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Meet Dr. Rose Sharifian: founder of SeaO2, the company using giga-ton scalable carbon dioxide removal technology to save our planet!

Hi Rose, FEM-START is happy to have you with us today! Tell us, what inspired you to start your own business, and how did you come up with SeaO2? 

I started doing a PhD at Delft University with the research centre of Wetsus in the Netherlands close to five and a half years ago. I was doing research then, and both my supervisors had their own company and inspired me to keep thinking of the bigger picture of the issue I was trying to solve. My research topic was always tied in that direction, and towards the end of my PhD, I was looking at the bigger picture and how this would look like in solving climate change. After my articles were published, people started contacting me to see if this was possibly going to become something bigger. We met my third co-founder towards the end of my PhD and he had a business background while I have a technical background. The market was ready, we knew this would work and we took a chance on it.

What are some essential steps and actions you took to get your business off the ground? 

The starting point to get your business off the ground is always rough, especially the financial aspect. We were looking for funds and grants programs in the area of clean-tech. We found a NWO grant called the Faculty of Impact which is a 2-year entrepreneurship program where you set up a company and get the necessary training to do so. Additionally, I also followed online accelerator programs that explain the market and the ecosystem for each technology around carbon removal. Having the right team around you helps enormously. 

Was there a specific time or instance where you had to pivot your business model? Or maybe quickly implement changes in how you work as a CTO and with your team?

The business model is straightforward and has remained the same since we started. But our clients are very diverse, at the beginning, you don’t have a lot of freedom because there is no money in a start-up. We want our clients to be green, sustainable, and have real NetZero goals. We also are aware of which investors we want on board, as your company grows in value as well. We always sought an informal, creative and diverse team. This sets the tone for the tools you eventually use, the software you use and even who you are in contact with.

You have a large ecosystem of partners around you, it is a very impressive list. How is that process like and how did you come to acquire those partnerships?

I was already surrounded by an ecosystem of experts in the water sector. I knew a lot of people in the water business from my PhD at Wetsus. The accelerator programs were where I got to know who was active in the carbon dioxide removal space. Once you match with the right people, learn from them and build contacts, you can grow. I think 60 to 70 % of our network is built this way, with people with similar interests and questions. The remaining network is mostly partners we need, we need institutes to measure the quality of water; so you look actively for those companies. Surround yourself with people in the same sector or questions. The most important component is my team, with the right people you make it happen and you can pivot. I learned it’s not all about technology, you need the market and the right people to find your way.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you made along the way, and what did you learn from them?

I think at some point you need to make decisions, there is no right or wrong way. You never know what would have happened if you did otherwise. I don’t see choices as mistakes. I only see smart or less smart choices, but they all represent a learning lesson. The whole point of having your own company is to fail and to learn from it.

What is your biggest achievement since founding the company, and how did you get there? 

My proudest achievement is how much people know about us. I met with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Robbert Dijkgraaf, the minister of science and technology which was very rewarding. We had the right network to make this happen, it can bring you to places and collaborations. Making connections is good for research, to find funding and grants but also it’s fun. You can never bring a startup to life alone, it is important who you work with and who is around you, it can have boosting effects or negative effects if it is the wrong crowd.

What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs, particularly those who do not seem to believe they can do it? 

I come from Iran, the laws are different there and the social situation for women is as well. Luckily, I come from a family of strong women. However, I never thought 10 years ago of having my own company. I always admired those people who do, from a distance. Life happens when you least expect it, you need a good network and good things can happen to you. Surround yourself with people who inspire you. Even if you think you could never achieve it, it is uplifting when you get to know their journey. An opportunity can arise from that, it can be as easy as your roommate who inspires you. You do not have to be a born entrepreneur, you learn that along the way. 

To find the right network, look at what interests you. Go to events or talk to people who share that interest. In my case, I wanted to work on technology and it made sense to go to a technical university. Networking does not have to be formal either, just ask questions you think are fun and it will help you as you go. You know who to call when you need a co-founder! A lot of collaborations come from informal talk, when you click with someone it is sometimes much more valuable than going to an event and not finding anyone similar to what you work on.

What’s next for SeaO2? What can we expect?

There is a lot happening. We are working on a technology to make SeaO2 more mature to make it readier. The coming year, we are building our pilot to test it on a larger scale and in the right environment.

We are setting up collaborations, we are mapping out what collaborations we need in the 5 to 10 years to brainstorm and work on each of these components with companies and research institutes to make SeaO2 better and optimal. We want to make this affordable on a large scale where companies and individuals can buy the carbon credits to compensate for carbon dioxide emissions and reach NetZero. 

We are looking for investors, clients and loans as well, a lot is happening in different categories. We plan on entering a seed-round in the coming year, for now we relied on public money and we would like to expand beyond that.

If you’d like to know more information about Rose’s company SeaO2, click here!



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