesses are generally either working on digitization, which is seeing acceleration out of COVID-19 … so tech falls clearly on the right side of that line, or green field modern or even futuristic ideas. Of the latter, of course, some of these ideas are nice-to-haves, which struggle when consumers are facing tough financial situations, but plenty are services that we believe we’ll see working out long term. Of course anything physical, where the team isn’t able to adapt the product quickly, like events or exercise services, will face temporary dips, but if these companies were originally betting on long-term trends, we believe that they’ll still be in good positions going forward.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 hasn’t affected our strategy, but it has helped us keep our eye on the ball in terms of making sure we stick to our strategy and stay mindful of our own runway — funds have that too! The advice to our founders has been the following: (1) Extend the runway so you keep your options open, and then (2) be as aggressive as you possibly can. We’re encouraging teams to act quickly — both in terms of making internal decisions and in getting products to market to test them out. Our founders’ biggest worries are uncertainties around how long “this” will all last — and our advice here is that they should operate as they always do and not wait for things to change, rather be ultrarelevant in the market you’re in.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes! We’ve got a couple companies who are really well positioned — particularly Wolt (food delivery) and the mobile games companies we’ve backed (Popcore, Reworks, Traplight, etc.). The current climate is especially favorable for these types of companies, and we’ve got great founders at the wheels who have been able to take advantage of the opportunities presented and who have seen tremendous growth as a result.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The efforts by the public sector, including healthcare providers, to accelerate digitization has been refreshing. Sectors who have all too often had plenty of excuses for being slow and conservative have suddenly made big leaps — and they’re proud of themselves for having done so! This gives me hope that there will be new or renewed appetites even as things go back to normal.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
The Nordic countries have many great examples of digital tools used by the general public to conduct their everyday lives digitally. I would encourage founders and business leaders to look to these examples and see if there are opportunities to build for other geographies. Scandinavian trendsetting isn’t just for fashion and interior design!

Ted Persson, partner, EQT Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
My main passion lies in backing ambitious teams solving real problems with real technology. So, pretty deep tech sometimes — the anti-thesis of “yet another B2B SaaS company solving almost the same problem in almost the same way.” I’m also interested in product and design-centric teams using superior UX to democratize something that previously was limited to a privileged few. Currently, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about and doing research into the future of the creative industries, marketing, product design, etc.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
This spring, I’ve led or been involved in four investments across quantum computing, group collaboration and two in the design and development tooling space. None of these have been announced yet though. The last announced investments were Sonantic and Frontify — both very cool companies.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Edtech is certainly one.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
As we’re looking for outliers, it’s hard to generalize. But I get more excited about companies tying to solve hard problems rather than just piecing together a few APIs (which anyone can do).

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
I personally don’t have a geographical focus and enjoy working with our teams across Europe and the world, but since I live in Sweden, my network is slightly stronger here. Our proprietary AI platform Motherbrain also ensures we find rapidly growing or under-the-radar startups outside of our local ecosystems and networks.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
We’re pretty good at gaming, entertainment, music and fintech in the Nordics. It’s also easier to find really great designers here than in other parts of Europe.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Yes, for sure. It’s too early to tell, but a couple of portfolio companies have given up on their physical offices and a lot of startup people I know are working from across the country. I for sure think this will lead to a more international climate.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
A lot has been written about this already and, just like every other investor, we’ve spent a fair share of the spring mapping this out. All in all, tech is in a good position.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
There’s been no change in our strategy. There was some initial confusion for obvious reasons and we took a short break to make sure our portfolio was in a good position to endure. Now, we’re back to normal and have made our first investments where we haven’t met the teams physically.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, certainly in a couple of areas, such as food delivery, gaming, remote working and collaboration.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
When people around myself, parents, older relatives, all of a sudden embrace digital tools and ways of working fully.

