Tobias Ørskov Madsen from A Better Ocean
September 22, 2021
BY PATRICK VESTER ENGEL & Nina Lyhne
Master’s degree student of Law at Aarhus University
CEO and co-founder of A Better Ocean that works with reducing the amount of plastic waste in and around the oceans of the world
Founded A Better Ocean in 2019 with his friend and co-founder Jacob and two other guys
How did the idea of becoming an entrepreneur arise?
Our concept began as a study project at Business Academy Aarhus where three of the original founders studied. One of the original founders – Jacob – is an old school-friend of mine, and he and the two others invited me to join in 2019, when the idea went from being a study project to becoming a real company. They saw an advantage in the legal expertise I have as a law student, who can help in various legal matters. Also, Jacob knew about my great interest in the marine environment. I have been diving in many places around the world, so A Better Ocean’s mission of cleaning plastic from the ocean really spoke to me.
How did you get started with your entrepreneurial journey?
In the beginning, we were part of GROW at Business Academy Aarhus where we had access to basic startup advisory. In 2020, we became part of The Kitchen where we have an office today and a great startup advisor. We have also taken part in a springboards via CONNECT Denmark and a PreBoard via nBoard where we have gotten advice from two different temporary advisory boards.
What has been the biggest challenge in the process?
Probably that we have been too naive in thinking that businesses are willing to make a positive impact on the environment purely for idealistic reasons. Many businesses are – but you need to make it attractive for them, as very few are doing it of their good heart. There is a term widely used: “Doing Good” – many businesses are focusing on this, but they still have shareholders to meet and therefore, you need to make it attractive for them to “Due Good”.
We started out as a subscription service where all our subscribers contributed to the overall project. But this business model did not create enough value for our customers. Therefore, we have had to develop a new business model where each business contribute to a single project, and via a blockchain technology, they get access to data on that project’s specific impact – for instance, how much plastic the project has collected. This data can be used in their CSR-reports as well as for marketing and employer branding of their company.
What does a typical workweek look like in relation to combining your startup with your study?
To be honest, I might not be the “perfect” student. Attendance is not compulsory at my Master’s degree, so during the semester, I put most of my energy into A Better Ocean, and then I catch up on my studies around exams. I am quite thankful for my study regulation, as it also allows me to extend my studies and make extra time for building up the company. It also makes it possible for me to have a part-time job in a law firm beside my studies, and this is really great, because almost all of our capital goes to developing A Better Ocean.
How do you use your academic skills as an entrepreneur?
One of the reasons I was asked to become a partner was to contribute with my legal knowledge within business and corporate law as well as data policy that I have as a law student. At the Master’s degree in Law, you can combine the courses as you like, so I have been able to choose courses which give me knowledge that is relevant for our work in A Better Ocean – and this has been immensely helpful for us.
Where is the startup today, and what are your dreams for the future?
Right now, we are operating with international partners in countries like The Philippines, Sri Lanka and South Africa, and we have got 27 customers on our subscription list. Most customers are businesses that we seek out ourselves, but occasionally we are also contacted by organizations, who are interested in our services. For instance, we have been contacted by a Danish continuation school who wanted our help for a cleanup event. One goal is to provide even more value for our customers via our services – and our newly developed investementplatform build on blockchain will do exactly that. CSR is becoming a still more important asset for larger firms, and it is also something that the governance will demand reports on from more companies in the future – so it is a growing market.
In a short perspective, we want to launch our new concept and website. This will be CSR-data from specific ocean cleaning projects delivered through blockchain, which our customers can use for things like marketing, employer branding and CSR-reports. Our long-term hope is that we can provide solutions for a global problem through our digital service. We also hope to have profitable projects in the future that will make a difference in the local areas we work in. At a more abstract level, we really hope to create more awareness of the environmental problem with plastic in the ocean and the value of solutions like ours.
Your best advice for students who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?
If you are a student with a startup idea, then don´t be afraid to try it. Don´t think of your studies as a hurdle, because you have a lot of flexibility and security to test your ideas when you are a student. But if possible, find someone else to do it with. Having a partner will help you when you have to juggle your studies, startup etc.
Also, take advantage of all the help you can get. Aarhus University can really provide you with a lot of helpful guidance or advice through offers like Dual Career and The Kitchen.
In short, my advice is to get your idea out there, and see if there´s a potential in it.