Ozone is a water technology that has been around for over a century. Its players are established (and entrenched), it’s a $1.4 billion sub-section of the disinfection sector, and it doesn’t seem to be much left for technical disruption. And maybe against the odds, it’s a fertile ground for a great entrepreneurial venture! How? Let’s explore:
with 🎙️ Michael Doran, President & Co-Founder of Aclarus Ozone.
💧 Aclarus Ozone aims to solve complex water problems with advanced ozone technology.
What we covered:
🧑🤝🧑 How the key to success is the team as it enables to turn a product into a solution
💁🏻 How when it comes to ozone, people don’t look for a technology but for help – and how you can apply that in your everyday business
🔁 How engineering houses and consultants like to repeat what’s proven to work – and how to convince them to embrace new approaches
⚡ How there’s much more to understand about ozone than just the generation and the bubbling. It’s all about the application!
📈 How to understand the development stage of your company, avoid to freak out and react accordingly
🛩️ How different it is to be an agile smaller player compared with established large moguls
👪 How trade organizations can be incestuous (that’s me saying it, not Michael!) and what they bring to the overall industry
🌎 How you have to nail your domestic market before spreading yourself too thin in unknown waters
🤝 How there are synergies to find between market players to leverage everyone’s strengths
🚀 Inheriting clients, aiming for higher agility, learning entrepreneurship the hard way, aiming for impact, Aclarus Ozone’s figures and growth numbers, generational shifts in engineers… and much more!
🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥
🔗 Send your warmest regards to Michael on LinkedIn
🔗 Check out Aclarus Ozone’s website
is on Linkedin ➡️
Table of contents
These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂
Antoine Walter: Hi Michael. Welcome to the show.
Michael Doran: Hello. Thank you very much for having me.
Antoine Walter: As I cracked a bit a secret before we started , by telling you a bit of my history with your field. I’m looking forward that conversation on ozone, which has been my main occupation for I think six years, but that’s a while ago. And as I told you, there’s some things we maybe didn’t do right at the time, which you did right on almost the other end of earth on the other side of the Atlantic at least that gives me a smooth transition to open with my tradition on that microphone, which is to ask you to send me a postcard. So what can you tell me from the place you’re at, which I would ignore by now?
Michael Doran: All right. Well, I am based in Peterborough, Ontario, and I’m currently sitting in my office at our headquarters here and staring out at a nice snow scape landscape right now. So that’s where we’re at.
Antoine Walter: So you get me jealous by your first answer. That’s not nice But thanks for the postcard. Actually, I will put the link in the show notes because I was really amazed by your website and by the stories. You explain the background story of the company, why you wanted to be in all of that and what’s got you to explore that field.
But there’s something which was marking to me as, let’s say a former ozone professional, is that you started a company when I started working in the ozone business. And if you had asked me at the time, If I wanted to create a company, I would never had dared to do it, and probably not in the ozone field.
So back in 2011, what leads you to creating A clarus Ozone?
Michael Doran: It’s a great question, and my background really I got introduced to ozone itself in an unconventional way. My background was around fisheries, biology. And I spent a lot of time monitoring the decline of the environment and was introduced to and interested in environmental technologies to help prevent that and help to fight against those things.
And the one thing that just stood out to me was the applicability and the viability of ozone. And in fact the oddest thing was in Canada. It really did not seem to be properly utilized, or a relevant solution. It is much more prevalent in Europe. It was also prevalent in the States and in Asia, but in the Canadian landscape, it just was a tool not in the toolbox.
And that’s really where Aclarus ozone has been focused, is to put that tool back in the toolbox for people.
Antoine Walter: So what’s your first move when you create the company? How does it start?
Michael Doran: Oh. It was from the kitchen table. It was one of those scenarios where I was fortunate enough to have some connections into the local Peterborough business world. And we were supported by some local peterborough business investors that believed in the vision of what we wanted to do, and that truly was about providing good drinking water and helping the environment.
And we started Aclarus with the concept of just that. What is it that we could have an impact on and where can we have that impact on? And it truly started in the residential and agricultural sectors. So we were doing More sort of residential ozone water treatment, which was somewhere that really wasn’t being adapted, especially in Canada, trying to deal with complex water scenarios of people in remote locations, and maybe not the strongest operators per se being, you know, cottage owners or homeowners, but being able to provide solutions for really complex water.
