Thank you so much for being here, Emmanuel. Do you think that you could introduce yourself in your business?
Hi, I'm Emmanuel Briquet, and I operate Searen LLC, a company based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Our focus is on sustainable water treatment in the water segment. We develop technologies for the US market that were conceived in Europe, specifically for low-footprint, low energy, low maintenance, and high-efficiency water treatment systems.
Previously, I worked as an open sea fish farmer and was the first certified organic fish farmer worldwide. This experience heightened my awareness of sustainability and the importance of addressing water-related challenges.
You have founded several different businesses. You mentioned that you initially came from the fish farm industry. How did that come about? Could you share how it all started and how it shaped your career?
It all began in the late eighties when the world was facing the challenge of feeding its growing population sustainably. As a trained chemist, I realised that aquaculture, or fish farming, was the most sustainable method to provide protein-rich food to the planet. This approach allowed us to raise of animals with a minimal environmental impact and high nutritional value. With this in mind, I immersed myself in learning about aquaculture in 1986 and established my first fish farm in 1989.
In 2000, I obtained the organic certification for my farm, collaborating with organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union, and the French government to contribute to developing organic certification standards. In 2005, I created a second fish farm in Corsica, which was also organic-certified. Concurrently, I established a company called Searen in France, focused on providing sustainable services for aquaculture. This company provided services to the United Nations and the United States government.
After 20 years of involvement in the fish farming industry, it was time to pass the torch to younger individuals with fresh ideas and perspectives to lead production operations. Consequently, I closed down the Corsican company and sold a portion of my shares in the French company to my former employees, enabling them to take over. Subsequently, I relocated to the United States to embark on a new venture: Searen LLC. This company primarily focuses on water treatment, with the aquaculture market being our initial market due to my extensive knowledge in that field. However, we also engage in groundwater treatment.
Where did the love for nature and the awareness of the environment begin in your life?
In 1972, when I was eight years old, my parents took me to an environmental impact conference in Paris called "Change or Disappear." That idea has always stayed with me, emphasising the need to be proactive. I am not a militant, but I believe conducting business should involve minimising the environmental impact as much as possible. It may also include creating sustainable businesses that help others reduce their impact.
This mindset took root in 1972, initially leading me to study chemistry and then transition to marine biology. I realised that fish farming is one of the best methods for producing high-quality proteins with the lowest ecological footprint. As I moved further into this field, I shifted from conventional fish farming to organic fish farming. But I soon recognised that the real challenge lies not with the fish themselves, as we now know how to farm them sustainably, but with preserving water quality. This progression was a logical result of my journey, which started with that impactful conference in 1972.
At such a young age, did you know you wanted to become a businessman and own your own business? Or how did that come about?
Initially I wanted to be an astronomer. I did not set out to create a business, but circumstances led me to it. I wouldn't consider myself a pure businessman. What I was interested in doing, and the way I was drawn to do it, had not been done before. I saw there was a new and more impactful way of operating an aquaculture business. So, I took on the initiative myself, and that’s how I ended up being an entrepreneur. There was no blueprint for what I wanted to do. No one else was doing things that way yet, so I decided to do it myself. I said to myself, "Okay, I'll do it."
What is the most fulfilling aspect of your work today with Searen?
The most fulfilling thing for me is knowing that even making a very small difference, such as a 0.1% improvement in our segment, can initiate bigger changes in entire industries, and those can significantly impact the future. It may not be immediate, but if the industry embraces our values, it will make a tremendous difference.
I witnessed this first-hand in the fish farming sector when we obtained organic certification and advocated for it through international and national organisations. The entire industry ultimately endorsed these values, even those who had initially pushed back on sustainability initiatives. They had to acknowledge and support these sustainable principles. Therefore, we realise we are not alone in our efforts; we are just one of many proactive and influential entrepreneurs driving change, redesigning the playing field.
So you're a pioneer, setting a new stage for the whole industry.
It sounds pretentious, but I will not deny it if you say it.
How is Searen pioneering?
Firstly, the technologies we are developing are unique, patented, and well-protected. They possess an inherent uniqueness. These technologies disrupt the water treatment industry, which is complex and currently involves numerous additional components.
