Better Know a B: Odyssey Sensors
Odyssey Sensors is a founding UK B Corporation. We caught up with Wayne Turner, the CEO, to find out more about them.
SD | Hi Wayne, thanks for taking the time to chat to us. To kick things off, can you tell us a little bit about the history of Odyssey.
Hi Scott. Sure, I’d love to tell you about Odyssey. The idea for Odyssey was born in a kind of ‘dawn over Kilimanjaro’ moment for one of our founders, Stephen Honan. He’s an electrical engineer and a graduate of Oxford University.
While traveling in Bangladesh Stephen saw that small plot shrimp farmers were struggling to measure and manage the salinity of the water in their small ponds. Getting salinity right makes a huge difference on crop productivity. With his background in electrical engineering, he immediately recognized a solution to this persistent problem.
Though measuring salinity wasn’t necessarily rocket science – it’s a common activity in swimming pools and food processing – the hard part would be to design a robust system for measuring salinity that would be affordable to small plot farmers earning $800/year. Stephen knew that this kind of system could help these farmers increase their productivity and therefore improve their livelihood, while also helping the environment by better managing the amount of salt these farmers were using.
Stephen began work on a prototype after returning to the UK, and with three other Oxford classmates, they established Odyssey Sensors to bring this idea and others to market. Two years later, here we are.
SD | What is Odyssey’s mission?
Simply put, our mission is to find problems where we believe simple technological solutions exist, we then drive the costs out of the tech solutions through a combination of creative engineering and smart use of off-the-shelf components. Our focus is in the small holder agriculture space, an area that has traditionally been overlooked and underserved by big business primarily as a result of what they see as insufficient profit. We see a lot of opportunity to have significant impact for small-plot, low-margin farmers while growing our own business.
And we’re ambitious beyond the Healthy Shrimp Salinity Sensor. We’re in the mid stages of developing a sensor to monitor water volume remotely for livestock operations in arid regions. The solution involves sending signals over very long distances at very low cost, and again this product has the potential to impact the livelihoods of low-margin farmers across the globe.
SD | Why did you decide to become a B Corporation?
Well, a few reasons really, but fundamentally because our founding principles are grounded in the same ideals as the B Corp movement. Years ago I read a great book called 'Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses 'No, But' Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration - Lessons from The Second City' by Kelly Leonard. Embedded in this book is the concept – that what are often considered opposing ideas like earning profit AND having a positive impact on people, society, and the environment are simply not possible to achieve at the same time… the ‘Yes, but.’
We believe at Odyssey Sensors, and by extension as a member of the B Corp family, that business can have profit AND powerful social impact – ‘Yes, and.’ This belief is in our DNA and I believe at the heart of the B Corp movement. So I’ve always sought to employ that ‘Yes, and’ philosophy to my work, and that’s what attracted me to join Odyssey Sensors, and for us as a company to seek out B Corp certification.
We have a relatively subdued marketing approach right now, because we’re so focused on developing two great products. The B Corporation stamp of quality quietly but very powerfully explains to a lot of people what we’re all about as an organisation, and about the quality of our products. It’s a great conversation starter, let me tell you!
SD | What does it mean to you to be one of the founding UK B Corporations?
It’s a great honour to have joined the ranks of the other founding B Corps. We are in great company. We want to be a leader not only in our industry but in business, and being part of the founding UK B Corps community is a great way to demonstrate that ambition.
And as you know, the application process is quite long and in depth and as a small company we were completing it [The B Impact Assessment] alongside everything else a start-up must achieve. Though the past 6 months have been incredibly busy for us with our product development and a successful fundraise, we remained intently focussed on giving everything we had to become a B-Corp because we felt and continue to feel just how important a standard this is. It was such a thrill when we realised we were going to make it, to get certified. It’s a dream come true.
SD | What are some of the things you learned about your organisation through taking the B Impact Assessment?
Interestingly, during the assessment process we had a bit of a mind shift. We went from thinking about how we could minimise the negative impact of our business on other stakeholders, to actively considering how we could maximise the positive impact Odyssey Sensors can have in the world. We started challenging ourselves to think about how we could run our business profitably at the same time as leaving the planet in better shape than when we found it. Perhaps another example of ‘Yes, and.’
SD | What excites you the most about being part of the global B Corporation movement?
We are a global company based in the UK. In fact, we have personnel on four continents, and we’re represented by contractors on a fifth. We want to become a beacon for other organisations operating in the places we have a presence, and we want to do business with those among them who think like us. Having the B Corp brand associated with our name, our products, helps us link in with people around the world who want to use their business for good. And when you’re entering a new market where you don’t know many people, being able to connect with like-minded organisations – even if they’re not in your industry – can be a great way to understand the lay of the land and get started.
SD | Which other B Corporations would you most like to meet/speak to/do business with?
Well, unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the launch event (ed. Wayne is based in the US), but two of Odyssey Sensors’ founders, Chris Hunter and Michael Thornton were. We’ve all reviewed the list of the founding B Corps and thought there might be some great organisations to connect with there. We’ve already connected with ClearlySo and we’ll be looking to keep a strong relationship with them as we continue to develop our products and as our company evolves.
And I am interested in Be Inspired Films. Film is such a powerful medium at helping to tell your story and spread the power of your message. I think teaming up with a B Corp that does great film work would be terrific.
I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the Rockies, and it is a very environmentally aware community. Everywhere you look here you’ll see people wearing clothing from Patagonia, and I really admire the steps those guys have taken. Their thinking is way beyond the clothing and apparel business, and I love the fact that they are truly a shareware organisation – what they’ve learned – the good and the bad - they’re willing to share.
SD | Thanks so much for sparing the time to chat to us Wayne. It’s been fascinating hearing more about Odyssey Sensors.
Not at all. Thank you Scott. We’re thrilled that we could be there at the start of this great movement in the UK.