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Continuously Learning: A Q&A with Owen Bawden

From growing up in the tropics of New Guinea to the remote Kimberleys of Australia, Owen Bawden brings a sense of adventure and exploration to his role at Provectus Algae—and to the multi-sport races he competes in. But Owen isn’t just a triple threat when it comes to competing in triathlons. As Head of Design Engineering, he brings a strong foundation in industrial design blended with extensive robotics expertise and leadership in quality management. Read more about his experience and perspectives below.

Continuously Learning: A Q&A with Owen Bawden Head of Design Engineering

You’ve lived and worked all over the world. Tell us about your background and education. 

I was born and grew up in New Guinea, then moved around to the Kimberleys and spent some time in Perth. Living in these places gave me a sense of adventure and freedom to explore, which continues to influence my work. I attended Sydney University for my undergraduate degree, where I realized I loved working on detail-oriented, small-scale design. That’s what led me to pursue a master’s degree in industrial design at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and then another in agricultural robotics at the Queensland University of Technology.

How did your journey lead to Provectus Algae?

I worked in Australia as an industrial design engineering consultant for about ten years. After finishing my master’s in agricultural robotics, I was invited to work at Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) in Pittsburgh, USA, where I learned a lot about robotics. Upon returning home, I united my work in product design and robotics by doing robotics product development for a variety of industries. That’s what led me to design and build hardware systems at Provectus Algae.

What do you like about living and working in Noosa?

One of the things that drew me to Provectus Algae was Noosa. I’ve lived all around the country, and I believe Noosa really is one of the most beautiful places in Australia. There’s so much to do here, especially outdoor activities. I do a lot of water sports, and this is the playground of playgrounds for that sort of thing. I really feel fortunate to be here. It’s unlike anywhere else I’ve worked.

It sounds like your hobbies play a big part in your life. Tell us more about them and their impact on your mindset.

Being in the water is my happy place. Last year, I competed in a triathlon and right now, I’m training for a Surf Ironman, which includes swimming, running, surf ski paddling, and board paddling, so I train for those sports on the beach in the mornings. I make it a goal to try something different each year, so that at any point in my life, I’m always somewhere on the learning curve. It keeps you in a learning state and constantly thinking of ways to improve things, which is something I carry over to my work.

What motivates you in your work?

A lot of the projects I work on require long-term commitment to see through, which requires sustained energy and stamina. I see a lot of cross-linking between my work and the sports I participate in, and I carry over lessons learned. In addition, I have a supportive partner who’s always motivating me to improve.

Do you have any mentors or role models who have helped you along this path?

First and foremost, my parents. My father taught me about engineering, and my mother inspired me with her creative mind. At my first consultancy job, I had a manager who was a great mentor for me, not just in design and engineering, but also just life in general. At my first consultancy job, my manager Woody was a great mentor for me, not just in design and engineering, but also just life in general. In fact, he’s the one who got me into cycling. More recently, at the NREC, I worked with Ray Russell, an industry legend who taught me a lot, not just about engineering but also the soft skills involved in becoming a manager of quality. And here at Provectus Algae, there are some wonderful people that I aspire to be like.

What’s one message, motto, or saying that’s important to you, and why?

I like to say that “you’re only as good as what you’ve done today.” Just because you’ve accomplished great things in the past doesn’t mean you can just stop and rest on your laurels. What are you doing now? And what are you going to do in the future? To me, that’s what’s important.

What are your goals for Provectus Algae, and how does your work fit into those goals?

In a year, I’d love to see the pilot facility we’re building operating successfully and serving as a prototype for our next facilities. I think we’ll learn a lot of lessons from growing our current facilities that will help optimize the next ones. In five years, I’d love to see Provectus Algae with five successful, high-quality products out on the market. If we can get this model right, we can make a strong business case for it.

What do you like most about working at Provectus Algae?

We’re always trying to push the envelope to see what we can do and improve as a company. I have a lot of purpose here, and I feel rewarded by the work that I’m doing.