B.C.-led tool gets nod from IBM to help small businesses battle COVID-19

Ali Serag, COVID Impact team member | submitted

A West Coast tech initiative aimed at mitigating the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses has just gotten a vote of confidence from a major multinational.

IBM Corp. (NYSE:IBM) revealed Tuesday (May 5) three top submissions for its 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge, including the COVID Impact tool developed by grads from the University of B.C.

The open-source web application pulls together analysis tools to help small businesses forecast financial risks.

“It’s nearly impossible to predict when things will go back to normal with COVID-19. The one thing we could be pretty sure about is the economy won’t simply go back to normal when social distancing ends,” Ali Serag, a member of the COVID Impact team, told Business in Vancouver.

The COVID Impact tool is free to use and offers prescriptive simulations to assess and forecast how a business might be affected by various pandemic scenarios, depending on industry and location.

Serag said he wants to expand the tool to international markets but there are no plans to commercialize it.

Instead, his team set out to create a platform that could help in the middle of a crisis.

“We want our solution to keep helping businesses long after social distancing ends, long after businesses open up, and to be relevant and impactful in combatting the aftereffects of COVID-19,” Serag said.

The tool was built after IBM granted competitors free access to its portfolio of technology.

The bulk of its code, meanwhile, was put together by Serage and his team across multiple countries over two days.

“We believe it’s going to help small businesses thrive in this environment,” IBM Canada Lab director Steve Astorino said.

The 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge was originally focused on tackling climate change, but IBM opened up a second track that would allow competitors to use the company’s technologies to find ways to address the pandemic.

“These are for society’s most pressing issues,” Astorino said.

The COVID Impact tool was among three top submissions included in the new track.

Prizes range from US$10,000 to US$200,000 and winners will be announced in October.


Click here for comments and full experience