Really high organics or bacteria or other different contaminants like that where we were able to really learn and grow from that. So that’s truly where it started. It started from the KISS principle. We wanted to create a system that could be integrated into those types of environments. And from there it just really grew forward.
Antoine Walter: So when you say creating a system, what is exactly the shape and the scope of what you were delivering in the beginning? And did it change over a bit more than a decade.
Michael Doran: Yes. Great. Great question. Initially, I mean, there was even a time where I would hand build ozone generators but the key with ozone is The ability to produce ozone effectively and efficiently and stably, but also how to mix it and how to integrate it into treatment trains. So that truly was the challenge.
The challenge is how do you do ozone dosing on flow at variable flow rates in a very tight spot with people that are less than experts in operation of equipment. And provide stable, high quality water. So it was an interesting technological challenge. So we were building ozone systems, control systems saturation systems that would all work on flow and on demand, and provide a level of contact time for disinfection and post filtration and things like that based on what the water quality needs were.
So it was a really, a unique opportunity and to try and do it in a way that was an acceptable price point, but also acceptable designs for the quality. And then from there, truly the knowledge we learned from that is what really was able to be leveraged into growing the types of applications and then the uniqueness of the applications.
So getting away from just drinking water into specialized wastewaters, cleaning in place systems. A wide range of applications we can definitely talk about. But it did start there initially.
Antoine Walter: But that is I’d like , to emphasis that, because that sounds simple when you explain it that way. But if we break it down, What you just built in a so short time is incredible because the mixing system itself is something which has companies living in that space. The one of them is Mazzei injector.
We had Jim Lauria on the microphone a while ago. You have the control part, which is again, something where a company live in that space company which have been acquired by bigger player. But there was Imalog for a while, which was based in Canada I think as well. You have the ozone generator itself, the combination of those.
And then you say on top of that, we build some process application knowledge. That’s a lot to build in a short period of time. So what’s decided you to go for the broad spectrum and how long did, did it take you be between this moment where you get your investors in your community, business, community up to the time where you have like this package product and you’re ready to go in the market?
Michael Doran: Yes. It took a while. I mean, it, there’s iterations of different ones. I mean, obviously we look to the landscape of what existed throughout the world in different applications. We know the fine folks at Mazzei and Jim and really appreciate their knowledge and leveraging that type of information into being able to provide or understand it.
But it was a challenge. It started off with our first sale and with a fine gentleman here named Ziti. And he believed in what we could do and wanted to give us a chance. And from that moment on, it was just about organic growth. So really it was about six months of R&D and development to get to that.
So it was really accelerated.
Antoine Walter: Oh that’s more than really accelerated. That is. There’s a stretch. Six months. That is incredible.
Michael Doran: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it was a lot of good people came to the table to really help foster that. And that’s the one thing with Aclarus that’s been great is always been the team involved, believes in the vision, and do what needs to be done to really amplify the ability for us to be able to provide solutions to people.
Antoine Walter: So today, if now I do like a jump of 11 years in time. In that system, what would you consider to be like your killing part? Is it the full system? Is it the specific sub-assembly? Specific subpart of the system. What is the thing which is so good that Aclarus can’t been ignored?
Michael Doran: . To be honest I always default back to the team. Like it’s the individual technology is key, but the difference with ozone is it’s not a widget process. The ozone itself is a high touch, high feel. Application, like you really need to understand the scenario, the chemistry, the stoichiometry, the infrastructure, what it is that is the client’s needs, and what it is that would provide the most stable and robust solution.
So understanding and leveraging. Knowledge about other people who make great ozone systems or ozone generators, or people who know mass transfer, but do they know the specific stoichiometry of this client’s needs? So really it’s about optimizing and leveraging all the knowledge that’s out there in the ozone industry, but really understanding how to make it uniquely customizable to people.
It’s not something where we will ever truly be able to just have one SKU and just sell one. It’s really understanding about the application of the systems and the integration for people, and that’s sort of where I always believe that the special sauce is in the understanding of the pain points.
A lot of our clients come to us and, They aren’t looking for ozone, they’re looking for help. And they know that for us, we’ve been in the space and we’ve earned the reputation of being able to deal with advanced and complicated scenarios. And it’s not that they’ve looked for an ozone supplier or an ozone vendor.
