Startup Stories: Rowing Across the Pacific Ocean

Sarah and Susannah: Aiming to Become the First Female Pair to Row Across the Pacific Ocean in 2014

Tell us about your entrepreneurial product or service.
Oceans Project is a free, online, environmental and STEM education programme for young people worldwide aged 5-19 years.

Each year we use ocean rowing to 1) raise the profile and funds for our two supported children’s charities and 2) to bring the oceans alive by providing ‘live from the boat’ education.

We believe that education and a creative space for student collaboration is the key to helping young people come up with their own solutions to the issues they face, and to enable them to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

What inspired you to launch your business idea?
Oceans Project started as a one off lesson for a group of 40 students at a Georgian-Russian school in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. The students were learning English as a Foreign Language but received little exposure to native English speakers and many of them struggled to learn using the Soviet teaching style of memorization of grammar and text. It was only when we put the BBC Oceans television series on for them to watch, that we realised the majority of the students had never seen the sea, let alone what lay beneath the waves, but they had all heard of the adventures of Jaques Cousteau and wanted to learn more.

This grew from a one off lesson, to a Saturday club, and ultimately to an online platform within Georgia during the human rights protests in 2012, and then as an online programme for students worldwide. We began Skyping with schools in other countries, with scientists and explorers live from the field, and reading the daily blog of Ocean Rower Roz Savage as she rowed across the Indian Ocean. This got the students using English in a more natural way, because they wanted to talk to people outside of Georgia, to find out whether students in other countries liked Justin Bieber. English became a tool rather than a school subject with little relevance to them.

What problem does your business or organization solve?
Oceans Project provides a creative and shared space where students can collaborate and communicate with each other, teaching each other in the process.

Many of our students are disadvantaged and have no access to any form of education. Some were sold into the sex trade by their parents, some live on a rubbish dump, and some were orphaned due to the taboo of disability. Having English as a foreign language, knowledge of western culture, and access to education will help these young people to gain employment in the tourism industry, local dive schools, and to access apprenticeships at international hotels.

For the UK and USA based students, the platform is about appreciating the education they have, and being inspired by other young people, as well as sharing their own experiences of life as a young person. All of our students face challenges in their day to day life, and the platform is about them sharing these and coming up with their own solutions and inspiring each other.

What has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur and how are you working to overcome it?
Oceans Project has grown substantially, over a relatively short period of time. It began from nothing and utilised what was already available in terms of resources.

The biggest challenge now is to raise sufficient funds to provide both a salary and funds to maintain the charitable work. We plan to do this, by charging a fee for giving talks about our expeditions and research in the field, whilst using the profile of the expeditions and Guinness World Records to raise the profile and to attract charitable donations. Time and resource management without funds has probably been the biggest challenge so far, but also the thing we are most proud of, given what we have achieved so far.

Give us one word that people might use to describe you.

How has Project Eve helped you and/or your business?
Project Eve has been a great source of inspiration and advice, from others who have decided to go it alone, and know how many new skills you must learn, above and beyond what your actual business does. A lot of people have a passion for what they do, but soon find that they spend all their time and energy on the day to day running of their business, charity, or project, rather than on the thing which they love to do (in our case education). Finding this balance is really difficult, especially when you first start out.

Give us an insider tip that relates to your industry or startup story.
Go with the flow. We never set out to become a charity or to undertake an expedition which would see us set out to become the first female pair to row across the Pacific Ocean. Our journey has evolved through lots of little steps, and many a time, we have started to walk down the wrong road, only to turn back. Don’t think you can’t do something because you don’t have the right letters after your name or the right funding or experience. I’d never rowed before, let alone been to a gym in years, but I knew that rowing an ocean would enable me to raise the funds and profile I needed to provide education to young people, which is what I was really passionate about. Once I had broken the ocean row into a to do list, I realised that there was nothing on that list, that I couldn’t do if I put my mind to it.

Company: Oceans Project


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