We aim to simplify water treatment processes rather than make them more complex. Even within our operations, we strive to streamline our processes, which are designed in turn to streamline water treatment. In this regard, we are pioneers. It is important to note that we are not the sole participants in this effort, but our technologies are at the forefront of this ongoing battle. It is an uphill battle due to the well-established nature of the water treatment industry.
And we have a backwind that helps us to go up that hill. The current global situation, as highlighted by governments and prevalent news, supports our cause. There is a widespread recognition that we can no longer rely entirely on others for our own food needs. We need to become self-sufficient. Even if we lack certain resources, we must continue to produce them ourselves.
Our approach emphasises reducing our environmental footprint, minimising energy consumption and maintenance requirements. This, in turn, reduces the dependence on highly specialised workers. Simplification is our focus. As Leonardo da Vinci famously stated, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." This principle resonates deeply with us and serves as the driving force behind everything we do— to make our processes and our equipment as simple, efficient, and profitable as possible for both the user and for our company.
Who would you say you are directly speaking to with Searen?
We are speaking directly to literally any water-dependent industry. We have observed over time that engineering employees of these industries tend to grasp the concept quickly. Still, they are often hesitant to endorse new technologies because it falls outside their usual framework.
Generally, the most enthusiasm for our technology comes from CEOs. When they witness the positive impact on the bottom line, they truly comprehend the value. Then they engage the technical personnel to implement it. We are communicating with the technical crew and the CEOs, hoping to establish this connection. Technology is simple, but when it's table-flipping, it sometimes requires an epiphany.
How did you conceive this vision before embarking on it— and how did the idea of Searen come about?
Organically. Among our values, sustainability and faith are paramount. Faith and sustainability, as in vision and responsibility in a broader more impactful and inclusive sense; that is more of a personal aspect, but I tend to connect with other people of faith because we share similar values. It's not tied to religion itself, but a belief in the power of a greater good. We have a global objective to participate in more positive change. Generally if you ask anyone, everyone claims to be against war, supportive of the environment, and in favour of fighting diseases. But enacting those changes is another story. In the end, what are we doing to bring about these changes? Our driving force lies in pushing the industry towards transformation, to bring about positive change that is also profitable for business.
How did you develop this unique method of water treatment?
We didn't invent it ourselves. The credit goes to a friend of mine, François René, and another French engineer who came up with this technology about 10 years ago.
They discovered it while conducting research at a French institute called IFREMER. When I visited them, my friend introduced them to me, and I had a profound realisation. I thought, "Wow, this simplicity will revolutionise water treatment."
Considering humans had already possessed the necessary knowledge, this process could have been invented 200 or 300 years ago. However, no one had ever thought about it before. We had an opportunity to acquire exclusive rights to these patents in North America, and we seized that opportunity.
Luckily, my wife is American, which helped the process. This is how it all began— witnessing the early-stage effectiveness of this technology and recognising its potential to become a standard in the water treatment industry.
After ten years, we have reached that point, and we are involved in numerous industries, although our primary focus remains on one particular industry.
Businesses always have their ups and downs. What would you say were the biggest challenges since you started Searen?
First, I used to be a fish farmer— once my fish were ready, I would look for customers, fish the fish, pack them, and sell them. The sales cycle would take a few weeks, including only a few days from the moment the product was ready to the moment it reached the customer. Contacting the customers would take place a few weeks before the actual sale.
Sales cycles in the water treatment industry are very different and follow a general trend that applies to every industry. It consists of three steps: the discovery of the technology, its validation by the market, and its diffusion in the market. Each step takes about five years, which is extremely long, especially in comparison to my first businesses.
Though we already have dozens of customers, we are still in the process of validating our presence in the market. I underestimated this when I changed business sectors— my business experience had been raising and selling fish. I had never faced any real hurdles or delays in selling products like fish before. We produced high-quality goods, set the price, and sold everything we produced. We could have even produced five times more without any issues. But now, with this water treatment technology? This is a very different scenario. We operate in a highly competitive environment within a competitive industry where existing products already cover everything we offer, albeit less efficiently, at higher cost, and less sustainability. As I mentioned before, everything we're doing now has already been done, just differently.