Sofia Dolfe, principal, Index Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
I love products that give people a strong feeling of community, of belonging to a group of like-minded people, and a sense of being invested in its success. Users are so passionate about the product that they can’t stop themselves from recommending it to their friends, and their affinity with the brand grows over time. Search for these types of businesses often leads me to consumer businesses and marketplaces that are customer-centric and bring communities together.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I am interested to hear about new takes on education in a post-COVID world in which people may be more open to challenge the traditional ways of learning.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
I am looking for founders who are inspiring storytellers. So much of building a business is about getting everyone to come along for the ride, from the senior execs joining you, to the customers taking a chance on a young yet unproven business, to investors taking a leap of faith and sharing in your ambition. Founders who are great storytellers, are hungry and dream big from the get-go, and have the humility to know what they don’t know, will be in my view those who have the best chance at making it big.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Stockholm has historically been at the forefront of both fintech and gaming, and I do think these sectors are well positioned to thrive. Financial services will continue to be transformed, and the modern banking infrastructure in the Nordics makes this an attractive place to start a fintech business. As for gaming, the region has a strong track record and a high concentration of both studios and developer talent, making it a particularly fertile ground for breakout successes. A newer, fast-growing theme in the region is conscious consumption. Stockholm has a long history of eco-friendliness, and the maturity of CSR, responsible shopping, green travel and plant-based food alternatives will likely contribute to a surge in companies in this space. I’m excited to meet with founders who care deeply about this endeavor.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Stockholm has proven itself to be a strong tech hub, and it has many of the necessary ingredients for continued successes. For one, founders think big and global from the start. Sweden has a population of 10 million, and founders creating category-defining companies know that they must enter other markets to dominate. The scale of companies such as King, Spotify and iZettle has also shown that success is within reach and cultivated a sense of courage among aspiring entrepreneurs. Sometimes the world risks underestimating the Swedes because they tend to be understated but as the track record of Sweden shows, they overdeliver.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
A few weeks ago I saw a handwritten note in the entrance of an apartment building in Stockholm. One of the residents was offering to purchase groceries, medication and other essential items to those unwell or at risk in the building. I’m hopeful that in times of difficulty, we are reminded of the importance of our local communities, of taking responsibility for others, and of how valuable a simple act of kindness can be to building relationships.

Staffan Helgesson, partner, Creandum

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Transformation of old and large industries such as transportation, construction, real estate, etc. Digital health — we will need to transform current health industry.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Mavenoid. Automating tech support globally. Ex-Palantir founders.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Insurance markets have not yet seen the wave of startups that the general fintech industry has seen.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Crazy ambitious entrepreneurs with their eyes set on disrupting a global market.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Many consumer verticals are tough to penetrate given big tech and related oligopoly. But every time I say that new phenomenal companies emerge. Such as Creandum’s portfolio company Kahoot that just listed in Oslo for $1.5 billion.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Creandum invests all across EU. No set targets — we just want to find the best entrepreneurs.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
If picking one industry we’re very excited about digital health with Stockholm-based Firstvet and Kry/Livi. (telemedicine for humans and pet owners).

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Stockholm/Nordics is a very sophisticated ecosystem that consistently keep producing global winners on a regular basis.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Great companies will increasingly be built anywhere and we as an industry need to adapt. Those venture firms adapting best and fastest will be the winners going forward. I foresee a second green wave, like in the 70s, where people will move out from cities and/or have a dual-home setup.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and entertainment obviously. But even in these industries there will be winners going forward if they can ride the wave of digitizing (for example, tickets and events).

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
It’s all about access to long-term capital and track record. Creandum’s strategy has not changed at all.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, especially in digital health.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Closing a fully remote investment. Company called Meditopia — in Turkey of all places :-).

Tanya Horowitz, partner, Butterfly Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Deep tech, AI, machine learning, healthcare/medtech, industrial IoT and related cloud services and communication solutions, Energy storage and energy-efficient power generation, robotics, intelligent production, and additive manufacturing.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Uute Scientific has created a natural product containing a specific mixture of microbes, which can be applied to various consumer products. These products decrease the probability of getting immune-mediated diseases, like asthma or Type 1 diabetes and consequently improve quality of life.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
In the region (Nordics), would like to see more in energy storage, power generation and energy/carbon reduction technologies. Food tech and agtech are an area to look toward given the world’s increasing population. Edtech due to the COVID crisis.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We are looking for a strong team with unique tech aimed toward a global market.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Media/adtech unless truly unique seem to be oversaturated; also wellness/fitness apps, etc.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Finland 40%-50%, Sweden 30%+, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Baltics remaining 20%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Industries: Health/medical.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
I think in Finland and the entire Nordics there is ample opportunities to invest in stellar teams and technologies that have a global market. The talent pool and support of the startup ecosystems are top notch.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I do not see startup hubs losing people in the Nordics. I do however see founders coming from geographies outside major cities.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Obvious is retail, restaurants, service industry. Also education (edtech) should be an area to really look into. Online entertainment (OTT), logistics (food, goods delivery), etc.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
It has only affected it slightly, we were lucky that we were almost at the end of our investment period and our portfolio of companies are set for this current fund vintage. We are the leading seed-stage deep tech investor in the Nordics and therefore most of our companies have fared OK.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, some of our portfolio has benefited from the pandemic, while others suffered with customers initially but seem to be recovered now.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
We are raising Butterfly Ventures Fund IV and started before the pandemic hit. While this has slowed us down slightly, our anchor and other LPs are rock solid and we as a team are committed to getting the first close done ASAP to capitalize with that dry powder in early 2021. While my heart goes out to those who have not been so lucky, personally we have been blessed to not have had direct tragedies related to the pandemic … and my son is happy and healthy and that alone gives me hope everyday.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Global LPs should really explore Europe more, especially the Nordics!

