March 20, 2020

Globally, we have embarked on the most challenging and stressful journey in recent history. The negative news and chatter can be overwhelming. We want to call attention to many hopeful, positive examples of entrepreneurs, researchers and businesses collaborating to support “everyday people”. These innovators are advocating new solutions to problems no one dreamed would arise. They are changing the messages that might lead to resignation to a call to use our skills and resources to work together in our spheres of influence.

At Ulu, we know entrepreneurship is the best tool set for solving the world’s toughest problems. Entrepreneurs around the globe will innovate ways to cope with their own financial situations, spearhead development of a vaccine and help communities most severely impacted by COVID-19.

On the pandemic front
Instead of manufacturing cars, how about ventilators?

With the dire shortage of ventilators, GM and Ford are in preliminary discussions with the government regarding the feasibility of manufacturing them to help ease the unprecedented demand to help coronavirus patients.

Testing the re-purposing of drugs already on the shelves

UCSF researchers are searching for existing drugs already approved by the FDA to fight COVID-19. A team led by molecular biologist Nevan Krogan is tracking down which human proteins the novel coronavirus hijacks in order to reproduce in our bodies. Scientists identified existing drugs that protect those proteins after mapping the proteins attacked by the virus.

An anti-malaria drug, chloroquine phosphate, is showing promise in the fight against COVID-19, according to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and Chinese experts who used the drug in clinical trials. The FDA says it will consider expanding the drug testings on a broader pool of coronavirus patients in the US.

First shots at a vaccine

U.S. researchers gave the first shots in a test of an experimental coronavirus vaccine, developed in record time, this week. This vaccine candidate was developed by the NIH and Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna Inc. (Four healthy volunteers who have been injected have no chance of becoming infected because the shots do not contain the coronavirus itself).

Drug inhaler could help more than COPD patients

The UK biotech firm Synairgen will test its experimental lung drug in 100 Covid-19 patients. The inhaler drug SNG001 has been in development as a treatment for COPD (chronic-obstructive pulmonary disorder) a severe lung disease. The medicine boosts the patient’s immune system to help fight the virus. It contains interferon beta, a naturally-occurring protein that helps regulate the body’s antiviral responses.

Offering partnerships and $$$ for more R & D projects

Boston-based Gingko Bioworks, specializing in genetic engineering, announced they are dedicating $25m for partner COVID-19 projects. The money enables partners across a wide range of applications to rapidly scale their R&D efforts, and to apply this technology today to the fight against the pandemic.

On the tech frontier:

Silicon Valley execs are stepping up.

According to the Wall Street Journal, several tech giants including Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google unit, Inc, Microsoft Corp. and others met with White house officials to form a task force to help fight the spread of the virus.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and other Silicon Valley billionaires donated $5.5m to form the COVID-19 Emergency Fund for Feeding Families, which will operate through Second Harvest of Silicon Valley. Second Harvest feeds more than a quarter of a million people monthly.

On the startup front:

Blindsided by the complete lockdown of cities, schools, retail stores and restaurants etc., businesses and many startups are searching for ways to reinvent themselves and help their communities as well.

Driving in a nutritious direction

Ulu Ventures portfolio company, Zum offers transportation for schools and students, serving 10,000 schools in 7 states. While their school service has shut down, they wondered what happens to underprivileged kids dependent on hot meals at schools? So Zum mobilized their network of drivers and technology to fill the last-mile gap and deliver the resources all children need and deserve to make distance learning effective. This includes delivery of meals to students at home or to designated locations, especially during this period of “social distancing” and growing requirements to “shelter in place.” Delivering Chromebooks / laptops or any technology resources, pick up / drop off of materials for students with individual education plans (IEPs), such as assistive technology, delivery of instructional materials. And transportation of students (and parents or aides) to therapy sessions and required services to maintain consistency for the most vulnerable students. If your organization needs help to deliver resources to students and community members in need, please contact Zum here.

Redirecting charitable funds to the underserved is now directing all charitable funds to people who can’t afford to “shelter in place”, particularly the millions of people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). With its ability to reimburse volunteers directly in real time they are positioned to help families in need immediately. Until today, this fund was focused on paying off kids’ “lunch debts” but with schools closed around the nation, the top priority is a new program: matching SNAP grocery purchases up to $50 per family. For more information on how to help, go to

Spearheading efforts to mobilize leaders to #stopthespread and #leadboldly

Guild Education, an Ulu portfolio company, helps employers provide affordable college education to working Americans. CEO Rachel Carlson and former Amex Chairman and General Catalyst Managing Director Kenneth Chenault are spearheading a call to action for corporate leaders to step up and help stop the spread of COVID19. They wrote a powerful NYT Op-ed outlining steps leaders could take to help the economy, workers and their communities as well as help #stopthespread #leadboldly

Ulupreneurs NowRX offer free same-day delivery in the San Francisco Bay Area, Orange County, and Los Angeles. Avoiding a trip to the pharmacy is a huge help to seniors and others sheltering in place due to the virus, particularly those with compromised immune systems.

On the “kindness to seniors” front:

Several stores including Safeway, Target, Albertson’s and others are offering dedicated hours for seniors and other “at risk” folks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’ve got good news about how entrepreneurs, research and/or businesses are stepping up, please share it with Ulu Ventures! You can put a brief description and links in this Google doc. Wishing you and your loved ones all the best!

(All product and company names mentioned herein are the trademarks, service marks, or trade names of their respective owners and all rights are reserved to them. Use of these marks implies neither affiliation nor endorsement.)

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About the Author: Miriam Rivera

Miriam Rivera is co-founder and managing director of Ulu Ventures