Technology startup founder speaks on the intersection of cybersecurity, privacy and LGBTQ empowerment
Georgios Despastas: A queerpreneur facilitating data protection
Georgios Despastas was no stranger to the world of entrepreneurship before he moved to Montreal to start his own company, Kalepso, which facilitates data protection on the cloud for enterprises by providing them with post-quantum solutions with the highest security guarantees. He previously co-founded a digital platform to empower the underbanked in better managing their finances, after having launched intrapreneurial projects at Barclays. With such successful ventures under his belt Georgios was now well-prepared to launch his own tech enterprise with his co-founder, Georgios Kellaris, at the leading business incubator, TandemLaunch.
For the first edition of our ‘Queerpreneur founder’ series, we meet with Georgios to discuss his motivations behind building a world where all sensitive data remains as it should be — PRIVATE.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and guide us through your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?
I’m originally from Greece, where I studied Electrical and Computer Engineering before moving to the UK, where I did my masters in Industrial Systems Engineering and Management. Post that, while working at Barclays on a mandate which required me to securely move certain data to the cloud, I realized that there was no solution to migrate extremely sensitive data without the risks that come with it. After a while, I met my co-founder, Georgios- my namesake, and together we started working on bringing an unprecedented level of security to sensitive data by fully encrypting it at the storage level.
The concept developed into Kalepso, which has been funded by the startup incubator, Tandem Launch. After numerous brainstorming sessions and iterations of the original invention, which was my co-founder’s brainchild, we finally came up with an MVP, which we are gradually commercializing as our company’s main solution offering.
What inspired you to leave a stable and interesting job to become an entrepreneur?
I always dreamt about having a big impact on the world around me by disrupting the status quo and shifting the paradigm. When I was working at Barclays, an organization with more than 140,000 employees and a significant global outreach, I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with smart people within that agile environment — but at the same time, it was hard to measure the impact I was having, and challenging to navigate through the somewhat rigid framework. Although creating a data office for banks in Africa and delivering open-source products to them do constitute impactful work, it’s not the same as driving the vision for a company and being able to experience with your own eyes the results of the work you are doing.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, did you face any personal or professional challenges in your life that may have limited you from using your potential to the fullest or made you feel different while embarking on this adventure?
In the countries I have worked in so far, particularly the UK and Canada, there are rules and regulations governing and promoting diversity and inclusion at workplaces.- And even if they are not always being followed ethically, most people are generally open-minded. Nowadays conscious efforts are being made to provide equal opportunities to all, irrespective of who they are or where they come from. I have personally never faced any kind of discrimination for who I am and I strongly believe that every person must bring their authentic selves to the workplace so that they are not inhibited or insecure about channelizing their creative thinking. At the end of the day, this attitude allows us to benefit immensely from all diverse perspectives.
Simultaneously, I also think that confidence comes from within oneself and the world needs more people who can raise their hands, speak up and own themselves to be inspiring role models for others to accept and embrace their true identities. And while we may want to celebrate our differences, it also essential to highlight the commonalities and points of convergence with other people to build communities and exploit our collective potential to the fullest.
On the topic of collectivism, do you see yourself as more of an individualistic personality or a person who seeks advice from friends and family for all important decisions in life?
“You may be an artist with a certain vision for a painting but it always needs validation and for that, collaboration with people and feedback from your peers are essential so that different colours can be tested to find the right combination.”
In order to be successful in life, you need to mobilize resources and influence people. I have always had a good network of friends and tech entrepreneurs, who have offered me guidance and valuable opinions to challenge my own thought process. This allowed me to refine my vision., But in the end, as an entrepreneur, you must trust your own gut and find the courage to execute because no one else can do that on your behalf.
What was your biggest fear and how did you overcome it?
Fear is definitely not a good feeling to have as an entrepreneur, but there is also a fine line between being fearless and being overly-optimistic. Without any fear, you may be ignorant of all the things that may go wrong. But with a positive attitude, you recognize all pros and cons and prudently move forward towards an optimal and achievable goal.
Most entrepreneurs fear giving up and tend to fail at a point when they are closest to success, but it is essential to acknowledge if success exists, so does failure. The key to realizing your dream is to keep focusing on the positives and be pragmatic., Sometimes being over-passionate can be detrimental as well and it is prudent to find your tipping point between confidence and optimism.
What has been your biggest achievement in life so far?
Sowing the seeds of my company and successfully receiving the first round of funding, which has allowed us to lay the foundation of a strong culture within the small team that we have, has certainly been my biggest achievement so far. And as I lead from the front to implement my vision of growth for Kalepso, I understand that I need to keep raising the bar for myself because there is no room for inertia in an entrepreneur’s life and I’m always looking for that next big challenge that will propel me forward in this world of infinite possibilities.
What is that next big challenge that defines your priorities for Kalepso moving forward?
We must focus on three things:
- Continue to refine our technology and have a more differentiated product with unique value propositions compared to our competitors;
- Refine our product-market fit, which will allow us to develop the right products and build successful partnerships;
- Prepare for our next round of seed funding, so that we can grow faster and expand our team to sustain the momentum.
Has your entrepreneurial experience been any different from your expectations?
In the corporate or academic world, your journey is relatively more linear and predictable, because you are generally following a path which has been taken by many others You become used to taking the predictable subsequent steps;. however, as an entrepreneur, you dive into the unknown because nobody else may have done something similar to what you may be planning to do. Yet you will have your highs and lows, and you must be receptive to embarking on this roller-coaster ride without any expectations and just keep in mind that even if you fail the first time, you must not give up, as long as you strongly believe in yourself and your idea.
What are your thoughts on LGBTQ empowerment and do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
I don’t know if I’m at a place where I can offer advice but all I can say is: “Believe in yourself, stretch yourself to the limits and don’t be afraid of failure.”
I strongly believe there has been no better time in mankind history to be a part of this start-up boom which we are witnessing around us., and e Even for the LGBTQ community, there are tremendous resources available, especially in a city like Montreal, which has a really well-established ecosystem. And as organizations such as Queer Tech and Gaingels are gaining prominence and are able to facilitate equal opportunities for all, I definitely envision a more empowered LGBTQ community in the future.
What kind of impact do you envision stemming from your start-up and how will it make the world a better place?
As an organization, from a business perspective, we want to set a future benchmark for the highest possible standards for data protection. But from a purely human perspective, we want to enable trust within the society and re-stitch that fabric which recently has been torn apart due to numerous recent data-breach scandals.
Facilitating data protection is not just about keeping sensitive information secure from hackers or thieves but more about empowering people to confidently live their true lives, without any fear of identity theft, harassment or exploitation. From a queer perspective, there are still many countries in the world where people from our community are criminalized for being who they are. Internet and social media have certainly given such communities around the world a voice to express themselves, but at the same time, it is only them who have the right to decide when, where, how and with whom they want to share certain aspects about their lives because they are the sole owners of all information and data related to them. So if we can augment that freedom of expression while providing every person with the opportunity to own their respective lives and live it without fear, then perhaps we could make the world a better place to live in.
Check out this video from Queer Tech Montreal’s second anniversary celebrations at Lightspeed HQ with Founder and CEO, Dax Dasilva :