An Interview with Stephanie Terreni-Brown

Stephanie Terreni-Brown

After initially working as management consultant, and before that an academic studying water and sanitation-related issues in East Africa, Dr Stephanie Terreni-Brown co-founded Clean Water Wave, a social enterprise based in Edinburgh in 2017. Its mission is big; to provide clean, safe drinking water to 10 million people in 10 years.

Please give an overview of your product?

The Clean Aqua For Everyone water treatment system. CAFE is our unique product for low energy decentralised treatment of water. CAFE means high quality water can be delivered without mains electricity supply or lots of maintenance or reliance on chemicals for treatment purposes. It is a plug and play piece of kit designed to be robust and extremely long lasting.

Where do you sell it?

We have territory-specific distributors who have bought the license to our product for commercial sales. These commercial sales are to mining companies, the agricultural sector, and water treatment companies (for drinking water treatment and for wastewater tertiary treatment). We are also working with other social enterprises like Challenges Worldwide to develop a different business model for low income communities for drinking water and agricultural water treatment purposes.

Why did you take the plunge?

Because we were so frustrated! There is a lot of clever technology out there that cleans water – but it’s often far too expensive, energy-intensive, and maintenance-heavy to be effective for rural and small scale community use, and what tech is out there for community-use often doesn’t provide water that’s actually safe to drink. For us, no matter who you are or where you live, you have the right to access clean and safe drinking water. We have created a revolutionary technology, the CAFE filtration system, that offers the most robust, cost effective, secure and reliable clean water in any location. We’re a social enterprise, too, with a unique business model that sees us reinvesting all profits from selling the CAFE to commercial partners into funding CAFE installations for communities in need.

What was your biggest break?

Every time someone gets the vision, understands the product and our mission it feels like an achievement. Our success with awards from Climate KIC, Scottish EDGE, SE’s Unlocking Ambition, and the initial investment we received all feel like they each came at the right time. Now, it’s working with our licensees and distributors to scale up in different territories.

What has been your worst moment?

Realising the extent of the water problems we are all facing – it felt like the more research we did into water quality issues the more problems we found, regardless of whether you live in Europe, North America, or sub-Saharan Africa.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Realising we can do something about it gives us all great hope. It’s a privilege to work with the awesome people I work with, and to work towards achieving such a fundamental right to have safe water.

What is your biggest bugbear?

Occasionally, being a social enterprise has meant that people assume we’re a charity. We’re not. We’re a business. We want to make as much profit as possible in order to achieve our mission to help people get clean water.

What are your ambitions?

To have licensees across the world – we want every territory! By maximising our commercial sales, we will be best placed to hit our Mission goal of helping 10m people have safe drinking water. We are hugely ambitious but this does not mean that sustainability is discarded – quite the contrary. Sustainability, developing low impact products, and keeping the Sustainable Development Goals front and centre is critical – it is in all of our interests to place the planet’s long-term health as a top priority at all times.

What are your five top priorities? 

Showcasing the importance of water treatment for human health, the food chain, and critically that of the oceans – all pollution eventually ends up in the seas, and that has a huge impact on our planet’s ability to regulate its climate. Establishing more international licensees. Installing water treatment systems for communities in our priority countries. Developing our network of manufacturers. Maintaining our commitment to people and planet as we grow, and working with our manufactures, distributors and licensees to make sure everyone’s on board.

What single thing would most help?

More investment. The world’s water problems are significant, which presents a big opportunity to make a big difference.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Both governments are committed to driving innovation, yet a lot of public pots of money – particularly those that are intended to help develop tech and innovation – are not open to social enterprises. This seems bonkers to me. Social enterprises are businesses. Both governments also need to better understand the impact of water quality on our environment; recently, the COVID19 crisis has showcased how we can track incidents of COVID in sewage, giving us early warning of where hotspots might be. I know people don’t like thinking about their poo, but it demonstrates something critical – that everything we flush down the loo ends up in the oceans, and this in turn has an impact on our marine life, and on our planet’s ability to absorb CO2. Lots of us take pharmaceuticals of one kind or another (ibuprofen, statins, HRT etc etc) and about 40-90% of this gets excreted by our bodies. Pharma and other chemicals (like oxybenzone, found in sunscreen) can have a massively detrimental impact on marine life. But if we can remove more of these pollutants at the sewage works, we can have a big impact on our overall water quality and health. Our system can help achieve this very affordably.

What has been the most valuable lesson that you have learned so far?

Product development takes a lot of time. And money. And constant pushing. Knowing more about manufacturing processes would have been extremely valuable at the start; there’s a lot of translation that is needed at every stage of the development process to ensure what you want is actually what you get.


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