Even before the pandemic, Hopin was a good idea. The British startup, founded by first-time entrepreneur Johnny Boufarhat in 2019, offered an online venue for virtual talks, breakout rooms, and one-on-one networking – an engaging alternative to expensive, large-scale conferences.
Hopin began 2020 with a 10,000-strong waitlist of conference organisers looking for early access. But, in February that year, when coronavirus swept in-person events off the table, potential customers got impatient. “We had a ton of people that were upset with us for not letting them through the waitlist, so we decided we need to expand as fast as we can and to hire as quick as possible,” Boufarhat recalls. “I was on Twitter looking for people who had just been furloughed, because I knew that that meant that they’d be able to start tomorrow; I had people in the company asking family members if they were free to work part-time. That’s literally the sort of thing that we were getting into.”
The guerilla recruitment spree lasted for about a month, and by March Hopin had found its footing and was expanding rapidly. By the end of the year, the team had grown from eight people to 350, and usership had skyrocketed from 16,000 to 3.5 million. After hosting major conferences for clients including the Wall Street Journal and the United Nations, Hopin raised $125 million from investors in a series B round in November, which valued the business at $2.1 billion. In January, it made its first acquisition, buying the British livestreaming service StreamYard for $250 million (£184 million).
It’s a spectacular success story in what was a crushing year for some startups. In the first three months of 2020, when the world went into lockdown, venture capital funding fell by 20 per cent globally, according to a report by research and policy organisation Startup Genome, with 38 per cent of startups polled also reporting revenue declines over 40 per cent. In the UK alone, more than 1,700 startups collapsed between March 2020 and January 2020, and Brexit is expected to add to the body count.
But Hopin isn’t the only company to thrive amid the chaos. Since the onset of the pandemic, niche innovators from across industries have been pushed from the wings into the spotlight, as investors and consumers search out new teams and products to prepare for market conditions determined by Covid.
Kry, the Stockholm-based telemedicine app that raised €140 million in funding in January 2020, is among the startups to watch after the crisis is over. Founded in 2014, the company started the pandemic with standing partnerships with the NHS (it goes by the name Livi in the UK) and in Sweden, and operations in several other countries across Europe. It has since launched its video consultation platform in America, expanded its self-assessment and home-monitoring capabilities, and onboarded more clinicians than ever across markets, as social distancing measures and increased strain on health services increased demand for virtual consultations.
“The underlying trend for the digitalisation of healthcare was already there long before the pandemic, but it has accelerated adoption across the globe. That what we do – and have been doing for a long time – is a crucial part of the healthcare delivery systems is now a given, but that was not the case a year ago,” says founder CEO Johannes Schildt.
OpenSensors, a British platform that uses data to help businesses identify patterns in how their workplaces are being used, has seen increased interest in its services, as companies begin to rethink the nature of the workplace.
“Covid is extremely unfortunate, but what it has done is accelerated probably 30 to 40 years of change in the workplace,” says founder Yodit Stanton. She’s seen increased customer concerns over air quality factors including CO2 levels and humidity, which can affect how pathogens spread indoors, as well as more prosaic matters, such as room bookings and seating arrangements. In December 2020, the startup announced it had secured $4 million in seed funding to develop a new facilities booking product that it intends to roll out this year, and to aid with expansion in Asia, among other ambitions.