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COVID-19 Innovation Report: HIEx by UNAIDS

At StartupBlink, together with Health Innovation Exchange (HIEx) by UNAIDS and the Moscow Agency of Innovations, we have launched the Coronavirus Innovation Map including more than 1,000 projects created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this crisis-ridden environment, innovators have stepped up to help in the best way they know: solving problems. Organizations working in different areas have adapted solutions and forged alliances with the aim of defeating COVID-19 and its consequences.

Through modification of our proprietary algorithm, we ranked countries and cities by number and types of innovations, with extra points given for selected outstanding initiatives, identified as the Champions. The COVID-19 Innovation Report, showcases the rankings of the best performing 32 countries and 80 cities, as well as selected innovations for each of those countries.

Main Insights of the Report

At the country level, we see some similarities between the leaders of the COVID-19 Innovation rankings and our Global Ecosystem Rankings. The United States leads global COVID-19 innovation efforts, while Israel and Canada ranked 2nd and 3rd respectively (both beating their general rank by one spot).

In the Top-10, we see important successes from Belgium, Switzerland, Estonia, Italy and Ireland, where local entrepreneurs have undergone an impressive mobilization in the face of the pandemic. Outside of Europe and North America – which dominated the Top-10, we see 5 countries from the Asia Pacific region in the Top-20 (Singapore, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia), as well as Kenya (23rd) and Brazil (30th) as the best placed African and Latin American countries, respectively.

There is an urgent need to invest in innovation ecosystems to carry them through this crisis – Pradeep Kakkatil (UNAIDS Director of Innovation)

On a  city level, cities such as New York, Milan, Brussels and Barcelona, have been overperforming despite being badly hit by the pandemic. Cities largely unscathed like Taipei and Singapore, also hold strong positions. The Top-3 cities in the ranking are all from the United States: San Francisco, New York and Boston, while the 4th and 5th spots are held by Toronto (greatly overperforming in comparison to its Global Ecosystem Ranking) and Tel Aviv. The second half of the Top-10 is also dominated by American cities (Seattle 7th, San Diego 8th and Los Angeles 9th) while London features at 6th spot and Taipei at10th.


In our map and report, we can see that there has been an extraordinarily innovative response from Startups, Corporations, NGOs, Public Sector and other organizations around the world. And we believe that the cooperation and solutions developed during this pandemic, as well as the lessons learned, can be helpful in the fight against future global health crises. But the virus hasn’t been defeated yet, and as Pradeep Kakkatil (UNAIDS Director of Innovation) says about health systems, there is “an urgent need to invest in innovation ecosystems to carry them through this crisis”. StartupBlink is here to help.

COVID-19 Innovation

What is a startup? The definition

At StartupBlink, we have made it our mission to evaluate Startup Ecosystems around the world, considering closely the quantity and quality of startups, which is why it is crucial for us to have a clear definition for the term. 

In today’s world, the word “Startup” has entered everyday language due to hugely successful and influential technological companies. It’s a romanticized word (the story of college kids building world-changing technologies from a garage can be very inspiring), but it can also have negative connotations in a world ever more suspicious of Big Tech – are Amazon or Google still to be considered startups?

Defining “startup” 

Investopedia defines a startup as “a young company” established by one entrepreneur (or a group of them) with the aim of bringing a new product or service to market, which will be unique or better than previously existing ones. At StartupBlink, we believe that it is essential we have a deep understanding of startup characteristics in order to define exactly what they are.

What is a Startup

The 4 Key Characteristics of Startups 

  1. Small size, big impact

Emerging startups usually begin their journey with a small team (1 to 20 employees) working in the development of a minimum viable product (MVP) or a prototype of a product, service, or platform to see whether their idea indeed offers a value proposition to users, and has the potential of profitability. Generally, it is only after this stage, that the startup can actually gather more investors, customers and thus be able to grow.

It is agreed that a basic characteristic of a startup is that it is a small business, however, being small in size does not automatically make a company a startup. The ambition to generate a big impact, scale up and grow is another characteristic of startups, critically differentiating them from traditional SMEs. In order to be able to grow fast, a startup team should be much more flexible and adjust faster to change than regular businesses, allowing them to rapidly adapt to technological advancements, an increased number of competitors in the market, and of course, failures…

  1. High risk of failure 

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”Reid Hoffman

Startups have a high risk of failing, especially due to the lack of resources and ambiguities in the business model. Eric Ries, an American entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup, defines a startup as “a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty”.  

Uncertainties are one of the factors that lead to breakdowns. Nevertheless, it is a failure that should become a turning point to push startups forward. So, it is natural for startups to face and deal with failures to improve themselves. 

  1. Being a talent bank  

Attracting and hiring talented people with different backgrounds who are inclined to work hard and do not give up while facing difficulties should be seriously considered after establishing a startup. Thus, a startup team should consist of motivated employees, deeply identified with the culture of the company.

