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Serving as a common thread through most of my adult life, traveling and food have nourished and stirred me, from boosting my mental health to feeding my passions to connecting the world one startup at a time. My fondness for travel and food began in the early 2000s when I launched the first ecommerce pharmacy in 2006, serving the Middle East and Africa. This first startup helped me realize that the tech and pharma professional path was my road to financial freedom.
A recent Parkpine Capital venture continued my work in the healthcare industry with Instapill, an ecommerce platform providing “premium quality healthcare products while changing the lives of many children in need of urgent healthcare in rural Africa.” When Covid struck, I had to put my pharmacy hat back on, pulling out global-retail-pharmacy and healthcare-supply-channel contacts that I had, thanks to 30 years of family-business expertise in the industry.
Instapill experienced tremendous growth by fulfilling government contracts and direct wholesale-supplier agreements. The company also worked with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons during the shutdown.
Amid the pandemic, I still pursued my passion for leveling the funding playing field for founders and startups by closing 15 investment deals in seven countries over the past year — all while abiding by the safety measures implemented in various countries, regions and cities worldwide, including those in the U.S.
How did it happen?
You may be thinking, “Why would I choose to travel during a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic?” As long as I abided by the healthcare and safety measures and protocols, I could conduct business from anywhere with my smartphone or through cloud computing and collaborative-communication tools, such as Zoom, Slack, Google Docs and WhatsApp.
I chose to travel because I wanted to understand the new and changing market demands that emerged during the pandemic, and I needed to get on the ground, especially in health care, to understand the logistical and lifestyle changes specific to a region, both in and outside of the United States. Likewise, I wouldn’t have been able to fully grasp the business opportunity unless I immersed myself in the locality, close to the startup founders seeking to innovate and problem solve.
When traveling, I noticed that most business leaders and entrepreneurs were on the same wavelength; everyone was trying to make the most of a scary situation by urgently adapting, not only to quickly emerging business needs, but also to how, where and when we met to discuss opportunities.
Additionally, I noticed that clients and partners were intrigued that the pandemic didn’t slow me down. They embraced the fact that I was trying to conduct as much business as precautions would allow. By showing up in person and collaborating through technology, I adapted to the pandemic’s current demands, forging ahead.
Just as critically as collaboration and adaptation, travel boosted my mental health, keeping my productivity at peak levels. Additionally, because the travel industry was brought to its knees seemingly overnight, prices were lower, with five-star hotels going for $250 a night instead of the $1000 nightly you’d pay pre-Covid. By taking advantage of these low travel prices, I could cover much more ground — safely — than I could before the pandemic.
What types of travel precautions did I encounter?
As you can probably imagine, traveling the globe during a pandemic required preparation beyond just directions, packing and flight connections. With each country, region and city implementing their own travel precautions and safety measures, weekly polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid tests were mandatory, ensuring the safety of others and myself.
Here are some additional precautions I encountered in my travels:
London, June 2020: As long as U.S. citizens quarantined in London for 14 days, I could enjoy open indoor malls, take-out restaurants, outdoor dining and deliveries. Also, I was allowed to travel to the rest of Europe as long as I honored this mandatory quarantine.
Italy, June, August 2020: During this time, when I was in Italy, I was able to dine indoors, as long as I wore a properly fitting face mask upon entering or leaving the restaurant.
Portugal: As in Italy, I was able to dine indoors in Portugal, as long as I wore a properly fitting face mask upon entering or leaving the restaurant.
Istanbul: No flights from Turkey were allowed to enter Europe. Thus, when I was in Istanbul, I had to fly to Egypt, which had no travel restrictions proceeding to Portugal.
How did Covid impact the business leaders I visited?
The team at Parkpine and I kept notes on how Covid impacted business leaders that we worked with or met while traveling. In surveying 132 entrepreneurs globally, we asked about and ranked the following:
I ranked frustration with the lifestyle changes forced upon business leaders by Covid over the past year.
I ranked fear of the pandemic and how it would impact the lives of these business leaders, including their work and health (as well as those around them).
I ranked productivity as related to these business leaders’ regular pre-Covid job duties, but during the pandemic months.
I ranked feelings towards relocation during the Covid months. And, finally, I ranked willingness to invest in the post-Covid startup economy among these business leaders.
Results from this survey indicated that approximately 75% of business leaders opted to meet virtually during the pandemic while 25% preferred to meet in person in Covid-safe open-air spots around the cities where I traveled, such as London, Lisbon and Istanbul.
Additionally, we found that, as fear declined over time, willingness to invest in the post-Covid startup economy increased.
As an avid business traveler, the pandemic’s sudden onset gave me more than pause. However, through careful consideration and planning, I was able to push past my frustrations, helping to level the funding playing field for founders and startups in a new economy.