Expara Launches New Startup Acceleration Program to Tackle Coronavirus

  • Expara is launching global virtual accelerator program VirTech in response to COVID-19
  • The three-month program will accept 30 companies, and provide funding of up to US$50,000 per team
  • Startups at any stage across industries can apply
  • Applications close on 30 April 2020

When SARS-CoV hit the world in 2002, Douglas Abrams was in Singapore. It has been 18 years since, but Abrams has not thrown caution to the wind.

“We beat [SARS-CoV] and many scary viruses in between [then] and now, and I think this one has blown up to an unprecedented scale,” he tells Jumpstart.

Abrams is Founder and CEO of Expara, a Singapore-based venture capital company that is now empowering startups on the defensive against COVID-19. The organization has launched a fully online acceleration program–Expara VirTech Global Accelerator–that focuses exclusively on the economic and social challenges posed by COVID-19.

The three-month program will accept 30 companies (with only 1-2 members of the team expected to join the program) and will provide up to $50,000 per team in funding. Expara will not be taking a stake upon acceptance to the program, as the funding will come in the form of a SAFE note or SAFE Option Agreement, deferring the equity transfer until the next funding round.

“The three months will be highly intensive,” Abrams says, adding that the scope of solutions the program targets are “detection, information, prevention and protection, and mitigation.”

The Whole Nine Yards

Although launched as a combative measure against COVID-19, the VirTech program also has a preventative purpose, factoring in future healthcare crises.

“We don’t want to be caught on the back foot as I believe we have been with this virus. Hopefully we’ll be much better prepared with the next virus,” says Abrams.

Startups emerging from the VirTech accelerator are likely to impact digital healthcare, biotech, pharmaceuticals, supply chain, consumer goods, online communication, transportation, logistics, service & hospitality, education, and risk management.

“It’s an evolving list, and I think that the length of the list testifies to the scope of the problem,” he says.

But Abrams does not want to stop there. In his view, the threat of global viral pandemics isn’t a one-time occurrence–it’s connected to structural changes and new trends rising up in the world that aren’t going away any time soon.

“The spread of the virus has revealed very deep structural flaws and imbalances in the way that we’re able to respond to situations like this,” he remarks.

What Startups Can Expect

Expara VirTech’s curriculum borrows from Abram’s teaching experience over the past two decades. Aside from managing Expara Ventures Thailand and Expara Malaysia, Abrams is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Business School and a Visiting Professor at the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

Along with workshops, mentorship and networking events, the program offers two tracks for startups that join: an investment track, and a go-to-market track.

“We help the companies during the program to develop a business plan, investor presentation deck, and financial model, and we also help them to develop their Minimum Viable Product (MVP), or a prototype if they already have the MVP,” he says. In addition, Expara will help participants connect with potential customers to obtain relevant market feedback.

VirTech will be tapping into Expara’s existing mentor base, but Abrams says the program is looking to “add more subject-matter experts and people with industry networks [in the industries that are likely to be included in the program].”

The accelerator program will conclude in an online Demo Day with a global audience. Abrams says that Expara will work with the geographical distribution of participants, investors, mentors, and other partners to make sure the timing will work for as many people as possible.

VirTech’s Line of Thought

Expara VirTech is approaching COVID-19 as part of a larger global concern: tackling COVID-19, but potential future outbreaks as well. Participants are not limited to those working to combat this current epidemic; solutions and preventative technologies for future viruses will also be accepted into the program.

“[VirTech’s] main idea is beyond just the immediate medical impact of the virus. [Our focus is on] the tremendous social and economic disruption causing pain for huge sections of the population,” Abrams says.

He specifies that the program does not prioritize applications based on the stage of the startup, but it does consider the innovativeness of the product, the associated customer pain points addressed by the startup, the market size, and the scalability of the idea.

“We look at the company’s market entry strategy, or marketing strategy if they’re already in the market, sustainable competitive advantage [what about the solution is difficult to replicate], and the strength of the management team,” he says.

Eyes On The Future

Abrams’ focus is on the bigger picture. The program was named ‘VirTech’ to coin a new term for technologies and solutions that align directly with current or future virus outbreaks.

“Entrepreneurs and startups and investors can think about this as a new investment category where we proactively develop products and services to either reduce the impact of the next virus or help us deal with it when it happens,” he says.

In other words, as Gerry Lane puts it in World War Z, “This isn’t the end–not even close.”

Applications for the Expara VirTech Global Accelerator are open till 30 April, 2020.

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