An entrepreneur in the time of COVID-19


An entrepreneur in the time of COVID-19

4 minutes read
30th April 2020

Related Topics
Remote working  /  Smart working  / Covid-19

Avatar_MoniqueDr Monique Calisti

Chief Executive Officer

Dr Monique Calisti manages the company’s business and leads its development combining her technical ICT background with a consolidated entrepreneurial experience. Specialised in Horizon 2020 funding, with extensive domain knowledge in Next Generation Internet technologies, IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 5G, Dr Calisti coordinates several H2020 projects, runs training courses and serves the European Commission as expert evaluator. She holds Ph.D.s in AI and Telecommunications Engineering. A glamorous nerd at heart, with an engineering brain, Dr Calisti’s daughters inspire her as President of Digital for Planet, working for environmental sustainability.

More articles from Monique

Martel CEO Dr Monique Calisti reflects on being an entrepreneur at the time of COVID-19

When the announcement of the lockdown in Switzerland arrived late one Friday afternoon in March, it was no big surprise really. We saw it coming, especially with many of our relatives, friends and partners in Italy. I must confess the biggest surprise was rather the rush (yes even in Switzerland!) to buy toilet paper and the random purchase of any kind of goods still available on the supermarkets’ depleted shelves! Just crazy how precious my basement reservoir of Italian food delicacies and first order Swiss quality recycled toilet paper became in the space of a few hours! On further reflection, as the President of Digital For Planet, I was struck by my own reaction to the relative scarcity of T.P. which pales in comparison with my concerns for a sustainable planet for my children. Technology – in this case supply chain – can help us address consumption in an equitable way.


Life in lockdown

During those first days of remote working, what turned out to be the most difficult task for me was to find a way to keep my three girls busy while I was in conference or video calls. No matter how well I prepared food, drinks and alternative occupations, one of them would usually open the door of the basement (yes indeed!) to ask (scream!) for something I could not possibly even imagine (“Muuuuummmmmm, where is your red lipstick? I need to melt it for my homemade squishy!”)

After several days of struggling and hiding myself in the garden to make calls, I realised how lucky I am. With family, friends and colleagues healthy and able to stay safe and work from home, my major preoccupation as Martel’s CEO was not how to run the business and ensure my company’s survival during the #covid19 disruption, at least not in the short-term. Rather, my concern was how to keep my professional and private lives separated “well enough”. As we all know, entrepreneurs go to sleep with their business and clearly as a mother of three I just had to add one more gear to my multitasking modus operandi, assuming mental sanity would reign…


Business as usual

More than a month into the lockdown, I can say for Martel business went on pretty much “as usual”, at least in operational and organisational terms. We are a fairly small team, with 16 people distributed across Switzerland already accustomed to work using an agile, nomadic and remote modality. We start each week (and have done for years) meeting online for a “sprint call” that allows us to align on major priorities and points of contacts for the days to come, no matter where people are physically working. We are used to a variety of conferencing tools. Our IT, but also financial, administrative and business processes have been conceived and operated to allow remote and smart working for several years. Yes, remote working and smart working might not necessarily mean the same thing, but at Martel we try to do both simultaneously! 😉

Running international research and innovation projects and working in collaboration with people and organisations distributed across Europe and even in China has obviously changed the dynamics and relevance of certain business activities and compelled us to reconsider priorities, revise strategies and define various contingency measures. Disparate lockdown conditions in different countries and divergent levels of “digital readiness” to cope with such an unexpected and extreme situation have rapidly increased the level of complexity in several projects. Internet connectivity, security requirements, availability of proper IT tools, financial uncertainty, are just some of the considerations our partners and customers had (and have) to face.


Adjustment measures and ongoing implications

We adjusted along the way to cope with changing needs and totally new boundaries. We are in regular contact with EC representatives as unifying forces is important to ensure effective and impactful benefits of the work we do. We were agile, we modified plans, we transformed meetings to become virtual events. We are constantly working to understand the implications of the current situation and mitigate the big uncertainties for the foreseeable future. We are attentive to the needs of our partners and customers, discussing the major pain points in these difficult times, but also trying to identify new opportunities. Opportunities to grow and contribute, thanks to our experience and expertise, in addressing the big challenges our society now faces.


Digital Transformation


Read more on how Martel is an agile, resilient and fully functional SME that can help accelerate digital transformation


We are working at the forefront of digital innovation, we are helping to build a secure and inclusive Internet, we are helping smart connectivity to be provided to the whole society, we are providing solutions for smart and sustainable cities and we are coordinating digital enhanced learning and education efforts across Europe. This is a great privilege, but also a big responsibility. And we take that seriously, working full power to contribute to the digital empowerment of both private and public organisations.

Beyond the usual and extraordinary logistics and strategic business aspects I face every day, I must admit, what I find particularly challenging in these #covid19 isolation days is to continue working with my usual level of energy and enthusiasm. As an entrepreneur and business owner I feel the responsibility to inspire and motivate my team and my partners. And even though I am trying hard on a remote modality, I think I can do much better in person! So, I can’t wait for our analogue life to be back in action!