Sanna Westman, principal, Creandum

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Well, we typically say that if you invest in trends you’re late to the party … but of course there are some macro movements that are exciting and we monitor closely. For me personally digital health is one of those areas, it’s not new but constantly developing and has of course been further accelerated the past year. Another area that is really interesting are products that help you be a better leader/manager/company. I’m not sure how to productize this but there’s a huge opportunity in amplifying leadership. We’ve seen success with companies giving the individual user superpowers (no-code tools, productivity tools, etc.) but how about helping people scaling themselves and their teams? Remote work has a lot of benefits, but puts new challenges on managers. I also believe we’ll see more quality companies battling climate change in different ways.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
SafetyWing — on the intersection of social security and remote work.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
There’s plenty more to do within B2B commerce: marketplaces, e-commerce enablers, new ways of financing, etc. Sure there are companies, but no way near as many (good) ones as it should be.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
A short time to “Wow.” Solutions that can give the user an instant value and then continue to add to that value they more they use the product

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Mobility and delivery in general is quite crowded. Also open-banking payment solutions has seen a huge surge.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
The Nordics is along with DACH one of the key focus markets for Creandum, though there’s no set allocation for any certain geography. We strive to back the best companies regardless of where they’re located.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Compared to other hubs there is a very high product focus in general, and given that Sweden is a small market the mindset is also international from day one. I think that makes more of a difference than a certain vertical. In terms of exciting companies Kive and Depict are worth keeping eyes on for the very early stages. For the more mature startups Kry and Firstvet are doing great as early enablers of digital health.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Increasingly competitive but also a lot of strong talent.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Even before the pandemic very few startups in Stockholm had 100% of their workforce in one location anyway, a hybrid setup was and continue to be very common.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
As the fund invests with a very long time horizon, +10 years, the short-term impact is not a key concern but of course we think about the long-term effects on e.g., business travel. We tend to look for the opportunities more than the drawbacks though, and there will be opportunities for new companies in industries that have been heavily impacted. It might actually prove to be good timing to disrupt.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Initially we were cautious around runway and worked closely with the portfolio to make sure they could survive for a longer time should revenues decline and funding not be available. Summing up 2020 though, we were fortunate to look back on a year where many companies had overperformed and were able to raise significant up rounds. Great companies are created in all times and were committed to find the best seed and Series A companies.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Definitely. We’ve seen several examples of V-shaped recovery, with revenues bumping back above pre-COVID levels and continuing on that trajectory.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The hustle and optimism among entrepreneurs we meet. The “impossible is nothing” attitude is really inspiring.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally?
I’d say some of the active “stay in the background” angels/mentors that are supporting a new generation such as Joachim Hedenius (Kry, CTO) or Johan Crona. And Susanna Campbell/Cristina Stenbeck who have been very active in their joint investments, often finding opportunities the VCs miss.

Certific, a health tech startup from the founder of TransferWise, aims to be the rails for certified home testing

Certific, a health tech startup co-founded by TransferWise’s Taavet Hinrikus, is breaking cover today with the launch of what it claims is the first “certified” remote COVID-19 testing service.

The British-Estonian company is using techniques borrowed from the worlds of fintech and telemedicine, including asking users to film themselves while taking the at-home test, in a bold attempt to solve remote testing’s adherence and trust problem.

Initially targeting private individuals and businesses in the U.K., with other markets to follow, tests can be ordered online and are carried out remotely with the promise of a certified result the following day for PCR tests and in under 90 minutes for antigen tests.

More broadly, the Certific app and user journey is designed to increase trust in remote testing and ensure that self-performed tests reach the same standard as those carried out in a clinical setting.

“When the pandemic hit, we started toying around with the first finger prick tests to see if you have antibodies, and thinking, ‘hey, is there a way to make use of these to help the world along,’ ” Hinrikus told me during an interview earlier this week. “[But] then it turned out that these kind of antibody tests, and the end immunity, was a very unclear concept. And so we kind of put it on hold, but we kept on thinking about what better things we can do to make testing more trustworthy and easier”.

Then late last year he and Certific’s other co-founders — physician Dr. Jack Kreindler and CEO Liis Narusk — realised that there were things “that we can and should be doing to come up with a more democratised way of medical testing, and apply this to the pandemic”.

Hinrikus doesn’t quite say it, but as the founder of TransferWise and a prolific angel investor, including backing Estonian verification platform Veriff, there’s little doubt that Certific is partly inspired by the authentication techniques that have gained prominence in fintech, such as video selfies used to onboard new customers at digital banks. In addition, medical director Kreindler has experience with anti-doping in close-combat sports.

Coupled with more traditional identity checks, the Certific app asks you to film yourself while you take the test. The recording and test result is securely uploaded to Certific and checked by a qualified physician to ensure you have adhered to the manufacturer’s instructions properly. A medical certification containing the test result is then delivered back to the app. PCR tests cost £64, and the soon to be available rapid antigen tests will be sold in 12-packs for £249 (making the price of a single antigen test £20.75).

