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11 cool tech startup pivots since the coronavirus pandemic

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  • Some startups are pivoting their core operations to boost coronavirus relief efforts, or to tap into a new source of revenue as business slows.
  • “It’s almost like a wartime situation,” said Chris Prucha, a startup founder whose company Origin is using its 3D printers to produce nasal swabs.
  • We compiled a list of the startups that are shifting parts of their production in the pandemic’s wake.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A shoemaker is producing face masks.

A startup that makes phone booths as a quiet refuge in open-plan offices is now making coronavirus-testing booths for healthcare clinics.

And it seems every 3D manufacturer backed by venture cash is firing up the printers to crank out personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.

It’s not unusual for a company whose business model isn’t working to pivot in search of  more customers, or a steadier stream of cash, or traction in bigger markets. But these days, startups are facing a much different crisis, which no amount of planning or experience could have prepared them for. They must adapt.

“It’s almost like a wartime situation,” said Chris Prucha, a founder whose startup Origin is using the 3D printers that it’s unable to ship to customers to produce nasal swabs for COVID-19 testing.

The coronavirus has been an accelerant for some startups looking to expand, or to create a new source of revenue. And even a temporary pivot can boost the company’s public image for aiding in relief efforts.

Semil Shah, a startup investor who focuses on early-stage companies, has been closely watching as startups shift parts of their production away from their core businesses to pursue other opportunities.

Even before the pandemic, he said his advice to entrepreneurs has always been, “if you’re not No. 1 or No. 2, you’re better off just selling the company or pivoting into something new because you don’t really get paid to be third.”

Athena Security is a two-year-old startup in the crowded business category of gun detection. It relies on machine learning to spot weapons in video surveillance images, but it can’t identify a concealed firearm, as one of its better-funded rivals can. Now, Athena Security has shifted its focus to fever-detection systems.

The technology relies on thermal cameras and software to pinpoint a person running a fever, which is a symptom of coronavirus infection.

Athena Security’s cofounder and chief executive officer Lisa Falzone said the company is rushing to fill orders at hospitals, banks, and other places where large numbers of people mill about. She said it’s not hard to imagine that, someday, stores and restaurants will use the company’s health surveillance system to help persuade house-bound customers to return.

She said if a customer asks a restaurant host, “Why should I come in here with a lot of people?” the host could say, “We wash our hands down more often. We clean the tables down. And also we have fever-detection system.”

For some startups, the shift is more of a passing response to the pandemic than a permanent project.

Carbon, a unicorn startup that develops 3D printing technology, has dedicated all of the machines at its Silicon Valley headquarters to producing face shields that protect doctors and nurses taking care of COVID-19 patients. The company is providing them to healthcare systems for free, with assistance from Adidas, a Carbon customer, said Ellen Kullman, chief executive officer of Carbon.

“As long as the need for these supplies exists, we will continue production to help,” Kullman said in an email.

We wanted to find the startups that are changing what they work on because of the pandemic. We asked Shah’s institutional seed-stage fund, Haystack, for tips, and researched on our own.

These are the coolest pivots in tech since the start of the pandemic:

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