UBC grads create app for small businesses struggling during COVID-19

CovidImpact came out of IBM's 2020 Call for Code program

CovidImpact came out of IBM’s 2020 Call for Code program

“We’re not first responders, but we know how to code,” is how Vancouverite and UBC computer science graduate Ali Serag describes what he and four friends are doing to help B.C. navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Serag, Alberto Cevallos, Salman Alam, Bolat Khojayev and Talshyn Bolatova, all UBC grads in their early 20s, created CovidImpact, an app that gives businesses a curated list of programs and grants that will help them survive the crisis.

One of three efforts highlighted at IBM Corp.’s Think Digital conference on May 5 and 6, CovidImpact arose from the U.S. tech giant’s 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge, which sought solutions to help fight the pandemic.

“It’s a small business care bundle that equips the founder with everything they need to immunize their business to COVID-19 and its after-effects,” Serag says. Besides a list of programs aimed specifically at the business in question, he notes, the app offers relevant, real-time news from all major Canadian media outlets, plus a predictive simulation tool that aims to forecast how various pandemic scenarios will affect various businesses.

That tool takes into account factors like industry and location, as well as specific personalized recommendations. “Restaurants and retail are a lot more affected than SaaS companies, for example,” Serag explains. “You can figure it out in a couple of clicks instead of searching online for hours.”

The idea came from what Serag refers to as Sandbox Thursdays, when he and his team consider purpose-driven projects and try to apply technology to social problems.

“We’d talk to small businesses and ask about their biggest worries,” he recalls. “We kept hearing, When are they going to announce aid that’s relevant to me? They’d be checking in on Trudeau’s address every single day, looking at over 60 federal programs, provincial programs, some local initiatives, and be wondering about paying rent, supply chains, employees.”

Serag estimates that about 600 users have logged in to CovidImpact since its launch in late April.