From Telemedicine To Cloud Kitchen: COVID-19 Reveals 4 Key Business Opportunities In S’pore

COVID-19 has brought upon one of the greatest challenges towards Singapore’s economic resilience. Since the onset of the highly infectious virus, Singapore has taken many unprecedented measures to curb it.

Among these measures include the closure of schools and shifting all education to home-based learning, as well as the closure of all non-essential workplaces.

Only companies dealing with essential services such as healthcare, food, transportation and banking, are allowed to operate with the implementation of social distancing measures.

Due to these measures, Singapore’s once busy street has now almost come to a standstill, with millions of Singaporeans staying at home to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

While COVID-19 has brought about much difficulties to the business landscape in Singapore, it has also revealed various opportunities which we should focus on when everything gets better.

Here’s a list of some of these opportunities:

1. Telemedicine

speedoc singapore
Speedoc / Screenshot from Channel 8 video

One such opportunity lies with telemedicine, which is still in its early stages in Singapore.

Telemedicine was first identified as a key feature of Singapore’s healthcare landscape back in 2018.

Since then, the Ministry of Health has launched a regulatory sandbox initiative which allows startups to pursue telemedicine offering with the backing of the ministry.

Currently, there are 11 companies approved under the regulatory sandbox initiative. This includes telemedicine startups WhiteCoat, MyDoc, Doctor Anywhere and Speedoc.

With Singaporeans now required to stay at home, telemedicine proves to be a very useful service for anyone who needs to have a consultation with a doctor without needing to physically head down to the hospitals or clinics.

2. Self-Driving Cars

nutonomy singapore
Image Credit: nuTonomy

What used to be an unpredictable technology, self-driving cars now look more like an effective and convenient way to protect ourselves from COVID-19.

With the infectious disease keeping us at home, it is harder for us to get around or to head out for our supply run. Currently, we rely on the freelance workforce such as Grab riders to deliver our ordered food, or RedMart delivery personnel to deliver our groceries.

While we can still rely on them for the supply runs, things would be drastically challenging should these companies stop to offer these services, or if there are no freelance workforce to help them keep up with all these deliveries.

That said, having robots or self-driving cars to help move products from one place to another doesn’t seem like a bad idea though it’s not very developed in Singapore yet.

One such company that is actively pursuing self-driving technology is nuTonomy. However, progress has been slow as autonomous vehicle technology is not as straightforward as it seems.

Timothy Carone, a driverless car expert and associate teaching professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, shared with CNET that humans “make complex decisions and value judgements continually when we are behind the wheel”, and it will take years before autonomous systems are able to master this.

3. Domestic Supply Production

egg production singapore
Image Credit: Singapore Food Authority

During COVID-19, interactions are minimised, leading to a global shortage of human labours.

With a disruption in the labour force, global food supply is hit as a result. Shipments of supply productions are also delayed for months as dock workers are not working.

From our neighbours in Malaysia and Indonesia to as far as Norway
and Brazil, 90% of Singapore’s food is flown in from around the world.

While Singapore’s trade minister Chan Chun Sing assured the nation that Singapore has ample food supply to tide through COVID-19, the virus outbreak has shown that Singapore needs to ramp up domestic supply production to reduce reliance on imported supplies.  

Noting the importance of this, the Singapore Food Authority announced yesterday the launch of a $30 million grant to help local farms ramp up their production of eggs, leafy vegetables and fish over the next 6 to 24 months.

Called the 30×30 Express grant, it has been put in place to meet 30 per cent of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030.

Notable companies involved in domestic supply production includes urban rooftop farm Comcrop. Since 2014, it operates Singapore’s first 6000-square feet commercial urban rooftop farm, growing vegetables such as xiao bai cai and cai xin.

Government agency Aquaculture Centre of Excellence (ACE) has also launched a high-tech fish farm called Eco-Ark last year. The fish farm is capable of producing 20 times more than the capacity of coastal firms, and is focusing on the production of barramundi, red snapper and grouper.

4. Cloud Kitchen

grabkitchen singapore
Image Credit: Grab

On-demand food delivery is clearly emerging as an essential service for Singaporeans, even more so during this circuit breaker period where Singaporeans are mandated to stay at home.

Running a F&B business is capital intensive, especially since one need to invest a lot of fixed cost into the kitchen facilities. Adding on the food delivery service, existing kitchen facilities of F&B outlets may be unable to cope with the huge influx of demand should their on-demand service rise exponentially.

This is where the cloud kitchen concept comes in.

Cloud kitchens, or ghost kitchens, are special kitchens shared by several restaurants and are set up to handle deliveries. How it works is that, several restaurants can rent a cooking space, typically owned by a food delivery company, thus enabling them to serve a new location without setting up a restaurant.

In Singapore, Grab has launched its first cloud kitchen called Grab Kitchen earlier in January this year. Located near Bukit Timah at Hillview, GrabKitchen has 10 virtual restaurants including Japanese-style fast-food eatery Waboru, bubble tea brand PlayMADE and Wolf Burgers.

COVID-19 has caused a surge of on-demand food delivery in Singapore, and Singaporeans who were not using these services have now begun using them.

With this new demand, the cloud kitchen model seems to be a logical model for companies looking to leverage on this opportunity.  

Take This Crisis As An Opportunity

In every crisis, there is an opportunity.

While the pandemic will have many losers, it already has one clear winner: big tech.

We should make the best of what the crisis gives us, and if there are any opportunities to tap on after this pandemic, it will definitely be in the four areas mentioned above.

As Minister Heng mentioned in his budget speech, Singapore should, and must, prepare herself to emerge stronger once this Covid-19 blows over.

Featured Image Credit: Ee Ming Toh via AP

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