When it comes to customers, there are two ways of implementing a new technology: through new projects or retrofits. Around 50% of our work involves retrofitting our hardware into contexts which previously used different treatment methods, while the other 50% is focused on new projects. New projects are easier because they involve fresh ideas, and people are open to assessing new technologies. If we can prove we have a superior product, we can be chosen.
On the other hand, retrofits involve replacing something that already exists and has failed or has underperformed. In such cases, the easiest path is for them to just stick with what they had previously done, because change can be challenging. Until we reach a critical point in the market, we are not really visible for retrofitting or new technologies.
Fortunately, we are just beginning to reach that critical point, and people are coming to us. But the biggest challenges lie in the life cycle of customer acquisition and gaining recognition in a market where our competition consists of the world's largest companies. These companies are not small players; interestingly enough, even they plan to purchase our products. They might not exactly promote them, though.
What were your biggest missteps in the past ten years, and what lessons did you learn from them?
One of the significant missteps was underestimating the length of customer acquisition and being undercapitalised. We had anticipated faster organic growth but it didn't materialise as expected. Nevertheless, we are developing, selling, and acquiring customers.
Generally, the start-up process was much slower than we first anticipated. Looking back, it all makes sense now, and it would have been incredibly miraculous if things had gone differently.
Additionally, there's a principle where if you have only half the necessary capital, achieving your goals takes four times the time. It's quite interesting. For instance, if you need $1 million to reach a certain milestone, it would take around 3 years. However, if you have $500,000, it would take approximately 12 years.
How do you stay grounded and mentally fit with the ups and downs and challenges in your business?
We just focus on the goal, understanding that the tunnel may be a little longer than we initially anticipated, but the light is still there. We see it clearly, and we have never lost sight of it. We have known our path all along. We simply have to continue following it.
The year 2022 was truly a turning point for us. We secured our first big contract, as did our sister company in France. Now we are involved in designing some of the largest projects in our field.
What was it like running the company during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The orders we received in 2020 were only one-third of what we had anticipated. Many projects were put on hold or abandoned entirely. Some orders were cancelled, and it wasn't just us who suffered; other businesses also faced cancellations. The entire industry was at a standstill. Projects weren't progressing, and the lack of financial support hindered our customers' project development. This situation persisted for two years, and now we're trying to pick up where we left off in 2019.
Have any other significant "Aha!" moments greatly influenced your perspective, vision, or attitude towards specific things?
One of those moments was when I got married and had my first child. It completely shifted my priorities. I started working with caring for my family in mind. I became even more conscious of the world we are leaving to them. This change forced me to realign my priorities accordingly. I consider this to be a factor that continues to shape my approach today.
What would you say have been the biggest sacrifices or compromises you made to get to where you are today?
My family and I have made significant sacrifices in the last ten years to keep the company afloat and reach where we are now. I won't go into the specifics, but we have made tremendous personal sacrifices and taken numerous risks.
I am incredibly thankful to my family, especially to my wife, for continuing to believe in what we're doing despite the daily challenges we've faced.
In your past, not only in relation to your career but in general, have you ever taken a completely different path than planned?
After graduating with my chemistry diploma, I received a job offer to work for the European space program, specifically on ceramics to be used for the European space shuttle, Hermes. I applied and got the job. But that same week, the Hermes program was cancelled. You might remember that I aspired to become an astronomer as a kid, so working on the space shuttle was a dream opportunity for me.
But then I asked myself, "What is the next uncharted territory to discover?" That's when I felt the lure of the sea.
So I switched from the space program to sea exploration and pursued further education in the sustainable development of marine resources. I transitioned from chemistry to marine biology. It seemed that creating my own fish farm was the path to take since there were no open sea fish farms in France at the time.
So I established my own fish farm, which I successfully managed for twenty years and continue to have a hand in operating today. Along the way, I gained recognition from the industry and was offered a position as a representative of the fish farming sector by several government organisations. When you prove yourself as a visionary and achieve success, people tend to approach you and seek your expertise to replicate it for others. So that's what we did.
Then came another switch, moving from fish to water. It wasn't about exploring a new space anymore, but rather focusing on a new segment.
How do you envision the future that you will help create with Searen?
