Innovator Stories

Columbia Built – Seafair

“I found it unfair that seafarers, who work day and night for 6 months away from home, have to bribe to find a job” – Agapitos Diakogiannis, ’20CBS

Agapitos and the team at Seafair are building the shipping industry’s leading jobs marketplace, connecting seafarers with the best opportunities at sea and matching shipping companies with the most qualified seafarers for their specific needs.

“We offer a fully digital product to hire seafarers. It simplifies what is normally a complicated, opaque, and quite frankly an often exploitatory process,” explains Agapitos. Seafair creates a transparency, integrity, and ease that connects seafarers and shipping companies in a better, faster and cheaper way.

Seafair officially launched July of 2020 and is now up to a team of 10 global full-time employees.

The Idea

Before starting at Columbia, Agapitos worked as a consultant at BCG, where he came closer to the maritime industry. When he came to the US, he saw a new wave of job marketplaces disrupting traditional industries like Oil & Gas, manufacturing and construction. He was fascinated by the idea and started exploring whether this can also help shipping companies and seafarers connect. There is a lot of legacy technology in the industry that was proving inefficient for companies, and seafarers were facing a market that often relied on word of mouth.

Seafair was created to bring transparency to the market. 

“I feel so inspired by seafarers, who spend 6 months away from home, working day and night, to supply the world, and it feels really good when seafarers come to us for help finding a job and we can help them get the right fit,” says Agapitos. 

From Idea to Launch

Agapitos started Columbia Business School intending to focus on entrepreneurship, eventually applying and getting into the school’s CTech Program. CTech is a selective, cross-disciplinary program open to first year Engineering graduate students and rising second-year MBA students with technical backgrounds who are dedicated to launching and growing a tech-enabled startup while at Columbia.

Through CTech, Agapitos got access to classes, mentorship, and Venture Capital immersion at FJ Labs, which eventually provided funding for the launch of Seafair.

Any advice to fellow entrepreneurs? 

Traditional industries often have high barriers to entry, such as legacy systems and structures that are resistant to new people with new mindsets and new technology. At Seafair we have seen that creating smaller digital products that prospective customers could use for free gives them an opportunity to discover why our solution is different . This reduces switching costs for new users and helps them understand how the new technology creates a more seamless and useful process, before they have to get a budget approval internally. We call this a SaaS-enabled marketplace.

“When they try some of our products , they tell us, ‘You can’t imagine how much time I’ve spent so many years doing this manually ’,” says Agapitos.

And for those entrepreneurs who have an idea that they want off the ground, know that there are resources around the University that can help you launch.

“Thanks to Columbia and my mentors – especially [CTech and Columbia Entrepreneurship Director] Professor Lerner – I’m able to follow my dream,” says Agapitos. “I want other people, especially immigrant founders like myself, to know that Columbia can help them achieve their entrepreneur dreams too”

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