• Emily Mathison

Trailblazer Series: Featuring Julie Angus

Updated: Aug 7, 2020

Today we kick off Herstory’s trailblazers series highlighting women who are breaking new ground in their fields. We believe that she must see it to be it; and while this entrepreneur credits the likes of Angela Merkel, Elon Musk and Jane Kearns as her inspirations, we hope that Julie Angus’ story will inspire you as well.

Julie is a pioneer in cleantech, an adventurer, a scientist, and was recently named BC Business’ Innovator of the Year as CEO and co-founder of Open Ocean Robotics.

“We can’t protect what we don’t understand.”

Open Ocean Robotics is a cleantech startup working to transform our understanding of the global ocean so that we can interact with it more sustainably. The ocean is critical to the wellbeing of ourselves and our planet, and given that more than eighty percent of our ocean is unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored, Julie is passionate that, “we can’t protect what we don’t understand.”

Open Ocean Robotics’ solar powered, autonomous boats are an innovative alternative.

Open Ocean Robotics uses solar-powered, autonomous boats to collect ocean data and transfer it back to researchers in real-time. This data is used to protect ocean life, enable industry to operate more sustainably, and give greater understanding of the impacts of climate change. Traditional ocean research ships often cost upwards of $50,000 per day and come with human limitations. However, Open Ocean Robotics’ solar powered, autonomous boats are an innovative alternative that operate without human limitation, are more agile, affordable, safer and produce zero greenhouse gases.

Diving into Julie Angus’ career, it has been, in her words, “anything but linear.” After completing her Masters of Science in molecular biology, Julie moved into business, working in technology transfer, business development and venture capital, all within the biotech world. From there, Julie pivoted to expeditioning which she humbly summarizes as, “I did a bunch of adventures with different organizations, wrote a bunch of books, made some documentaries.”... So, we’ll gladly take the pleasure of bragging on Julie’s behalf.

Julie Angus is the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean, coast to coast from Portugal to Costa Rica (okay, trailblazer!). Julie describes this 156-day journey, spanning 10,000 kilometer and two hurricanes as, “monotony punctuated by terror.” In fact, Julie adds, this was the worst hurricane season on record—both storms were complete anomalies. And that was only one leg of Julie and her husband, Colin Angus’ expedition: the first human-powered circumnavigation of the globe. This expedition earned Julie and Colin both National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year awards.

Julie shared that during the expedition they were “blindsided by challenges”, and much like the recent coronavirus pandemic, “no one could have predicted that.” But bravery and the ability to quickly adapt are what saw her expedition team through. Open Ocean Robotics has applied the same mindset to adjusting to the new business landscape. They’ve quickly developed new practices to abide by workplace health regulations and ensure the safety of employees, as well as prioritizing robust communication. “I’d say we’ve actually really adjusted to that remarkably well” says Julie, “and we’re going to continue a lot of those practices moving forward.”

On the note of unexpected challenges, Open Ocean Robotics was set to raise their seed funding round this year. However, given current travel restrictions, they’ve decided to delay fundraising. While this could mean the end of the road for many startups, Julie says Open Ocean Robotics are weathering the storm by focusing on transparent communication with their team to ensure trust, cutting burn rate and looking for non-dilutive funding sources to give them “staying power.”

“When you dig in and see all the work that goes into preparation, safety, and risk mitigation, you realize you can do a lot to offset those risks.”

Great challenges like rowing across the Atlantic and entrepreneurship aren’t achievable without a significant amount of courage and a palate for risk. But our discussion with Julie has highlighted that success lies in the differentiation between blind versus calculated risk. Julie says that, “when you dig in and see all the work that goes into preparation, safety, and risk mitigation, you realize you can do a lot to offset those risks.”

“If you don’t try you can never succeed. Showing up is a huge part of the game.”

Julie’s most important message: don’t be afraid. Go out there and try. She says the fear of failure is what often holds us back. Whenever you take on a big challenge there is a high risk of failure, but “If you don’t try you can never succeed. Showing up is a huge part of the game.”

And what does Julie think that herstory will be over the next decade? (And you thought you were getting through this article without a bad joke!) Julie’s focus is on the impact herself and Open Ocean Robotics can make. “I’m very excited about the potential that autonomous technologies will bring to the ocean [...] they can really transform our understanding of our ocean which can help ocean industry start to be able to operate more sustainably and safely, and help us better understand the impacts of climate change, pollution and overfishing, so that we can protect and preserve our oceans.”

Thank you, Julie for endeavoring to transform how we interact with our global ocean, leaning into fear and being an inspiration to us all.

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