You can find those quite readily if you know what you need. But if you don’t know what you need, that’s truly where we come into play.
Antoine Walter: So this ozone application engineering.
So you start with a, with a problem or a challenge if you use , like the less negative term, and you find the suited solution, which brings the expected solution. And it happens to be with ozone, but the heart of it is going from the challenge to the solution.
Michael Doran: Exactly, yes. And that is really where ozone is so widely applicable to so many different applications. And it’s just that the industry in, specifically in Canada, the industry that I’m familiar with, just didn’t have an understanding. They had an understanding that ozone was applicable, but how to apply it.
Was what was lacking. So a lot of engineers and design consultants like to repeat what they’ve done before. And truly, a lot of people have not been exposed to the unlocking the power of ozone in these types of applications. And that’s sort of where we’ve been able to set ourselves aside and really make a name for ourselves on taking that roadblock and barrier to the application of these systems and providing the solution.
We also understand that it is not applicable for everything. So it’s good to know where we fit and understand where we fit. And sometimes it’s great to get to a quick no in a lot of these applications.
But where it is a solution, it is truly the relief of a pain point for our clients and they really appreciate that.
Antoine Walter: Let me be a bit of an ozone nerd for a minute.
Michael Doran: For sure.
Antoine Walter: There are some things in ozone which are pretty funny when you look at it, which is what you said about the, it’s done the way it’s always been done. You have countries which go for a certain type of generators, other which go for a certain type of carrier.
For instance, if you go to France, you would never produce ozone from oxygen. You always do ozone from air because that’s the way it was done. And that’s the way it was done in 1908 in Nice when it was invented. And that’s the way they still do it today. So, What’s the way you do it? Let’s go through the technical specs and then I don’t bother you too long with that.
And we go back to maybe more interesting thing for a wider audience than just the ozone nerd. So how do you produce ozone?
Michael Doran: Great question. So we are using dielectric barrier discharge, so Corona discharge ozone generators, I started off with just ambient air drive, ambient air with some of the generators we were using, but we’ve moved to more of the high efficiency scenarios where we’re using either a pressure swing absorption, oxygen generator from a company like AirSep, one of our partners that we’ve worked a lot with or LOX on certain scenarios.
But a lot of the times we’ll use the oxygen generators because the remoteness of our installations and also, It’s the operational aspect. There are certain systems that we have that people probably don’t look on enough to notice if the oxygen was running out. So, the stability of having an oxygen generator has been very beneficial to us.
And then the ozone generation process we are typically presenting ozone anywhere between 8 to 14% weight to really optimize the dissolution in the water. We’ve. Really paid attention to Mazzei’s notes on gas and liquid ratios and pressurized systems for slipstream injection followed by downstream contact time.
So whether or not we’re doing an upstream system with required contact time for the oxidation of organics or the disinfection of things, or whether we’re doing a downstream system where we’re doing a clean in place for surface sanitation. We can modify our system designs relevantly to the installation and applications really optimize both footprint, power and efficiency of the units.
So that’s truly a level of flexibility that’s different than just, you know, pulling something off the shelf and pro selling a piece of equipment. So that’s truly why we say we, we like to provide solutions.
Antoine Walter: I’m sorry I keep dragging you down to the product, but that’s my last product question. How much kilogram of ozone per Howard do you produce and what would be the typical range where you are playing?
Michael Doran: Typically 30 grams an hour up to three to five kg an hour. So it’s quite a wide spectrum, but truly where we operate is in the unserviced areas of the market. In Canada, there are a lot of great. Companies, the big boys so to speak who are doing very large ozone systems and very large applications, but there’s a lot of small communities or small industrial applications that truly need this solution.
And that’s where we’ve gravitated towards where we have this niche of being able to understand for, you know, a root producer cleaning their vegetables or a dairy farm. A beverage or a bottling company right up to mid-scale municipal wastewater treatment. So having the flexibility of being able to provide that range of ozone production is really beneficial to the markets that we’re able to go after.
Antoine Walter: So talking of these markets, if I hear you right, it seems to go towards this decentralized distributed area. So what is the typical way you do that? Is it that, you look for the challenge you design the right solution, you build and then you disappear? Or is there some elements of operations involved of maintenance of lifetime support?
How do you operate?
