"We are the one percent that has made it this far."
A physical oceanographer by training, Judith Bobbitt created Oceans Ltd. in 1981, and since then the company’s research and development team members have explored a variety of areas related to the sea. They’ve been involved in marine search and rescue; they monitor fish, measure icebergs, conduct marine weather forecasting, investigate the anti-cancer properties of seaweed, and build the equipment they require to undertake these tasks.
For Judith, winning the Trailblazer Award is a recognition of the work that Oceans has been doing in the community. Community is a topic that comes up often when she talks about the company’s work: Oceans does research in areas that can benefit the community as a whole. The desire to help is an important source of inspiration.
“There was no time when I realized I was an entrepreneur; I was always an entrepreneur,” Judith says. She left a small fishing village in Quebec at 13 for her education and put herself through university at McGill. It’s clear that this independence is a source of pride.
Independence is also one key to the success of Oceans: the company does research in areas where it needs to be done, where it isn’t already being done. “We don’t follow trends,” Judith says. The company built its own sonar system for weather forecasting. It tracks biomarkers to assess fish health. Research into seaweeds led to the discovery of a molecule that stops the growth of breast cancer. Once they had discovered the molecule, the scientists were able to create it synthetically; they are now investigating applications for other cancers, such as prostate cancer and melanoma. “Ninety-nine percent of cancer research fails,” Judith says. “We are the one percent that has made it this far.”
These discoveries don’t just occur magically, though: the business is competitive. Oceans has had to adapt or be left behind: they are always doing research, exploring new possibilities.
The biggest challenge in the oil industry, Judith explains, is the bidding process. Major international competitors in marine weather forecasting can afford to do the work at a loss in order to get into the market; Oceans can’t afford to do that. And the cost of a project isn’t always obvious from a submission: Oceans can save the client a lot of helicopter time, for example, which decreases cost significantly but isn’t necessarily reflected in the bid.
The oil industry has evolved considerably over the last forty years. When Judith started, she was the only woman on the platforms and supply ships. Now women are much more widely accepted in the industry. And her own perspective gives her some hindsight. “I would probably do a lot of things differently, because I’m older and wiser now!” Judith says, laughing. “Everything is a learning experience: you keep learning.” She recommends that entrepreneurs do what they’re interested in. There is a community full of business people with experience out there, she says, and people who are starting out can ask for advice.
The next step for Oceans is a logistical one: getting seaweed-based products to market. If the company’s history of creating strategies to make things happen is anything to go by, it won’t be long before those products are on the shelf.
Trailblazer recognizes an entrepreneur who owns and operates a business that has excelled in a non-traditional industry for women-owned business or successfully established a business in an industry uncommon to the area in which it operates. This entrepreneur has blazed a trail for others to follow and find success. Sponsored by Cox & Palmer