Fantasie-impromptu on Innovation

Marine Popoff
Calm/Storm Ventures
5 min readApr 16, 2020


“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”― George Bernard Shaw

Allegro: Investing in a bad economy

People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing. At least that’s what I think. I am currently Associate for a VC firm and absolutely love what I do. I would never have imagined a working day starting to brainstorm around cutting edge tech to design virtual care follow-up service for patients with long-term conditions and… an hour later talk about ways to digitalize sex therapy and bring it virally accessible to millions of people.

We are all investors: we sense success and we want to be part of it. Success takes many shapes. Even if it means completely different things for each and everyone of us, it is incredibly contagious. Whether it is in making a relationship work, or being a startup founder and buying stock with work…. we know that it is intuitive to put time, effort or money early into something or someone that we deem to aspire to because our gut feeling tells us… this is going to be BIG!

When it comes to investments, everyone wants to be ahead of the curve. Yet most people end up becoming part of it because they lack the confidence to buy when the market is low or let go while prices may still be rising. Trying to pick the winner against the trend is called making a “counter-cyclical investment”. It’s obviously very difficult to catch the “right time”, but it can be a huge opportunity if you make the right call.

Adagio: Tragedies that transform people and societies

With COVID-19 at the wheels, we are now in a bad economy. The first order of impact is out of people´s control. And the number one rule of a CEO is that you are never allowed to run out of money. Those who can figure out a way to deliver the service that people want will get a good lift from the crisis. Those at the opposite end will have to think very much about cash flow and most likely these businesses will experience substantial slow down.

From headlines to lockdowns, the spread of COVID-19 is a real tragedy which has led today (April 15, 2020) to more than 2,000,000 infections and 130,000 deaths worldwide; and the day after tomorrow these numbers will likely be 20% higher. The economies shut down and the health care systems became saturated to their full capacity. It is hard to believe that in Spain, corpses are found abandoned in elderly homes and the ice skating rink has been turned into a morgue to keep the bodies cold.

It seems that our societies only respond when the crisis is already upon us. True entrepreneurs think ahead, they follow their instincts rather than the trend. Think about Bill Gates’ famous TED talk warning that we should prepare for the risk of pandemics as we would for a war. We did not prepare as well as we could have — but that does not mean it’s too late. It is in difficult times that the qualities of entrepreneurs shine out. So what can we do now?

Now is a great time to found a startup, and reinvent our societies’ future. Correction. It is neither a good nor a bad time to found one. Truth is, the state of the economy does not matter much to your success. What matters is who you are, and why you do what you do. Not when you do it! Plus you will have a lot less competition. As CEO of Intel puts it: “Bad companies are destroyed by the crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”

The real premium is on leadership. Even in regular days, employees look up to the CEO, but even more in crisis days, so it is important to communicate clearly and with compassion. Do you work with people who say “This is not so bad”, or those who say “we can make this good”? Are you surrounded by people you trust; or by those who do not want to bring others with them to the top? What is the fiber of your team? Spotting good leadership as an investor is hard — but it gets easier in times of crisis!

With the pandemic as a driver, digital health tech is the first to take a leap. With that kind of tech, clinicians and customers alike have access to services without actually getting exposed to the virus; it mitigates the risk so in that regard it’s incredibly valuable. Until a week ago in many developed countries, “calling” a doctor to receive a prescription electronically was not permitted. Now within 48 hours, we are reinventing and redefining the health care system.

In Europe alone the digital health tech market is expected to grow to around $ 170 billion by 2025. There is a huge potential for B2C digital health platforms that can offer more affordable healthcare services to a population for which health spending has increased over 31-fold in the last four decades. And once the regulatory and customary infrastructure will be built to digitalise services, there will be no going back — so let’s invent and shape the world the way we believe it should be!

Prestissimo: Lessons learnt

We have the technology to propel ourselves. Far from war and climate change. Far from fatal diseases. And yet the world still rarely does what we want. Corona took our highways and hit the ground running, changing everything in our lives from the way we work, communicate, shop, educate or even hang out. From economic crashes to personal tragedies. Obviously there is a clear obstacle ahead of us and there is no one size fit for all advice.

“The things which hurt” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “instruct”. Whatever the thing in front of you, the issue, this unfortunate unexpected problem preventing you from doing what you want to do. Overcoming it requires a framework for acknowledging, understanding and appreciating that there is always a way to turn your obstacle into something you can use to achieve your ambition. Now is the time the world needs innovation!


There is something quite intimate about sharing thoughts online. Most of you might not know me personally but hopefully you might get a sense of what I hope to transmit. When I sit at my piano and run through the music sheet, I find it familiar until I get stuck somewhere, frozen on my keyboard. After 15 years you’d think I would get a grasp of this! But music is a lot like what happens in “real life”, and my piano is still at times my best friend and my worst enemy. Obstacles are not only to be expected, they are to be embraced. At the age of 25 now, having lived in 6 countries, speaking 4 languages, I choose to see obstacles as an opportunity to test ourselves, practice our virtues, grow on our passion and try new things. Remember that, and remember, you are stronger than you think.