“We’re never in lack of money. We lack people with dreams, who can die for those dreams” – Jack Ma

The team members should feel that they create a positive impact on the work process and are among those that drag success to the company. With a strong organizational culture and supportive team, the startup founders can diminish the chance of breakdowns and increase the speed of growth.

  1. Use of non-traditional financing structures to achieve scale

Most early-stage startups (as well as many businesses) are Bootstrapped businesses, with founders (as well as friends and family) pitching in. And given that startups’ most valuable assets are usually non-tangible (ideas, team, patents, among others), and profitability is a long-term goal, the doors of traditional financial institutions remain closed until much later in the life-cycle of the company.

This reality has created non-traditional, high-risk and high-return financing structures for startups, including Angel Investing, Venture Capital and Venture Debt, in which besides funding, founders benefit significantly through the mentoring and advice that experienced investors can provide.

Yes, there are successful startups that never used any of these financing vehicles, deciding instead to use their own cash flows to finance growth. But for a company to receive this kind of funding means that at the very least, the startup shows potential of significant growth and impact.

What is and is not a “startup” for StartupBlink?

As specified in the Startup Ecosystem Rankings Report 2020, StartupBlink’s definition, besides considering the characteristics mentioned above, gives special emphasis to innovation as a fundamental term for startups. This innovation can be technological or a unique business model, depending on what startups aim at achieving in the long term. Therefore, service providers and local directories such as real estate listings will not be regarded as startups, and will not appear on our map. 

StartupBlink also reflects on what is not considered a startup. The most common case is, of course, the failure or bankruptcy of the startup. There are, nevertheless, positive reasons for which we stop considering a company a startup, the most common being the following three: becoming a Unicorn (reaching a value greater than $1b while still a private company), becoming a publicly traded company, or getting acquired by another entity (before reaching the $1b mark)

These success stories are deleted from our list of startups. Even so, they are crucial elements to determine the quality of a given startup ecosystem, and for this reason they are considered in a unique way in our map and rankings, as Exits, Unicorns or Pantheons.

Find out more about our the most innovative cities and countries around the world through our Startup Ecosystem Rankings Report 2020.

Tamara Aslanova and Ghers Fisman

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In this article, we will be talking about our partners who have made the Coronavirus Innovation Map possible. If you are interested in becoming one of our partners please contact us.

The Coronavirus Innovation Map is a resource for innovators and solution-seekers during this pandemic. This is why it is critical for us to keep it free for everyone with full functionality. To sustain the great costs of project development, marketing, and data gathering without charging is with the help of our partners. We present the organization who made this project possible:


The Health Innovation Exchange (HIEx) is a platform launched by UNAIDS that acts as a neutral facilitator and broker of innovative solutions for health, particularly in the global South. HIEx has been working with countries on analysis of health priorities and needs, curating tailored health innovative solutions to match the needs, and brokering investments to ensure the sustainability of their implementation.

Moscow Agency of Innovations brings together the efforts of corporations, cities, and startups to turn Moscow into the global capital of innovations. It helps startups fine-tune new products and bring them to the market. It helps corporations find teams to address technology challenges. It tests and implements innovative solutions in the city.


StartupBlink is working with dozens of municipalities and government corporations during the year as our ecosystem partners. They take part in our activities such as ecosystem promotion, mapping, and consulting as. Their support throughout the year has allowed us to support this project without monetizing it and we are humbled by their want to help during these challenging times. By teaming up it shows that they cannot only take care of their own ecosystem but are interested in global integration and data flow which is critical for global innovation.


Aside from our Ecosystem Partners, we also have our information partners which help supply global unique data. We would want to thank them for the support.

Interested in becoming one of our partners? Please contact us.


With the emergence and clear effect of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), people around the world are dramatically changing all aspects of life. This is an unfortunate circumstance that no one can escape, but as human beings are resilient creatures, we survive, and most importantly, we innovate.

We at StartupBlink recognize this change, and we decided to use our technology to help spread the innovation in this global quest to stop the virus. Together with the Health Innovation Exchange (HIEx) by UNAIDS and Moscow Agency of Innovations, we have launched the Coronavirus Innovation Map.

Continue reading CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) Global INNOVATION STARTUP MAP by StartupBlink

Why communities are critical for startup ecosystem development?

Even though communities are often looked at as social structures, it seems that they are indispensable for startup ecosystems too. 

The Startup Ecosystem Rankings Report 2019 by StartupBlink has discovered some interesting findings revealing the relationship between the success of the ecosystem and community. In many cases, behind a strong startup ecosystem, there was a vibrant community that worked alongside. And not for coincidence, most cities that were at the top of the rankings had a powerful community where people not only occasionally work towards the same goal but share a common lifestyle. 

Continue reading Why communities are critical for startup ecosystem development?