Christiana Zoupa is the co-founder and COO of Oceanus Foundation, a company that aims to provide a new currency and new economy for the shipping industry.
You've said that you have been working with computers since you were four. Can you explain? How?
I still have some memories of trying to persuade my parents to sign me up for computer science lessons while we were crossing the street outside the Greek Microsoft appendix. I was four years old. I could be quite persuasive, it seems, because they said yes. I started with junior-level courses in the Greek chapter of the Microsoft offices. I could comprehend and learn very quickly, so my professors were constantly upgrading my course level. This is how I ended up holding a Microsoft Proficiency degree and Expert European Computer Driving License at the age of 11.
Didn't you help found a nonprofit, as a teenager, before you launched Oceanus?
Greece is a country that is besieged by stereotypes and the four of us co-founders all had faced the similar stereotyping in our close environment (friends, university, family). Stereotyping leads people to choose an academic path based on what society considers good or appropriate for you. We believed that what is good for the society is for students to follow the path of what they really want and love. This is the only way of giving our best self to our jobs and to the society, so we created this NPO so that we could give the future generation of students the right guidance and information about their academic options through workshops and an online mentoring platform. The software was provided to us by 100mentors.com, an international online mentoring platform which brings role models from leading organizations worldwide to speak at school and university classrooms all around the world.
We had 237 dynamic volunteers and together we provided guidance to 2,946 high school students about their academic options.
How did you first meet Nikolas Kostopoulos?
Nikolas is an ambitious professional well known for his route as young entrepreneur in Greece and also for how he has empowered the Greek entrepreneurial community by hosting trainings, giving talks, and hosting seminars and workshops about the development of entrepreneurial consciousness in young people.
When I was 18, I had the chance to participate in an international startup conference in Istanbul, hosted at Bilgi University (it belongs to the group of Laureate International Universities). Nikolaos was one of the co-organizers and speakers and I was amazed and inspired by all the things he said. So, after the end of his speech, I reached out him to express some of my thoughts and we instantly became friends despite the age difference. Since then, Nikolaos is still my friend, the only difference is that now he is also my mentor and my co-partner for Oceanus Foundation.
Is Oceanus a for-profit company? What stage is it in?
Yes, Oceanus Foundation is definitely a for-profit company, though we are serving the ethics of conscious capitalism. We are providing solutions which will improve the lives of million seafarers and insure their future and reward the scientific community by helping us accelerate new technologies to improve the future of the shipping industry.
We have received already more 30 requests, from mainly European and Asian startups related to the shipping industry, ready to join our accelerator.
We have already found our first Australian investors who believed in us, and we are in the phase of organizing our Oceanus Startup Accelerator based in Gibraltar. We are already constructing our smart-contract technology with Ukrainian partners to facilitate and modernize the procedure of Bill of Landing through blockchain technology, and we also have our first partners from the Greek shipping industry who provide a ship booking platform accepting exclusively Oceanus Coin for payments. On September15, we are starting the Initial Coin Offering of Oceanus Token with duration of one month. After this, we will start the circulation of the investments made, by launching our first services.We have already gathered 25% of the amount required to run our first services.
We have managed to put together a sales team that will work tirelessly during the next 4-6 weeks to reach out to hundreds of potential shipping industry partners and inform them about our project. We have already received dozens of potential partnerships applications. Also, several very well-known shipping companies in our niche markets have already agreed to give us a try as soon as we come online
Talk about how you gathered the technologists, thought leaders, and others into your group.
Nikolas and I have been working with the biggest organizations in Greece and Europe, which helped us a lot to build a strong network with some well-known entrepreneurs, politicians, and professors. This, in combination with our Lead Finance Officer, Vivian Kostopoulou, who is the founder of Youth Business Network, one of the biggest organizations around Europe, helped us to build the team we strongly believe is ideal for us. Her network, which includes important people from USA, Russia, India and Japan. But despite this, we also did five months of research to find blockchain technologists and cryptocurrency and blockchain advisors.
What is the Ethereum network?
At its simplest, Ethereum is an open software platform based on blockchain technology that enables developers to build and deploy decentralized applications. Like Bitcoin, Ethereum is a distributed public blockchain network. But there are some significant technical differences between the two, the most significant of which is that Bitcoin and Ethereum differ substantially in purpose and capability. Bitcoin offers one particular application of blockchain technology, a peer-to-peer electronic cash system that enables online Bitcoin payments. While the Bitcoin blockchain is used to track ownership of digital currency (bitcoins), the Ethereum blockchain instead focuses on running the programming code of any decentralized application. In the Ethereum blockchain, instead of mining for bitcoin, miners work to earn Ethereum, a type of crypto token that fuels the network.
"The business world is not for people who believe in fairytales. It’s a world of economic interests and when people realize that, they start behaving accordingly."
Beyond a tradeable cryptocurrency, Ethereum is also used by application developers to pay for transaction fees and services on the Ethereum network. Furthermore, Ethereum technology, in comparison to all the other cryptocurrencies, allows developers more flexibility to create whatever operations they want. This means developers can build thousands of different applications that go way beyond anything we have seen before.
Are you trying to create a brand-new currency? And how will it compare or compete with Bitcoin?
Oceanus Coin is a counter-party token on the Ethereum network. The initial ICO launched last week, on 15th September. With one coin worth 1 US dollar, the target will be to raise 15 million dollars through the ICO.
The goal of our token is not to compete with the existing cryptocurrencies. Rather, the goal is to provide support and solutions to the shipping industry through blockchain technology. The aim is to build actual value and substance that provides solutions and supports the shipping world. The primary use for the tokens will be as an industry-wide, transparent, trustless payment system. Startups supported by the venture arm of the foundation will be capitalized with the coin and their services paid for in OCEANUS. The coin will be valid for tuition fees at the Seafarer Academy and for Maritime Studies courses. Most important, the coin will be the basis for the execution of smart contracts. Providing a frictionless and cost effective source of escrow, fraud protection, and payment. It is anticipated that this alone will eliminate considerable cost across the industry, mostly in avoided fraud and arbitration.
Have you had to work harder than others to get people's trust in business, because of your age and the fact that you're a woman?
The business world is not for people who believe in fairytales. It’s a world of economic interests and when people realize that, they start behaving accordingly. Business is about development, control, power, money and competition. Mistakes are not forgiven, let alone when you are a woman or quite young. If you want to be taken seriously by the potential investors and partners, you have to prepare yourself in way that doesn’t allow you to be at a disadvantage, this includes not only matters of knowledge (about your business area and your potential investor/partner/client) but also in matters of being prepared for dealing with any kind of behavior in a way that doesn’t hurt your company. I have discovered that the best way to deal with any kind of stereotype is just to find out your strengths and learn how to make good use of them.
What new aspects of yourself have you discovered?
When you work constantly through a stressful and fast pace, it’s safe to say that you are forced to know yourself better, since you come to situations that you have never encountered before. You can discover the extent of your abilities, your strengths, your limits and as well as test your moral reaches and how much you are willing (or not willing) to do, or to discard, for its sake. Through this procedure, I gained more confidence concerning my choices, my opinions, and my abilities.
My greatest personal achievement has been discovering how dynamic I can be. I truly love this aspect of myself. That pushes me to take advantage of it, in a way that makes me push every day to become better. But also I think that human beings are very complicated and we can never truly know ourselves 100%, so I have a long journey ahead of me.