But how easy would it be to cheat the test and therefore fake a result? “That’s one thing we definitely are very, very focused on solving,” says Certific CEO Narusk. “Our experience in all the anti-fraud and anti-cheat areas means that we went far and beyond to make sure that you can’t actually tamper with the process. So when you record the video, and after you have recorded the video, it is checked by our test verification officers who make sure that you haven’t moved the tests away from the screen”.

In addition, Certific ensures that the test you have used is actually the test that you ordered and contains the same unique ID, and that you are the person who was supposed to do the test.

That in itself isn’t entirely fraud proof, and Hinrikus clarifies that Certific is initially focusing on ensuring that a test is carried out medically correctly. He says that a higher-priced tier will be offered at a later stage with enhanced video verification, such as a live operator acting as a witness.

This could be particularly useful for businesses, such as live events or travel, where there could be incentives for individuals to cheat and where operators may be required to prove to insurance companies or government authorities that they are COVID-19 safe.

Kreindler, Certific’s medical director, contrasts this with key workers that are currently permitted by U.K. authorities to carry out coronavirus home-testing without any additional verification, but who aren’t nearly as likely to want to fake a result.

“If you think about it, those public servants are not at a great disadvantage if they test positive, because they still get paid. So there’s less of an incentive to cheat. And the challenge comes where you are doing point of care testing in an environment where there actually is some incentive or a big disadvantage [to testing positive]”.

Kreindler also says it’s not just about individuals and that Certific has worked with academics in Estonia, North America and in the U.K. to develop a computational risk model for mass testing for “super spreader” environments, such as large events. People will not only be able to take a test at home before attending, but a risk model that continually learns and takes into account “democratised decentralised testing” and an understanding of vaccination and immunity, could enable further mitigations to be put in place to make sure there’s no net spread of the virus back into the community. “That’s very core to our thinking going forward,” he says. “It’s not just about certifying testing, it’s also about certifying crowds”.

Zooming out even further — and beyond the current coronavirus pandemic — Certific has been built to be entirely test agnostic. Combining speed, convenience, adherence and trust, the company aims to be the rails on which existing and future home tests can run (my words, not theirs). In the future, this could span testing for sexually transmitted diseases (SDIs) to anti-doping tests in sports. And, of course, new types of COVID-19 tests as they come on stream.

Notable Health seeks to improve COVID-19 vaccine administration through intelligent automation

Efficient and cost-effective vaccine distribution remains one of the biggest challenges of 2021, so it’s no surprise that startup Notable Health wants to use their automation platform to help. Initially started to help address the nearly $250 billion annual administrative costs in healthcare, Notable Health launched in 2017 to use automation to replace time-consuming and repetitive simple tasks in health industry admin. In early January of this year, they announced plans to use that technology as a way to help manage vaccine distribution.

“As a physician, I saw firsthand that with any patient encounter, there are 90 steps or touchpoints that need to occur,” said Notable Health medical director Muthu Alagappan in an interview. “It’s our hypothesis that the vast majority of those points can be automated.”

Notable Health’s core technology is a platform that uses robotic process automation (RPA), natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning to find eligible patients for the COVID-19 vaccine. Combined with data provided by hospital systems’ electronic health records, the platform helps those qualified to receive the vaccine set up appointments and guides them to other relevant educational resources.

“By leveraging intelligent automation to identify, outreach, educate and triage patients, health systems can develop efficient and equitable vaccine distribution workflows,” said Notable Health strategic advisor and Biden Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board Member Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, in a press release.

Making vaccine appointments has been especially difficult for older Americans, many of whom have reportedly struggled with navigating scheduling websites. Alagappan sees that as a design problem. “Technology often gets a bad reputation, because it’s hampered by the many bad technology experiences that are out there,” he said.

Instead, he thinks Notable Health has kept the user in mind through a more simplified approach, asking users only for basic and easy-to-remember information through a text message link. “It’s that emphasis on user-centric design that I think has allowed us to still have really good engagement rates even with older populations,” he said.

While the startup’s platform will likely help hospitals and health systems develop a more efficient approach to vaccinations, its use of RPA and NLP holds promise for future optimization in healthcare. Leaders of similar technology in other industries have already gone on to have multi-billion dollar valuations, and continue to attract investors’ interest.

Artificial intelligence is expected to grow in healthcare over the next several years, but Alagappan argues that combining that with other, more readily available intelligent technologies is also an important step towards improved care. “When we say intelligent automation, we’re really referring to the marriage of two concepts: artificial intelligence—which is knowing what to do—and robotic process automation—which is knowing how to do it,” he said. That dual approach is what he says allows Notable Health to bypass administrative bottlenecks in healthcare, instructing bots to carry out those tasks in an efficient and adaptable way.

So far, Notable Health has worked with several hospital systems across multiple states in using their platform for vaccine distribution and scheduling, and are now using the platform to reach out to tens of thousands of patients per day.