At the moment, we are experiencing organic growth and focusing on consolidating strategic partnerships. These partnerships have been successful in attracting people to us. Our sister company in France has also played a significant role. Larger companies are approaching us, and we carefully select those that align with our vision the most, where we can have the most impact. This support will be instrumental in driving the water treatment industry and technology toward more industrial segments.
In the next five to ten years, we anticipate widespread availability and significant water treatment impacts. The impact is only at around 0.01%, but we believe this will change.
Let's imagine that in ten years, your business has spread globally. What kind of impact can we anticipate? How significant would the disparity be compared to today? And how would we observe these changes?
If you develop a technology that requires three times less energy for the same efficiency level, and has a one-third ecological footprint, it will undoubtedly bring about substantial change. Water has become the world’s most valuable resource, and the current water challenge on our planet is of utmost importance. A mere 1% improvement in this area would yield a tremendous impact. While I cannot disclose all the ongoing programs, I know someone— whose name I shall not reveal— who is presently involved in a space program focused on fish farming, utilising our technology. This individual is collaborating with the leading organisation in this field. We're planting seeds now, but the impact can affect everything here— and beyond.
Let's imagine twenty years from now: how would you like your children and grandchildren to remember you? What message would you want them to take away from your personal journey?
If you can imagine it, you can make it happen. Never give up. First, find your goal in your heart. Discover what truly excites and motivates you, making you jump out of bed every morning. Let it be your guide. Remember, obstacles, challenges, and setbacks may come along the way, but your goal is still within reach. Embrace the grit, not the greed. It's important to approach everything you do with a strong sense of ethics.
We are engaged in what is referred to as the climate space, although its meaning is quite broad. So, what does it mean for you personally to be a leader in this climate space, let's say?
True leaders are not self-proclaimed; to be a real leader, others must recognise you as one. In my previous career, I was genuinely acknowledged as a leader in this industry. I haven't reached that point in my current position—maybe it will happen. We are doing something impactful and new, and generating significant momentum.
So you were recognised as a leader when you built your certified fish farm, but by pivoting into the new segment you’ve had to start all over again?
Yes, we essentially started all over, but with all of my experience and passion as stepping stones for the next phases in my journey to make profitable, impactful change. This time my business model brought me to a new market, in a new country, in another segment— some days it feels like starting all over again. But the possibilities are inspiring and invigorating.
We have not yet reached the point of high public visibility. We operate in a segment where we sell technology to industries, a very closed market. When you sell organic fish, for example, your product reaches the consumers, and they talk about it.
In my years as a fish farmer, I appeared on French TV 60 times, twice on the BBC, once on German TV, and once on CNN. Here, I have only reached local TV, and only once, because they heard about us through someone they knew. It's a completely different situation. We are not targeting the same audience, not even a public audience at all.
How long have you been involved in the climate space?
What was said when my parents took me to the "Change or Disappear" conference in 1972, fifty years ago, is still valid; we still need to take action. But it's been fifty years. We as people are witnessing the consequences of the decisions we failed to make in the past half-century, and it's significantly impacting us, and it will impact our children even more so. What we must understand is that it is not too late, that we can operate thriving businesses that move the needle in the right direction. I have faith in humanity's ability to react in times of crisis. Yes, these crises may now occur more frequently and with greater severity, but they may also prompt us to respond swiftly and appropriately.
What advice would you like to give young climate entrepreneurs or individuals considering creating a business in the climate sector?
Before anything else, evaluating whether your venture serves a real purpose and if so, who will buy your product or service? Take some time to reflect on the usefulness of your idea. Will people be willing to buy it? If not, you might actually just create something without impact that drains financial and human resources. It's like inflating a balloon with air that will eventually burst and then can't be sold.
I understand that my approach may not be suitable for everyone. Still, if we want to make progress, we must prioritise dedicated resources and reassess the addition of certain apps.
These apps consume energy and utilise financial and human resources and computers that divert attention and resources away from immediate actions that can bring about real change. We must question who will bear the cost and not solely focus on achieving a 17% return on investment within the next three years.
While financial sustainability and a return on investment are important, they should not be the sole driving factors.
If one message could reach anyone on this planet, what would that message be?
The goal is bigger than us. If we are successful, the impact will benefit not just ourselves in the present, but it has the chance to go beyond immediate profits. We can leave a lasting benefit for future generations.