Meet The Women Of The Blockchain: Jess Houlgrave Co-Founder and COO of Codex Protocol and a Founder of shEOS

Aside from supporting fellow founders who are trying to build great ecosystems and artists who are playing a fundamental role in the growth of blockchain technology, I am so proud to be a founder of shEOS because of the pledge we have made to creating social impact. Our flagship program is our scholarships for young women seeking an education in fintech and STEM. But we are shaping shEOS into a movement, aimed at empowering both men and women all over the world who have been let down and disenfranchised by our current system.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jess Houlgrave, Co-Founder and COO of Codex Protocol and a Founder of shEOS. Codex is a decentralized registry for unique assets like Art & Collectibles. Jess is passionate about lowering barriers of entry to increase diversity in blockchain. She is particularly excited about the impact that artists can have on technology and about female empowerment.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I was born curious. As a child I wanted to know how everything worked and why. My first MA was in Economics and Management from the University of Oxford, where I was privileged to have the most amazing academic tutors who nurtured my sense of wonder about the world. I joined Credit Suisse in their UK Investment Banking team, and later, I went on to work for OPTrust, a Canadian Pension Fund managing European Private Market investments. A friend of mine introduced me to blockchain, and I was instantly obsessed. I could see that it held so much potential, and I wanted to be a part of shaping its future. In particular, I was most interested in real-world use cases, and I wrote my Master’s thesis on the applications of blockchain technology to the art world for Sotheby’s Institute of Art. After that, I formed a group that co-founded Codex, a decentralized asset registry for unique assets where we use non-fungibles to record provenance of artworks for auction houses, shipping and logistics companies, asset-backed lenders, etc.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Codex and shEOS are my most exciting projects. At Codex, we’ve just launched our first application, called BIddable, which is now working in auction houses. I am a believer that technology inherits the biases of the people who create it, so I think diversity is crucial to the development of a healthy blockchain ecosystem. At Codex, I’ve established the Foundation for Art and Blockchain to support artists working at the intersection of art and blockchain. We recently sponsored the Decentralized Art Project coordinated by True.bit, and we’ve been amazed by how much incredible work is being done by artists to help explain and understand this technology and the impact it could have on our future.

At shEOS, our mission beyond our responsibility for Block Production, is to promote inclusion. We are starting with bringing the gender ratio on the blockchain to parity. I am privileged to know Nyla Rodgers who started the SatoshiIsFemale campaign, the aim of which is to turn the 1% on its head, and to empower 100 million people to build an inclusive, collaborative, and community-driven future, starting with women and girls worldwide. Blockchain has already shown me how much we can achieve through collaboration. It challenges the Old World institutions that are fundamentally failing to serve an enormous proportion of society. With blockchain, we have an historic opportunity — the likes of which we haven’t had in more than 500 years — to rebuild broken institutions that accurately reflect and represent all human beings. That’s why I’m excited about shEOS: we are female founders supported by men and women all over the world working in a collaborative and cooperative way to improve the global community.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I make gratitude a daily practice. And I’m grateful for every single human I meet, because I always I learn something from them. My deepest thanks go to all those people who supported me when I was new to the space, by answering my questions and including me in their conversations, dinners and groups. I felt welcomed by them, and I try to “pass it on” to everyone who I meet now. I also want to acknowledge my co-founders and team at Codex and shEOS: every day, I am inspired and amazed by what we are creating together.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

The People. I have met some of the most eccentric, inspiring, accomplished, creative and astute people since I started working in blockchain. They give me daily affirmation that we can change things for the better.

The Technology. We are just at the beginning of what this technology can do for the world. The promise of it seems to know no bounds.

The Skepticism. Surprised I’d say that? Most people think that skepticism is bad, and it holds us back, but I disagree. I think it’s important to approach new things with with a skeptical attitude. It’s a healthy reflex to want to “kick the tires” before a road test! Sometimes, I see the people working in a “blockchain echo chamber”, and that’s an innovation killer for sure. Let’s pledge to be challenge each other, and to question without fear the decisions we make. As leaders in the space, we have a huge responsibility.

The Speed. Someone recently told me that “crypto years were like dog years”, meaning one human year equals seven crypto years. I agree! Everything’s happening so fast. I love it, in fact, I thrive on it, but my seacret weapon to surviving and thriving at this accelerated pace is skepticism (see above).

The Diversity. Philosophical, political, geographic, socio-economic and educational backgrounds create an environment in which I thrive. It’s also the fuel for destructive creativity. Whilst we have a long way to go, I am optimistic that, as more people engage with blockchain, we will see uses and applications that we have yet to even dream of.

What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

Diversity Diversity is crucial to the blockchain, otherwise we’ll just be re-rigging today’s institutions in Web3.0. Our current systems have failed the majority of the world’s population. The economic inequality and political instability we see in the world today are, I believe, a function of outdated, tired systems. Diverse perspectives are what will make the new blockchain based systems thrive.

Misunderstanding Right now, blockchain and crypto is fundamentally misunderstood by most people. I am not going to perpetuate myths by repeating them here, but it’s understandable given its brief history. I also want to acknowledge that fear and sensationalism sells mainstream media and fuels governments, so a majority of influencers have a vested interest in fanning the fires of misunderstanding, including regulators, businesses, investors and the media. At shEOS we plan to educate from the ground up, so together we can communicate in a shared language that is easily understood by everyone.

Bad actors I have been horrified by some of the actions of people within the crypto space who neglect their responsibility to include people and do good. Whether they are rogue investors suggesting personal meetings in a hotel room, “official” after parties at strip clubs, hacking, and founders raising funds with no intention to build, it’s a major problem, especially because those bad actors get more than their share of attention. We all have a vested interest in self-government, and in speaking up, in order to create an environment of good.

User experience We still have a way to go before cryptocurrencies are accessible to everyone and easy to use. At Codex we use design thinking processes to really understand how we can create a useable ecosystem. Even technically proficient people are struggling right now with the way some things work. It’s the biggest single barrier to wide adoption.

Politics Constructive challenges of incredible minds are the seeds of great development and advances in technology. But wrestling matches played in the Twitter arena destroy value and souls. Let’s be truly fearless: open-minded, flexible, and willing to experiment. In that environment, innovation thrives.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

Aside from supporting fellow founders who are trying to build great ecosystems and artists who are playing a fundamental role in the growth of blockchain technology, I am so proud to be a founder of shEOS because of the pledge we have made to creating social impact. Our flagship program is our scholarships for young women seeking an education in fintech and STEM. But we are shaping shEOS into a movement, aimed at empowering both men and women all over the world who have been let down and disenfranchised by our current system.

What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?

Give and be grateful. Think about how you can give as much as you get. Smile at a stranger. Talk to the person who is standing alone at the conference. Listen to someone else’s challenges. Make an introduction with no strings attached. Share your feedback with compassion. And be grateful for whatever comes your way. Turn demanding challenges into tools for your own growth.

Believe in something. Especially if it’s bigger than you! Stand up for what you believe in. Stay flexible, only refusing to compromise your values. Don’t become blinded by pride. Become an active observer. Create!

Learn every day. It’s easy to slip out of the learning habit in early adulthood. Reclaiming it is not an easy task. Healthy personal habits include seeking out great content and talking about it with thoughtful people. Allow your mind to become a porous sponge, not an immutable stone. When I host women’s blockchain meetups, I open by reassuring everyone that it’s a safe place to ask stupid questions. It’s always the smartest people who ask the most questions!

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)

I’d have a long lunch with Judy Chicago, the 78 year old woman who is known as the godmother of vagina art. Why I would covet this opportunity needs no explanation ;)