NASA will use Fitbits to help prevent spread of COVID-19 to astronauts and employees

NASA will provide 1,000 of its employees, including 150 astronauts, with Fitbit devices in a pilot program designed to see if they can help supplement efforts to keep these mission-critical personnel healthy ahead of key space missions. The program will see NASA employees outfitted with a wearable, and provided access to a daily check-in app they can use to log potential symptoms, as well as their body temperature and other key health metrics, which could potentially help spot developing cases.

NASA has already been taking measures to isolate astronauts and to limit or prevent the spread of COVID-19 across its facilities, which are located across the U.S. It has of course followed local guidelines and requirements regarding COVID-19 protections, but it also introduced its own level-based system last year and implemented remote work protocols for many employees wherever possible. On the astronaut side, it has also beefed up existing isolation and sequestration procedures that are already quite strict in order to guarantee that its spacefarers don’t get sick before they’re set to make a trip to the International Space Station.

The new Fitbit program is designed to supplement those existing measure, providing tracked health metrics including resting heart rate and heart rate variability, as well as respiratory rate, changes in all of which all of which have been linked to COVID-19. Those stats, along with the self-reported metrics logged by users themselves, including any reports of potential symptoms, will be used by the app to provide individuals in the program with guidance about whether they should go into work, or stay home and take additional measures to find out if they have COVID-19.

Fitbit is already engaged in studies to determine whether or not its wearable devices and the metrics they log can be useful in providing early COVID-19 detection. Regardless of those results, self-reporting as well as the baseline health metrics that the app logs from its devices are already likely to be handy in providing a supplement to existing self-assessment measures regarding the level of risk you pose to others if you’re feeling off, which is the primary purpose of this program with NASA.

Sharify makes it super simple to rediscover your city’s social side

The pandemic has upended many aspects of urban life but perhaps the most visible upheaval is to citydwellers’ social lives, with curfews calling time on traditional night life across much of the Western world and social distancing putting a chilly spin on opportunities for getting together with people outside your usual circle. Who knew leaving the house was going to seem like such a mission?

Opportunities to escape the city entirely — such as by jetting off somewhere — remain severely limited or even impossible right now, depending on where you live. And for many urbanites COVID-19 may feel as if it’s turned the advantages of city living on its head, despite lockdowns generally not being as hard-line as they were at times last year and vaccines now (slowly) being rolled out.

Sharify is a startup that reckons it can help with the weird flatness of pandemic city living. It’s a real-time events app (iOS and Android) that wants to bring back a little of the serendipitous joy of urban living by making it easier to discovery things going on around you — maybe even just a few blocks away. To do this it’s combined real-time event listings with a map view (via the medium of emoji-style icons plus filters) to quickly and cheerfully surround you with stuff that’s happening in the vicinity.

Though the business idea predates COVID-19, Sharify isn’t blind to the changes wrought by the pandemic. And the app displays a star icon next to events that are deemed COVID-19 ‘safe’ — a subtle promotion meaning the organizer has measures in place to reduce the risk of contagion, such as controlling venue capacity, providing disinfectant hand gel and ensuring tables/seating are safety spaced. (Which may well be legal requirements for a venue to be open for business, of course.)

At the same time, the app lets users share their own meeting plan with other users — potentially encouraging a bunch of strangers to meet up to play some music or hang out in the park or whatnot — so its appropriateness for the pandemic moment in which we find ourselves does depend on how you use it.

It’s open to social swings or roundabouts, you could say. (And limits on when/how clubs and bars can open may well be pushing a socially oriented and app-savvy demographic toward alternative ways (and tools) to mingle with strangers.)

More broadly, Sharify invites users to rethink the concept of travel and trips — asking them to refocus their attention and energy on discovering entertaining things to do without having to go far or plan far ahead. Because, well, what else can anyone really do right now? Apart from stay at home ofc.

The app does have two ‘view’ modes: One for events geared towards locals and/or a dedicated ‘tourist’ view to cater to those wanting to do more typical sightseeing — though content for the latter is obviously thinner on the ground at the moment. (And, well, ‘tourism’ as a concept is starting to feel rather quaint and old-fashioned vs properly exploring your own backyard.)

Officially Sharify is launched in Barcelona, Madrid and New York City — but says it’s “expanding quickly” and touts being “present” in 25+ cities around the world (presumably with a lighter events cadence vs those three).

I tested the app in Barcelona and quickly found a bunch of local events that looked interesting — at least compared to another night of thumbing through the Netflix catalogue — from a Banksy art exhibition, to a stand up comedy show (in English!), lots of theatre, a bunch of markets, yoga classes and a skateboarding event all going on within, at most, a couple of miles and days from where I’ve been spending the vast majority of my time for, like, almost a whole entire year.

Just the act of seeing stuff still going on in a city which, frankly, hasn’t felt very familiar or open for much of anything for close to 12 months was a bit of an eye opener.

