FAIRFIELD, Ohio -- Emmanuel Briquet was a fish farmer in the French Mediterranean when he came upon a technology that revolutionized his aquaculture business: a water-cleaning system that could handle high water flow at low energy costs.
The more he learned about the technology, the more intrigued he became.
After all, the device could harvest algae for fish farming or biofuel, clean water for communities or remove gas from water used in fracking.
“It’s simple by nature, efficient by design,” said Briquet, who studied chemistry and marine biology.
So Briquet sold the majority of his shares in the French fish farm and teamed up with Greater Cincinnati native John Brooks to form a company called SEAREN. The name originally was short for Sea Resources & Environment. But since the partners are expanding to freshwater uses, now the name is simply SEAREN.
The company is based in Cincinnati and holds exclusive rights to sell the technology – called the Vacuum GasLift in Europe and the Vacuum AirLift here – in the U.S. and will be the technology’s primary marketer throughout North and South America.
The company has such potential that the University of Cincinnati’s Center for Entrepreneurship Education and Research has taken it on as a Small Business Institute client, said Thomas Dalziel, the center’s executive director.
“We think the technology has promise,” Dalziel said. “One of the benefits SEAREN has is their foreign partner and the fact that the technology has already been proven.”
The Seven Hills Connection
How the company ended up here is classic Cincinnati.
In early 2000, Briquet married Lisa Binkley, now Lisa Briquet. She grew up in Mariemont, graduated from Seven Hills School and studied anthropology at Brown University. (She now focuses on marketing and communications for SEAREN.) Her younger sister graduated from Seven Hills the same year as Brooks, who grew up in Indian Hill.
Brooks left Cincinnati in 1994 after graduating from high school to attend college in Colorado. He worked for a financial software company in San Francisco, where he met his wife McKenna Lindahl – now McKenna Brooks, a marketing manager at Kao Brands. She grew up in Denver.
Brooks and Briquet met years ago because of the Seven Hills connection and had remained friends.
When Briquet began thinking about launching a business based on the Vacuum GasLift technology, he told Brooks, who was living in Minneapolis at the time.
The two friends decided to launch the company and picked Greater Cincinnati as their home base.
“We were both discussing opportunities, and he mentioned this to me,” said Brooks, who was looking to start his own business. “I just loved the story.”
Because the device has so many potential uses, Brooks saw it as a business model that could help the environment and make money at the same time.
“The potential applications are so wide, we don’t even know how wide it can go,” Briquet said.
And that will be SEAREN’s first big challenge, said Dalziel.
“They’ll need to make some smart choices about which industries they focus on first so they can have some initial wins,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is a risky game. So it’s really a question of where do they apply their time and attention?”
Making Money While Making A Difference
Brooks and Briquet have a demonstration site in Fairfield where the device can suck water from a small pond, creating a column of water. The Vacuum AirLift acts as a circular pump and uses micro-bubbles to extract gasses and remove tiny impurities.
Emmanuel Briquet, of SEAREN, stands below a water-cleaning technology known as the Vacuum AirLift, which acts as a circular pump and uses micro-bubbles to extract gasses and remove tiny impurities. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO
The device can handle 500 gallons of water per minute, serving as many as 1,500 people, Briquet said, and it’s been able to extract 99 percent of the bacteria in water that the two men have tested. It’s used for salt water in Europe.
“We are not dreamers,” Briquet said. “But we believe there are businesses that can be conducted for the global benefit.”
And if those businesses are handled right, he said, they also can make a lot of money for their owners.
Briquet looked at Vacuum AirLift, smiled and summed it up this way: “So we’re going to die rich and happy.”
This story is part of a five-day series , in collaboration with WVXU , examining the region's water technology potential, which could pump billions of dollars into the local economy each year. The series airs on WVXU and is being published on WCPO.com the week of Sept. 23 through Sept. 27.