EIC Coffee Break with RanMarine: the accidental environmentalist
Every month, during a Coffee Break, we will dive into the stories of EIC innovators and get a glimpse of the persons behind the start-ups. In today's episode, we get together with Richard Hardimann, co-founder and CEO of Ranmarine, a Rotterdam-based start-up.
Marine litter costs the EU economy between €259 million and €695 million per year, affecting mainly the tourism and the fisheries sectors. Up to 90% of the plastic in the oceans comes from land, typically from rivers, canals, and ports. The problem must be then tackled at the source; once it reaches the ocean, 99% of the plastics eventually ends up on the sea bottom or inside marine life. To prevent marine litter, RanMarine has developed the WasteShark – a water drone that can autonomously clean up ports and inland waters. It has a carrying capacity of 550 litres and a buoyancy of 400kg, and multiple WasteSharks can coordinate to operate in self-organizing swarms.
How did the idea for your innovation/company started?
The stimulus was a cup of coffee in my home country South Africa, Cape town to be exact. I was at a café watching people taking waste out of the basin. I didn’t know what they were doing exactly. There was one guy driving a big boat, the other one hauling a big net, gathering the garbage. It got me thinking: there has to be a better way than this. It doesn’t make economic sense, it’s not efficient. So I figured, maybe there’s a business here, one that can do good. Because of this story I’ve often been referred to as the ‘accidental environmentalist’; I wasn’t planning on doing this, it just happened to cross my path.
Afterwards it took around three years to get my idea of the ground. My background is in journalism, so I had to figure out a lot of things on my own. Drawing the design, building the first prototype at home with plastic pipes. I didn’t get any traction in South Africa, but at one point an accelerator in Rotterdam (NL) was interested. I applied and heard a week before the deadline that they wanted me to come to Rotterdam and start the business. I spend the first few months commuting between Cape Town and Rotterdam and now I’m permanently in the Netherlands.
How did your family react to your switch, both jobwise as well as the move to Europe?
My parents were very supporting of the move, being British, who moved to South Africa a long time ago. They also really liked the idea, encouraged me along the way. My dad is an engineer, while my mom is an artist. My dad fancied the technical aspects, while my mom really enjoyed the creativity. She was actually my biggest motivator, she said “If you don’t do it, someone else will”. So I just got on with it.
Can you describe one moment in the process that was especially tough?
There are so many, I don’t even know where to start. Building a business is not a linear line, it’s a rollercoaster. However, I never believed we would go under. There was too much excitement, too much interest in and around the company to let us fail. I was fortunate that I found staff that got along with that idea. Throughout all those tough moments, almost going bankrupt, not knowing how to stay afloat, there will always be this unplanned call: “We are interested in purchasing several of your Sharks”. You plan to be broke, not to get these calls. And that’s what keeps you going.
Any advice for starting entrepreneurs?
Two pieces of advices: firstly, just do it. You’ll find every excuse not to do it: I don’t have the right computer, the right skills, I need to find someone to support me along the way. Just start, even if its in the morning before your actual job. Have your idea clear and just get on with it. Very few people actually make their idea into something.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to fail. You’ll fail every time, you will make mistakes, if you can’t deal with that, it’s probably not the right business for you.
If you can talk business with one CEO/entrepreneur?
Elon Musk would be my to-go-to-guy. We think the same, not just because we’re South African. I like his sense of getting on with it, not listening to people who tell you how to fail. And he has big ideas of course. What he thought of 5 years ago is coming out now, I like this futuristic way of thinking. My other option would be Richard Branson. His attitude of ‘Let’s risk it and see how it goes’. I like the risk element in his work, because if you don’t risk anything, you don’t learn anything. Taking the right chance for your business, a very underrated quality.
Any books that inspired you?
I read a lot of novels to escape, authors like Marian Keyes. I find it difficult to turn off, because I am so engrossed in my work. Reading helps, because you can’t do anything else. That is the ultimate escapism, nothing to distract me. I also like writing as well, I’m actually halfway through writing a novel myself, much in the style of Marian Keyes.
In terms of non-fiction, I really like the works of Elon Musk and Richard Branson. And then there’s ‘The art of not giving a f*ck’, a book the entire human race should read it. The art of not worrying about other people’s opinion is critical, really something everyone should do.