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After so much time locked down indoors maybe we all need a bit of a nudge/visual reminder that life is still going on — and socializing is still possible (with appropriate safety measures and distancing) — beyond the front door and away from the Zoom screen (or any other screen tbh). Even if I’m not about to sign up for everything I spotted in the app. But feeling like I could is almost exciting enough.

As well as providing key details about each event (when, where, any website etc), Sharify lets you signal an intent to go that’s visible to other users by ‘joining’ an event. It also hosts per event chat where those who have joined are invited to “talk to people who join the plan” — which is another neat little nudge to get users excited about going to a local thing, maybe without their usual friend group in tow.

Sharify isn’t disclosing how many users it has but it says it has 100,000+ monthly event views (3K+ daily), and 5,000+ events every month. (On Google Play the app has had 10,000+ installs.)

Where users create their own plans to advertise to others it touts an impressively high “join” rate of 95%. (Albeit saying you’re going to something you found via an app isn’t the same as actually turning up.)

To encourage users to discover and attend others’ events, Sharify displays a smilie face on the map in locations where several people are up for ‘sharing plans’ — listing the number of people theoretically up for joining in stuff around there and nudging you to ‘create a plan in this area’ to tap into that potential guest pool.

It also lets you drill down to check out micro profiles of these (public) socially interested locals — displaying a first name, perhaps a photo and any ‘interests’ if they’ve chosen to select some from its curated lists of culture, hobbies, sports and social activities etc. (Happily there’s no option to message individual users via their profile so no fear of stupid in-app spam.)

Location-based and social sharing is not new, of course. Indeed, it’s an idea that’s been around the tech block so many times the sound of a ‘real-time events map’ probably triggers a fuzzy feeling of ‘haven’t I seen this before somewhere?’ The deja vu may be real but context is ever shifting, is the point. Or, to put it another way, here and now, in an open-ended pandemic, going about finding something to do probably looks and feels quite a bit different to how you did it, pre-March 2020.

Put simply: Best laid plans are toast. Friends who don’t live in the same city are likely reachable only on Zoom or by text. And at very least you’re dealing with hard limits on how far you can range for your entertainment in time and space.

Local and/or virtual is the new global, all of a sudden. So Sharify reckons its real-time events map is just the ticket/tonic in this curtailed context — by cheerfully surrounding you with nearby stuff to do. The 2017-founded startup says it’s been growing “despite” the pandemic.

“We’re stuck at home, and we saw all the Netflix series. Is there any plan near my home for this afternoon? Event agendas simply don’t work in this user case. That’s why we built a real-time map,” says co-founder and CEO Gemma Prenafeta. “And the problem we will face in some months from now: I’m not stuck at home anymore. Where do I find new events easily?”

“As Sharify is a collaborative platform, we let people share their own events for free, we scrape different event sources such as Google and Tiqets, and we highlight those businesses that want to promote themselves,” she adds, giving a succinct explainer on how the app populates the map view with stuff to do.

Social maps aren’t new, of course — and features like Snap Map, which was added to Snap’s social network via its acquisition of Zenly, certainly has a bit of overlap (while Sharify’s smiley octopus logo on a yellow background has more than a little of Snap’s ghost in look and feel), though Snap Map is more obviously focused on friends’ location and social sharing vs Sharify being about event discovery, first and foremost. (Friends may follow from this real-life socializing, is the suggestion.)

There are also event discovery network startups (like calendar-focused IRL). But, again, with such a glance-friendly map view, Sharify is paying closer attention to immediacy/hyper-local event discovery vs IRL — which pivoted to helping people surface virtual events as the pandemic shuttered lots of real world events last year and has since focused on building out its own social network.

“The ‘immediacy’ factor is key at Sharify, as you can see what’s happening, in real-time,” says Prenafeta. “We say going to a local event is a kind of ‘Local Trip’. Traveling before was about taking flights, now it’s about taking a Bird or a eCooltra to an event nearby.”

Whether mapping real-time events is a standalone business or a feature/tool that could just be added to a dominant platform/social network is perhaps a more pressing question for this fledgling startup. And it’s notable that tech (and mapping) giant Google added a ‘Community Feed’ to Maps late last year.

Facebook has also had an ‘Events Near Me‘ feature on its platform for years. Albeit, anything listed inside its walled garden has to contend with all the baggage Facebook brings with it. So an indie app with a fresh approach should have a chance to attract users who wouldn’t be caught dead on Facebook (even in a pandemic).

Sharify has certainly come up with a really effortless way to spark a sense of possibility — to feel like you can cut through the monotony of lockdown life — just by firing up a super simple overview of stuff going on around you.

It then layers on some more powerful tools that are designed to help you find others to do stuff with, which adds a subtle but maybe deeper hook in these socially distanced times.

“Life is still pretty locked down, and that’s why it’s more important than ever to know what’s open and what isn’t, close to our house,” suggests Prenafeta. And, well, it’s pretty hard to argue with that.

She’s looking beyond the pandemic too — back to more normalcy and anticipating helping local businesses announce their reopenings, once that’s possible. The team is “currently working on a seed investment round to prepare for the post-pandemic momentum”, she says.

