Open Ocean Robotics Founder Julie Angus on Facing Challenges without Fear of Failure

As a woman in science and business—working in harsh open-sea conditions—Angus knows how to meet the moment.

SUBJECT: Julie Angus, CEO and co-founder, Open Ocean Robotics

As the CEO and co-founder of a company in the cleantech and engineering fields, I’ve faced all sorts of challenges. One is a challenge of homogeneity: These aren’t especially diverse fields, and you don’t see as many women CEOs as you should. It’s well known that women are underrepresented.

Sometimes I’ll be the only woman at an event, or I’ll be the only female speaker. This lopsidedness matters because I know we need to highlight that women can succeed in these fields if we want to inspire other women and girls to enter them. They need role models. I hope my story might offer such an example for others.

“Driven by Curiosity” to Underrepresented Spaces

I grew up as an only child. My dad was in the Air Force, so we moved around a lot. And I wouldn’t say I had very broad exposure to women achieving great things. I was just always driven by curiosity and wanting to learn and to challenge myself.

I studied science because I like it. I especially really like the intersection of where science makes an impact on the world. Eventually, I started to move more into business.

Open Ocean Robotics was inspired by my career in ocean exploration and the time I spent on the ocean in small boats—recognizing how difficult it is to be out there. This difficulty is the reason we understand so little about our oceans. In fact, 80 percent of the ocean is unexplored or mapped.

Exploration is another area where women are underrepresented. So I’ve gotten well accustomed to operating in that space and meeting its challenges.

Navigating the Unexpected (Even With Impeccable Planning)

The most challenging expedition I did was rowing across the Atlantic; my partner and I spent five months on the ocean on a very small rowboat. We encountered some very challenging conditions including two hurricanes. These were both anomalous storms; it ended up being the worst hurricane season in history. So even though we had planned and prepared, it was something that we couldn’t have predicted—but we had to deal with it nonetheless.

Beyond those harsh open-ocean conditions, the biggest challenge has been learning how to grow a company, how to find that path to revenue, the value proposition to our own unique niche, where we can outperform other companies.

It’s been challenging because our vessel is a platform for a large variety of data collection. We can do everything from fish stock assessments, to detecting marine mammals, to providing security, to seafloor mapping. So being able to choose a target market is something that I’ve struggled with because it’s a combination of not wanting to turn down opportunities, yet wanting to drive the business forward in a way that allows it to succeed.

The first target market that we went after was seafloor mapping, and we did a successful project: Our boat demonstrated it was very capable and has some unique advantages. But ultimately, we decided that that would not be our market because our vessel had advantages that positioned it better for others.

So now we’re focused on marine mammal and environmental monitoring, a market that requires a vessel that can be out for extended periods of time—and ours can do just that.

Other challenges led us to discover our ultimate path: We have an autonomous boat that’s very sea-worthy. It can go out for weeks or months at a time in extreme sea conditions. It can survive that, and it can collect data through that. That is our unique value proposition.

“Failure Is Fabulous”

I’d remind others that your career is a continuum. You’re always growing and changing, and you can build on the skills you have to stay in that role or in that career path, or you can change it.

I’ve changed my career paths, but it’s always built on the skills that I’ve had and I very much enjoy that diversity. It can bring some unique advantages and fresh perspectives to any space.

Women have a tendency to be more modest about our skills. We sometimes wonder if we have enough experience to execute. But it’s important to recognize you don’t have to be perfect; you don’t have to have every skill. You’re going to learn along the way and you’re going to make mistakes. I encourage women to go out there and to take that risk and not be as concerned that you might not know every answer. Because it’s OK if you don’t.

You should never be afraid to try. I encourage people—and especially women and girls—to set the bar incredibly high and just go for it.

Failure is fabulous. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough. And there’s nothing better than learning powerful lessons from failure.

You might be scared that you might not succeed, but if you don’t try, you can’t succeed. We need more women really pushing their boundaries and using those incredible skills and talents they have to make a difference, to build something great, to change the world.

That’s the exciting future that lies ahead of us: harnessing innovation to overcome many of the challenges that our planet faces. We’re going to see that happen alongside more diversity in the workforce.

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