B.C. tech firms step up with big dollars, free services in wake of COVID-19

Thoughtexchanged, based in Rossland, B.C., is among the West Coast tech companies offering services for free to help combat COVID-19 | submitted

What happened: Telus is offering $10m in support for health-care initiatives while other West Coast tech companies begin offering free services to help those dealing with the pandemic

Why it matters: B.C. companies expect more pressure to mount on organization and individuals hard hit by COVID-19

While Ottawa unveiled its own $82-billion economic aid package this week for Canadians and businesses walloped by COVID-19, Telus Corp. (TSX:T) is among companies putting up their own resources to support health initiatives.

The Vancouver-based telecom giant announced Thursday (March 19) it’s earmarking $10 million from its Telus Friendly Future Foundation for supplies and technology needed in the wake of the pandemic.

Ventilators, virtual education programs, mental health initiatives, outreach to isolated seniors and increased food security will be among the initiatives tapping the financial support.

Meanwhile, smaller B.C.-based tech companies are stepping up and offering free services to organizations dealing with COVID-19.

Rossland-based Thoughtexchange (Fulcrum Management Solutions Ltd.) announced Thursday it’s now providing free-to-all access to its crowdsourcing platform for anyone with queries related to COVID-19.

The platform can crowdsource anonymized ideas in real time from groups ranging from 10 to 100,000 people.

“I signed on the CEO pact to do everything I can within my corporate sphere of influence to try to slow the spreading and slow the effect on our economy and society, so that’s [what] we’re doing,” Thoughtexchange CEO Dave MacLeod told Business in Vancouver.

And Vancouver’s Routific Solutions Inc., which specializes in automated route-optimization for small businesses with fleets of vehicles, also revealed Thursday it’s offering its platform to non-profits helping with COVID-19 efforts.

CEO Marc Kuo told BIV earlier this week that he expects pressure to mount on delivery services amid the pandemic, especially those still reliant on manually planning routes.

And while Telus offers up charitable dollars, pressure will be mounting on its own forays into the healthcare business.

Its health care app, Babylon by Telus Health, has been offering primary care services in British Columbia since March 2019.

In addition to offering access to health records and enabling video calls with doctors, the app features an AI-powered symptom-checker, which was just updated for COVID-19 screening.

Babylon by Telus Health is just beginning to roll out in Alberta and Ontario as the pandemic heightens, and has so far handled more than 40,000 patient consultations since launch.

Speaking to BIV prior to the funding announcement, Telus vice-president of consumer health Juggy Sihota said demand for the app’s services has reached “unprecedented” levels the past few weeks.

But she added that the company has the capacity to handle the increased demand on volume.

UPDATED March 20, 2020:

Vancouver-based GeoComply Solutions Inc., which thwarts internet users from using tools like VPNs and proxies to access content not permitted in their jurisdictions, is now allowing organizations to use their systems for free to stop fraud and misinformation stemming from the pandemic.

The technology could be used, for example, to detect bots and stop them from spreading misinformation.

The company says organizations can reach them at solutions@geoguard.com for more details.

UPDATED March 23, 2020:

Burnaby-based legal-tech firm Clio (Themis Solutions Inc.) is launching a US$1-million relief fund for those in the legal community struggling to adjust to changes in business brought on by COVID-19 as courts shut down and public health officials beg people to stay inside.

Clio develops software that reduces the amount of time and money lawyers must spend on administrative tasks.

The initiative sees Clio providing tools, resources and educational material necessary to help lawyers understand what the transition the transition to staying at home means for business, while financial relief will come in the form of US$1 million in discounted or free services.

“That reality has changed overnight to one where lawyers are needing to collaborate with their colleagues within their law firm in a completely new way and a highly distributed way, and they also need to meet with their clients in a new and distributed way,” CEO Jack Newtown told Business in Vancouver.

torton@biv.com

@reporton