Sam’s passion for the work he does inspires me to continue doing what I love. If you’re wondering what ocean problems our oceans are currently facing or how to start an ocean-based business, you’ll enjoy learning from Sam.
Sam Walker is the founder and CEO of Ocean AG, a regenerative sewed business for a variety of products.
Now, on to my talk with Sam.
How do you practice sustainability in your daily life?
Certainly, there are some very practical things I do daily, like conserving energy and water in our household. My wife and I are also trying to be mindful of what we eat and thinking about the impact of the supply and value chain on the broader world.
Additionally, we also try to engage with nature by walking outside and riding bikes as much as we can. Aside from this, I think one important thing we should also do is to sustain ourselves by being mindful of our emotional, mental, and physical states. This is because when we’re at our best, we can position ourselves to promote a broader range of sustainability.
How did you stumble upon your business idea?
I went through a long journey before I stumbled upon that idea. I started my career focusing on the intersection of science and technology, but certainly in Applied Science at the heart of it.
Then, in graduate school, I focused on precision health. I have a Master’s of Science in Public Health and a Ph.D. in environmental health sciences focusing on the oceans.
After that, I pursued some work in the ocean serving program through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Then, I took a global role with BP as their group marine science expert.
So for 15–20 years, I paid close attention to the ocean space, its technology, and the opportunities not being exploited or taken advantage of. Since the ocean is a fascinating place with an incredibly rich environment sustaining a lot of life on Earth, I was always looking for an opportunity to evolve our thinking about how we can utilize the ocean space.
What do entrepreneurs need to have to build an ocean-type business?
There are two fundamental things entrepreneurs must have when pursuing any business: passion and resilience.
Whatever entrepreneurs choose to pursue, they must be passionate about it. They also need to be resilient as there will be moments they will get knocked back. When that happens, they must be resilient enough to keep driving forward.
Of course, the expertise in their field and the ability to walk their talk also help. But since these skills can be learned from other knowledge bases or delegated to others, they are not as important as passion and resilience.
What’s the biggest obstacle you faced when building your business? What tip do you have for new/current entrepreneurs on overcoming this?
My first tip is to understand that things typically take longer than expected. Even if people like your business idea, you must still prepare as it will just lead you to another long haul. This is what I learned from my own experience.
So I’ve been in a long-running conversation with two different prospective partners. One is a landowner interested in ocean AG, and another one is with an international company. Both of those conversations have been happening for close to a year now.
Even if they remain very positive and we communicate frequently, it still hasn’t resulted in a formal contract or lease arrangement. While I’m confident it will happen, I also understand that things don’t happen as quickly as we expect.
Two other obstacles I faced were about forming a company and seeking funds. When I first started my consulting business, I spent more money and time than anticipated. It was also challenging to raise funds, which are always on the minds of founders and entrepreneurs.
One thing I learned from this challenge of raising funds is just to keep pounding away at it. Many people will show interest in your business along the journey because that is how being in the venture capital space works.
Even though you read a lot about venture capital and sustainability and visited a pool of resources, raising money will still be challenging. Aside from presenting your solution to different issues worldwide, like in climate tech, you also need to have a viable business idea.
How should an entrepreneur begin the process of seeking funding?
Some helpful things you can do in the process are to reach out to others who have done funding before and put them on your advisory board. You can also take memberships in groups where founders and entrepreneurs in your field exchange ideas openly.
Let me give you an example to explain further that there’s no one-size-fits-all when seeking funds.
SaaS companies are dominant in the entrepreneurial funding space. But while it’s relatively easy to understand how they can generate revenue, it doesn’t mean businesses in that field will succeed. There are key things that you have to establish and demonstrate to get funding for these companies.
This is different from the case of traditional operating companies like Oceana or Blue Tree, in which you have physical assets you’re working with, natural materials, and the supply and value chains to build. They are very different businesses to run, and risk management is handled very differently, too.
Even the skill sets required in these companies are different. Setting up a SaaS company or other more digitally-oriented ones is different from setting up physically oriented operating companies.
While Ocean AG and Blue Tree, classified as tech companies, integrate a fair bit of technology and utilize existing technologies like blockchain, it’s still physical-oriented operating companies. Thus, its risk and upside must be viewed through that lens, not the lens of the SaaS venture.
How do you get on top of sustainability?
o I draw on that network all the time. I also read and use LinkedIn to reach out to those people and follow particular companies or institutions. LinkedIn is a great platform for finding opportunities by connecting with founders and networks you may want to be part of, for example, joining a climate tech cohort to join in the exchange of ideas there.
I would encourage people to build that network. It doesn’t matter if you’re just in the early part of your career, as everybody can do it. If you’re not socially oriented, you have to force yourself to reach out because the results will be worth it.
Meanwhile, if you’re worried about other people taking credit for your idea, there are different ways to protect the things that need to be protected. You can hire a competent legal team to look at those things for you.
When you let yourself reach out to others, you’ll be able to learn from peer groups, including the companies that are competing with you in the early stages of the industry that’s evolving like ours.
More than that, I also believe that those who dare to connect with others can provide them with the opportunity to work with other companies. I think it’s very important to build those partnerships at a personal and peer level, where you’re gaining insight on specific topics, like sustainability and how to run your business in general.
In those relationships, you’ll be able to learn from the key advisors that could be beneficial to you or maybe connect with a skilled person who isn’t a good fit for your business, and you’ll realize why that might be the case.
I hope you enjoyed my talk with Sam and that you took away some value. If you want to listen to the entire interview, click play below or head over to your favorite platform (Apple, Spotify, or Google.)
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