The entrepreneurs building a more sustainable future: Sotirios Ptochos

Sotirios Ptochos, an MBA graduate of Athens University of Economics and Business (Greece), scooped the AMBA & BGA Excellence Award for MBA Startup of the Year 2022, for his company PEOPLE Technology Solutions (PEOPLE)

PEOPLE offers a green solution to the world that affects all of us.

Ptochos’ startup represents a revolutionary approach to one of the most significant climate challenges, proposing sustainable transportation and supply chain solutions.

The company combines lightweight technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), and advanced analytics with the aim of revolutionising the standards of global freight transport by saving 205 million trees; reducing C02 emissions by 65 million tonnes every year; saving more than 20.5 billion litres of fossil fuel yearly, and moving 40 million tonnes of cargo at no additional cost or additional C02 emissions every year.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your career so far?

I grew up in a small town in Greece, called Messini. When I was a little boy, I had two big dreams – similar dreams that many children have. The first was to fly, so I became a pilot. The second was to change the world and make it a better place to live for everyone, so I became a member of a passionate team that aspires to make a difference and change the world.

With the first dream in mind, I joined the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) Academy in the pilot department. I became a fighter pilot. With my second dream in mind, I applied for the business administration department of Athens University of Economics and Business as soon as I graduated from HAF Academy.

I love the feeling that a flight in a fighter jet gives me and also the feelings a business endeavour generates, and they are almost the same: agility, flexibility, speed, teamwork, controllable risk, passion to win, passion to protect, and passion to serve. I served in many fighter squadrons as a pilot. My training in F-16 in the US was one of the most important milestones in my life. I was also a member of the Chief Office of Hellenic National Défense General Staff.

As soon as I felt that I was at the peak of my pilot career, I moved to the next step and established the PEOPLE team with my brothers. At PEOPLE, we believe that the combination of people and technology can make the impossible possible. Our ambition is to participate in the global effort to give our children – and the next generations – a better world than the one we inherited.

Of course, it is beautiful to give, but in my opinion, it is not acceptable to give less than you are able to give. We must offer as much as we can without any limitations. I do not believe in limits. Many people say that sky is the limit. I say that the sky is not a limit; there are no limits.

Congratulations on winning the MBA Startup of the Year 2022. How did it feel to win and has it made any impact on your career so far?

I would like to thank you and congratulate your team for organising this outstanding event and supporting endeavours around the world like ours.

Being elected by a jury of exceptional people is an enormous boost for our team and a sign we are going in the right direction. Also, we have seen a tremendous increase in awareness and interest in our solutions. We are delighted to notice that many companies worldwide want to be part of our journey. Once again, thank you very much for your support.

You won this award for co-founding PEOPLE. Can you tell us more about this organisation?

We started our journey in 2016. Today, we present revolutionary solutions for the whole world, built from vision and down-to-earth concepts. We use our area of expertise in lightweight technology, IoT and advanced analytics to move the world in the right direction, starting by tackling an industry that every person or legal entity is connected to.

Everything that moves consumes energy. All the energy consumed has a cost – a cost for our planet and an economical cost. At PEOPLE, we provide solutions to optimise global movements of goods. We have developed solutions that optimise global transportation, reduce its ecological footprint, and support the authorities in coping with global problems such as human trafficking and smuggling.

Our approach is straightforward:

  • Reduce weight to save energy during movement.
  • Reduce wooden materials to save trees.
  • Connect people, products, and places to operate more efficiently.

So, we give the world:

Tools to move more cargo per unit. We optimise the whole structure of logistics units, making them stronger and more durable, using less material, and carrying more cargo than conventional units.

Solutions to stop cutting trees. We have replaced the wooden floor panels of the units with 100% recyclable metallic floor panels, which are also up to 54% lighter.

Tools to monitor their cargo globally and in the right-time. We give the right information to the right people at the right time: we stand at the intersection of technology and design and give our best on both.

Why is making changes in the transportation industry so important in the fight against climate change?

The transportation industry is an industry in which we are all involved; we are all stakeholders.

Today, the world adds 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year, and more than 16% comes from the transportation sector. What’s worse is that this increases year by year. We must act, make mobility more efficient, and move more goods in ways that emit  and prevents illegal actions.

As I mentioned, one of the best ways to reduce carbon emissions from transportation is to make all logistics units lighter.

In a typical light-duty logistic unit, every 10% reduction in weight increases fuel efficiency by 6-8%, and a 30% weight reduction improves efficiency by up to 20-25%. Another way is to reduce the distance travelled by the logistic unit and this can be done by making them connected and optimising their movements.

A good example is container mishandling. We have never had as many containers on the market as now. However, 2021 is known in the industry as the year of ‘containers shortage’, and finding a container to buy or book has been the primary concern of containers users.

Is there really a container shortage?

When aligning the ‘supply versus demand’ numbers, we realise the number of containers in circulation would cover the global needs. The actual problem is that the existing containers are not managed optimally. Businesses need to find ways to reorganise their container fleet while ensuring recyclability, sustainability, longevity, and profitability.

Moreover, our team has moved one step further. We propose to the industry to stop cutting trees to produce logistic units. We suggest replacing wooden floor panels with 100% recyclable, lighter and stronger panels. Today, technology gives us this option.

It is a matter of having the will to deploy what is already available. If we replace the wooden floor panels only from the containers, we will already save more than 200 million trees.

It is good to plant a tree, but it is even more essential not to cut a tree down.

Why did you choose Athens University of Economics and Business?

The fastest way to learn is from others’ experiences, and of course, through education. For me, the best option at the time was the Athens University of Economics and Business. I did my research, and the decision was straightforward.

The School is multicultural and endorsed throughout the whole world, it connects education to business, it has professional, innovative education and it attracts forward-looking individuals; the networking is amazing.

How did completing your MBA contribute to the setting up of PEOPLE?

It contributed, and still contributes, to the structure and helps us execute our plans effectively. We are fans of continuous learning, and we didn’t stop being in contact with education. We create value and increase the speed of progress by bringing together education and business.

What are some of the main challenges you faced being the co-founder of a startup?

I would say that, in a startup, every day represents a new challenge and this is the magic. We like it. We love it. We’re in continuous movement. We are not afraid to fail and we’re not afraid to dream big. We love taking risks. Taking risks is about knowing what you know and what you don’t know. Ease is a significant threat to progress.

What advice would you give someone thinking about completing their MBA?

Of course, you should do it – but only if you enjoy it. You must be open to people and ideas. I would say customise your learning around what you love doing.

If you had to change anything about your MBA experience, what would you change?

I don’t have anything in mind. I liked it. I loved it. I enjoyed it. Everything was perfect. If I had to say something, I would say that it would have been great if my class had more students from different regions around the world.

Before the MBA, I had done a Harvard Business School programme, in which there were almost as many nationalities as there were students. I found this diversity very enriching and mind-opening. It was great to see the world from different angles. 

In general, I wouldn’t change anything, though, it was an excellent experience.

What is next for you in your career journey?

As mentioned before, the combination of people and technology can make the impossible possible. You do not need anything else apart from being a member of a passionate team that loves what it does.

I am very lucky as I have never felt that I had a job. I always loved what I did, and of course, I love what I do now. I love to be part of PEOPLE’s passionate team.

We dream big and we aspire to make a difference. I want to be part of it for the rest of my career and the rest of my life. I will do whatever it takes to maximise our offer to society and the next generations.

Today we are focusing on optimising the global freight transport, tomorrow who knows?

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