So far the Barcelona-based startup has raised a pre-seed and an angel round led by IESE Group, per Prenafeta — with a total of €501,000 (~$600k) invested to date into what has turned out to be a contextually fresh twist on the old SoMoLo trend.

Mount Sinai study finds Apple Watch can predict COVID-19 diagnosis up to a week before testing

A new study from Mount Sinai researchers published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research found that wearable hardware, and specifically the Apple Watch, can effectively predict a positive COVID-19 diagnosis up to a week before current PCR-based nasal swab tests.

The investigation dubbed the ‘Warrior Watch Study,‘ used a dedicated Apple Watch and iPhone app and included participants from Mount Sinai staff. It required participants to use the app for health data monitoring and collection, and also asked that they fill out a day survey to provide direct feedback about their potential COVID-19 symptoms, and other factor including stress.

During the course of the study, the research team enlisted “several hundred health care workers” to participate, and collected data over several months, between April and September. The primary biometric signal that the study’s authors were watching was heart rate variability (HRV), which is a key indicator of strain on a person’s nervous system. This information was combined with information around reported symptoms associated with COVID-19, including fever, aches, dry cough, gastrointestinal issues, loss of taste and smell, among others.

The Warrior Watch Study was not only able to predict infections up to a week before tests provided confirmed diagnoses, but also revealed that participants’ HRV patterns normalized fairly quickly after their diagnosis, returning to normal roughly one to two weeks following their positive tests.

As to what the study could lead to in terms of actual interventions, the study’s authors note that it can help anticipate outcomes and isolate individuals from others who are at risk. Most importantly, it provides a means for doing so remotely, allowing caregivers to anticipate or detect a COVID-19 case without even doing a physical exam or a administering a nasal swab test, which can help take precautionary measures in high-risk situations when cases are suspected, possibly preventing any spread before someone is highly contagious.

The study is ongoing, and will expand to examine what else wearables like the Apple Watch and their onboard sensors can tell us about other impacts of COVID-19 on the health of care workers, including what factors like sleep and physical activity can have in association with the disease.

Mount Sinai study finds Apple Watch can predict COVID-19 diagnosis up to a week before testing

A new study from Mount Sinai researchers published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research found that wearable hardware, and specifically the Apple Watch, can effectively predict a positive COVID-19 diagnosis up to a week before current PCR-based nasal swab tests.

The investigation dubbed the ‘Warrior Watch Study,‘ used a dedicated Apple Watch and iPhone app and included participants from Mount Sinai staff. It required participants to use the app for health data monitoring and collection, and also asked that they fill out a day survey to provide direct feedback about their potential COVID-19 symptoms, and other factor including stress.

During the course of the study, the research team enlisted “several hundred health care workers” to participate, and collected data over several months, between April and September. The primary biometric signal that the study’s authors were watching was heart rate variability (HRV), which is a key indicator of strain on a person’s nervous system. This information was combined with information around reported symptoms associated with COVID-19, including fever, aches, dry cough, gastrointestinal issues, loss of taste and smell, among others.

The Warrior Watch Study was not only able to predict infections up to a week before tests provided confirmed diagnoses, but also revealed that participants’ HRV patterns normalized fairly quickly after their diagnosis, returning to normal roughly one to two weeks following their positive tests.

As to what the study could lead to in terms of actual interventions, the study’s authors note that it can help anticipate outcomes and isolate individuals from others who are at risk. Most importantly, it provides a means for doing so remotely, allowing caregivers to anticipate or detect a COVID-19 case without even doing a physical exam or a administering a nasal swab test, which can help take precautionary measures in high-risk situations when cases are suspected, possibly preventing any spread before someone is highly contagious.

The study is ongoing, and will expand to examine what else wearables like the Apple Watch and their onboard sensors can tell us about other impacts of COVID-19 on the health of care workers, including what factors like sleep and physical activity can have in association with the disease.

The rise of the activist developer

The last few months have put technology and its role in society, especially in the United States, in the spotlight.

We need a serious conversation on the equitable and ethical use of tech, what can be done to combat the spread of misinformation and more. As we work to solve these problems, however, I hope this dialogue doesn’t overshadow one silver lining of the past year: The rise of the developer activists who are using tech for good.

They stepped up like never before to tackle numerous global issues, demonstrating they not only love solving incredibly hard problems, but can do it well and at scale.

We need a serious conversation on the equitable and ethical use of tech, what can be done to combat the spread of misinformation and more.

The responsibility lies with all of us to empower this community to unleash their entrepreneurial growth mindset and ensure more people have the opportunity to create a sustainable future for all. I’m calling on my colleagues, our industry, our governments and more to join me in supporting a new wave of developer-led activism and renew efforts to collectively close the skills gap that exists today.

