How the Corona crisis affected a diagnostics start-up in Basel-Stadt

daygnostics AG is a start-up based in Basel-Stadt focusing on the genetics-based, fast and accurate detection of pathogens in non-human, industrial applications like in the food processing industry, for instance. Founded only in February 2020, daygnostics AG essentially consisted of four people, including the CEO designate elected by the company’s advisory board. Now, five months and a lockdown later, the company employs a workforce of seven at the Technologiepark Basel.

In our exclusive short interview, Giancarlo Rizzoli, CEO of daygnostics, reports his first-hand experiences of the challenges faced by the start-up company during and after the COVID-19 lockdown.

What was and continues to be the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on daygnostics?

During the lockdown, our staff was spread out over three countries in their home offices. And we had to postpone laboratory presence indefinitely at the time. This resulted in a short delay in the implementation of our development plan while we continued to incur fixed costs. In hindsight, we can also say that recruiting was quite the challenge, especially when interviewing candidates from abroad. In-person interviews were impossible, of course. In addition, it was all but uncertain when our professional specialists would be allowed to enter Switzerland to resume their work.

How did daygnostics deal with this situation?

Already in February 2020 we had set up the technological framework and secured its functionality. That allowed our employees to start working remotely from their home offices even before the lockdown was officially declared. Complementary measures included reduced working hours through short-time work for a bit less than two months, a one-month freeze of new hires, and adapting our recruitment processes by offering virtual job interviews to candidates, for instance. We were fortunate to continue regular communications and exchange with our industry partners and suppliers – which was crucial for the ongoing adaptation of our development plan to the unprecedented and rapidly changing circumstances.

Finally, we switched to rolling liquidity planning in narrower time frames and conducted all shareholder talks and advisory board meetings as videoconferences whenever possible.

We also coordinated work on all projects through online meetings that were both regularly scheduled and ad hoc. It quickly became clear that a lot of work and many processes could go on even under lockdown.

What kind of support measures were most valuable for daygnostics?

In the short term, three elements of support were really helpful for us:

We encountered no red tape when we applied with cantonal authorities for short-time work, and quickly received approval within 24 hours. Also, the possibility of applying for a loan with the cantonal authorities provided some relief – even if we didn’t need to make use of it in the end. Another important pillar for getting through this challenging and insecure period was the trust, understanding and flexibility of our shareholders. In the medium run, rent reductions with an increased maximum amount will provide further stability – as, again, will the continuing trust and goodwill of our shareholders.

Were the Office of the Economy and Labour (AWA) and Technologiepark Basel (TPB) able to help daygnostics during the COVID-19 crisis? And if yes, how?

Four words sum up the support of the Office of the Economy and Labour: Quick, practical, personal and dependable. I really did appreciate the personal and individual information provided by AWA. Thus we always had the best possible information about the rapidly changing situation early on. Which provided additional guidance and security about how to proceed in the short term.

Technologiepark Basel regularly sent us updates about the situation and conditions for companies at TPB along with clear communications and signage of the rules of conduct inside the building according to the safety and protection plan. This made us feel safe and in good hands.

Looking into the future, how and to what degree have the company’s plans and objectives changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our main take-away is that we will be able to comply with and fulfil all product deliverables as defined by our industry partners – within the budget approved by our shareholders and on time.

COVID-19 did however cause us to suffer slight delays in taking up our laboratory operations and in the recruitment of new employees, so we had to slightly adjust our schedule accordingly. Thanks to the support of the Canton of Basel-Stadt and others, none of this has substantially impacted our mid-term objectives. Which in turn has clarified the question of our business location for more than just short-term.