A man in civilian clothes looks at another man wearing an army uniform and resting a rifle in his arm. | "When Lambs Become Lions"

Link Voices

Start watching

Foreign Correspondent

Start watching
A man looks out to a vast landscape of mountains and water. | From "Embrace of the Serpent" / Kino Lorber


Start watching

Earth Focus

Start watching
Rahaf Al Qunun | "Four Corners" episode "Escape from Saudi"

Four Corners

Start watching

America ReFramed

Start watching

Tending Nature

Start watching
Heart Donate Icon
Support the world of Link TV with a donation today.
Vehicle Donation Icon Card
Help us make a difference by donating a vehicle.
Planned Giving Icon
There are many ways to include Link TV in your plans for the future.

'Horrible and Sad' - COVID-19 Boosts the Death Business

This story was originally published Dec. 3, 2020 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Dec 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Most startups are struggling to survive let alone thrive in the pandemic — yet 2020 couldn’t have gone better for Untangle, a new player in the age-old death business.

Launched in January as COVID-19 began circling the globe, Untangle was born from the grief of two women on a mission to help others cope better with death and the big, snap decisions it foists on mourners.

“It’s really horrible and sad, but our market and the awareness of the need for the service has grown,” Untangle’s co-founder Emily Cummin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A mourner holds a candle outside St Eugene's Cathedral in Londonderry, Northern Ireland August 4, 2020. | REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan
A mourner holds a candle outside St Eugene's Cathedral in Londonderry, Northern Ireland August 4, 2020. | REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Cummin came up with the idea after her grandfather died and she was ill-prepared for how overwhelming the whole process would be, from the pain of her loss to the logistics involved.

Her family faced a raft of exhausting challenges — from planning the funeral to managing a will — and doing it all at haste and in a haze.

“I watched my family go through these big transitions and realized that there wasn’t much support around them,” said Cummin, a 27-year-old business strategist based in London.

She said there are often supports in place in the runup to a death but found that help just “drops off a cliff” afterwards.

Last year she met Emma Dutton, a 26-year-old software engineer whose father had died of cancer in 2017 and whose family felt the same void in their greatest need.

So the first-time entrepreneurs decided to quit their jobs and create a business to help guide other people through their loss and rebuild their lives.

Untangle was born in January, supporting grievers online through message groups and one-to-one advice.

When the pandemic hit, their small online community morphed into a budding technology startup.

It won a 50,000-pound ($67,000) grant from Innovate UK, a government agency looking to fund businesses focusing on new needs emerging from the pandemic. They used the money to create an app and hire five employees, who all work remotely.

Untangle is aiming to grow its reach to 5% of bereaved British families in the next four years, and eventually expand its business abroad.


Some 600,000 people die in Britain a year, the Office for National Statistics said, and a 2018 YouGov survey found 70% of adults suffered a bereavement in the last five years. 

At least an extra 70,000 people have died this year due to COVID-19, according to official data, upending life for their loved ones amid the distance constraints, sheer speed and shock of the novel coronavirus.

A study by Bristol and Cardiff universities found people had higher grief and support needs in COVID-19, with 85% unable to say goodbye as they would have liked.

“COVID has created a big opportunity for us, so I think we’re in quite a unique position,” Cummin said.

The number of Untangle users has increased by more than 400% since COVID-19 began, and 10% of them use the app daily.

Untangle says it has money committed from early-stage investors and is in talks to get more, including with technology investors and institutional funders. With new funding, it plans to hire five more employees next year.


Untangle’s app aims to gather emotional and social support for the bereaved in one easy-to-access place, with support groups, one-to-one chats and access to a raft of information.

Its chat functions were developed using behavioural science to be sensitive to vulnerable users, and they are developing algorithms to personalize recommendations for users.

Currently living off the grant from Innovate UK, who awarded Untangle another 25,000-pound grant this month, it plans to earn revenue through referrals, be it to funeral providers, probate lawyers or counsellors.

The idea — to save people shopping around in their grief and having to choose between services that can be poor and pricey.

“If we can make it a bit cheaper and a lot easier for people, and provider higher-quality services in one place, we’re actually benefitting everyone — the consumer and us,” she said.

The market for services and products related to bereavement runs into the billions. The overall cost of dying, from funeral to estate fees, averages 9,500 pounds in Britain, according to a 2020 report by the insurance company SunLife.

Much of it is also old fashioned and ripe for reboot.

While so much has moved online during COVID-19, Cummin said that many of the processes — be it sending death certificates or funeral planning — are still offline.

Recognizing this chasm, a host of new companies has sprung up in what is a rapidly-growing “death tech” sector.

“It’s an industry that needs disrupting and digitising,” she said, with financial and legal tech investors keen to get aboard. “We’re seeing this shift where people are trusting technology more and more for support with everyday things.”

Yet as the business prospers, Cummin said she needs to keep her eye on why it all started in the first place.

“Each new customer for us is someone who’s had a big life-changing experience,” she said. “We can’t lose touch with the reason that we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths.

Related Content
A health worker receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya March 5, 2021.

Africans Slam Rich Nations for Blocking Access to Generic COVID-19 Vaccines

Africa has received only 0.2% of 300 million coronavirus vaccine doses administered worldwide while Western members of the World Trade Organization seek to defend their patent rights.
An employee of Spirit airline wearing a face mask asks a passenger for a passport

How COVID-19 Certificates and Passports Could Help Reopen Economies Around the World

Digital tools to certify immunity from COVID-19 could help ease lockdowns, but raise equality and privacy concerns.
FILE PHOTO: A delivery person rides a bicycle past a restaurant, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 5, 2020.

Hyperlocal Delivery Apps Help Lockdown-Hit Restaurants Stay Afloat

From India to France, food businesses are turning to smaller delivery platforms which they say offer a better deal for lockdown-hit firms.