From the COVID-19 pandemic, to climate change, to racial injustice, developers are playing a crucial role in creating new technologies to help people navigate today’s volatile world. Many of these developers are working on social problems on their own time, using open-source software that they can share globally. This work is helping to save lives and going forward, will help millions more.

The international research community acted early to share data and genetic sequences with one another in open-source projects that helped advance our early understanding of coronavirus and how to mobilize efforts to stop it. The ability for researchers to track genetic codes around the world in near real-time is crucial to our response.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was able to digitize its contract signature process in just 10 days during this critical time. A team of four developers hailing from Taiwan, Brazil, Mongolia and India helped farmers navigate climate change by using weather data to make more informed crop management decisions.

From the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1950s and 1960s through the recent rallies supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, people have used passion and protests to shape the conversations that lead to a better future. Now, this rich history of people-powered action has an important new set of tools: The data, software and tech know-how that’s needed to mount a coordinated global and local response to our greatest challenges.

Today’s software developers are akin to civil engineers in the 1940s and 1950s who designed bridges and roads, creating an infrastructure that paved the path for enormous widespread progress.

The open-source code community already collaborates and shares, producing innovations that belong to everyone, focusing on progress over perfection. If a hurricane is about to create havoc in your community, don’t just fill sandbags, hit your keyboard and use open-source technologies to not only help your community, but to scale solutions to help others. DroneAID, for example, is an open-source tool that uses visual recognition to detect and count SOS icons on the ground from drones flying overhead, and then automatically plots emergency needs on a map for first responders.

A recent GitHub study shows that open-source project creation is up 25% since April of last year. Developers are signing on to contribute to open-source communities and virtual hackathons during their downtime, using their skills to create a more sustainable world.

In 2018, I helped found Call for Code with IBM, David Clark Cause and United Nations Human Rights to empower the global developer community, and a big part of our mission was to create the infrastructure needed to shepherd big ideas into real-world deployments. For our part, IBM provides the 24-million-person developer community access to the same technology being used by our enterprise clients, including our open hybrid cloud platform, AI, blockchain and quantum computing.

One winner, Prometeo, with a team including a firefighter, nurse and developers, created a system that uses artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to safeguard firefighters as they battle blazes and has been tested in multiple regions in Spain. We’ve seen developers help teachers share virtual information for homeschooling; measure the carbon footprint impact of consumer purchases; update small businesses with COVID-19 policies; help farmers navigate climate change; and improve the way businesses manage lines amid the pandemic.

This past year, Devpost partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) and challenged developers to create COVID-19 mitigation solutions in categories including health, vulnerable populations and education. The Ford Foundation and Mozilla led a fellowship program to connect technologists, activists, journalists and scientists, and strengthen organizations working at the convergence of technology and social justice. The U.S. Digital Response (USDR) connected pro-bono technologists to work with government and organizations responding to crisis.

The most complex global and societal issues can be broken down into smaller solvable tech challenges. But to solve our most complex problems, we need the brains of every country, every class, every gender. The skills-gap crisis is a global phenomenon, making it critical that we equip the next generation of problem solvers with the training and resources they need to turn great ideas into impactful solutions.

This year, we can expect to see a newly energized community of developers working across the boundaries of companies, states and countries to take on some of the world’s biggest problems.

But they can’t do it alone. These developer activists need our support, encouragement and help pinpointing the most crucial problems to address, and they need the tools to bring solutions to every corner of the world.

The true power of technology lies with those who want to change the world for good. To ensure anyone who wants to create change has the tools, resources and skillsets to do so, we must renew our focus on closing the skills gap and addressing deep inequalities in our society.

Our future depends on getting this right.

Facebook says it will remove more COVID-19 conspiracies that discourage vaccination

Vaccine misinformation has been around since well before the pandemic, but ensuring that anti-scientific conspiracies don’t get boosted online is more crucial than ever as the world races against the spread of a deadly, changing virus.

Now, Facebook says it will expand the criteria it uses to take down false vaccine claims. Under the new rules, which Facebook said it made in consultation with groups like the World Health Organization, the company will remove posts claiming that COVID-19 vaccines aren’t effective, that it’s “safer to get the disease” and the widely debunked longstanding anti-vaxxer claim that vaccines could cause autism.

Facebook says it will place a “particular focus” on enforcement against groups, Pages, groups and accounts that break the rules, noting that they may be removed from the platform outright.

Facebook took steps to limit COVID-19 vaccine misinformation in December, preparing the platform for the vaccine rollout while still lagging well behind the rampant spread of anti-vaccine claims. The company began removing posts containing some misinformation about the vaccine, including “false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips” and content claiming that the vaccine is being tested on portions of the population without their consent.

Why this kind of stuff didn’t already fall under Facebook’s rules against COVID-19 misinformation is anyone’s guess. The company came out of the gate early in the pandemic with a new set of policies intended to prevent an explosion of potentially deadly COVID-related conspiracies, but time and time again the company fails to evenly and firmly enforce its own rules.