Michael Doran: Oh, great question. So for us, we don’t think of it as selling equipment as much as inheriting clients. So we truly are about the long-term lifespan of the solution. So with one of the ones we are incredibly proud of the vertical that we’re involved in here in Canada is dealing with First Nation drinking water systems.
And these are remote indigenous communities that have long been having struggles with their water quality. So it’s something where we are working upfront with the engineers and our partners to design the system. To match the quality of the water, then supply the system through general contractors in the procurement process, and then go up and train repeatedly and provide that ongoing support to make sure that everybody is comfortable in providing their community the safe drinking water that they deserve.
One of the communities it’s called Schul Lake 40, we were working. It was 24 years. They’re on a boil water advisory. So the fact that we are able to be a part of the solution to take them off of that, and then their community just recently won an award in the quality of the water that they’re producing.
So those types of things are really what helped drive our team. We really take pride in those types of activities. So we’ve been able to do over a dozen of those communities so far and look forward to many more.
Antoine Walter: So when you do a First Nation project I hear that you want you build up relationships and to be a partner on the long run. Does that mean that you are turning your offering into a service or is it like , regular maintenance?
Michael Doran: It’s a service and a support scenario, so there’s obviously always opportunities or challenges associated with sometimes with the commissioning and integration of equipment and getting things up and rolling the way that it should be. And then the ongoing support for the community is key.
It really is making people feel comfortable in the operation and knowing that they have a resource at the end of the phone or a resource that can show up and help support. And that’s something that we really, whether it’s in those applications or we do a lot of different industrial or building infrastructure type scenarios, but that is something we pride ourselves on, is always developing that service package and maintenance package for our clients and really answering the question, providing the training, providing support.
Often will send up a laptop or be able to remote into a system be able to do a Zoom or a teams call with somebody real time so we can see what they’re seeing and we can provide that level of support and comfort that we’re gonna resolve Any issues that do occur. And in remote communities, sometimes that really is a big difference for them, is to feel like they are connected.
Antoine Walter: Talking of this connection, you have a system which doesn’t rely on any external supply because you’re generating your own oxygen. So as long as you have electricity. You can be running without the need for a human, I guess. So how much can you automate your system?
Michael Doran: It’s very automated. In fact, we have systems that we can monitor and control on our phone. So it’s really nice to see the way that the internet of things and automation and interconnectivity has allowed us to put eyes on things in real time and really diagnose and monitor what’s happening. So we can measure flow, we can measure the oxidative reduction potential coming out of our system, or the dissolved ozone levels coming out of our system.
As well we always integrate ambient ozone, alarms and sensors to ensure a safe environment for everyone. So it’s truly one of the great advancements in the last 10 years for an ozone system is the integration of things like HMIs and PLCs to really control and monitor that across the internet or in other methods of direct communication, depending on the scenarios.
Antoine Walter: you mentioned this ambient Ozone monitoring, which. Often a way to remind people of how dangerous of a gas ozone is. And if on top of that you listen to all the ones which don’t like ozone that much and tell you that after all you’re taking something and breaking it down in something maybe more problematic… Is it something you hear a lot and what’s your counter argumentation to that?
Michael Doran: Oh, it’s it, absolutely. And one of the things that we really have done is we’re advocates to. Answer those questions directly on ozone itself is an incredibly powerful oxidant. It truly is and it is more aggressive than say things like chlorine gas, but the key is about the use and application of the ozone and the safety that’s associated with that.
So our systems will warn you at a safe eight hour exposure limit. And our systems can alarm and shut down at a safe two hour exposure limit, and we’re able to integrate multiple ambient ozone sensors at different locations to ensure where you’re producing it or where you’re using it is all considered to be in a safe operational environment.
As well, things like the efficiency of mass transfer into the water is so greatly. Enhanced now, so you can use 90 to 95% of the ozone you make and really control and limit your off-gassing through degas devices or negative blowers and run it through an ambient ozone destruct unit. It’s really about understanding those activities and those things that allow for successful installations.
If you just buy an ozone generator and bubble it into a tank, there is a lot of things that can go wrong. But if you understand holistically what the infrastructure and scenario is, a solution is there, and that’s sort of where we really strive to present that to people.
Antoine Walter: you mentioned the bubbling into a tank. You know, that’s another of these discrepancies between geographies. If you come to Europe and you want to put an injector and nozzles, people will look at you like, how crazy are you? And if you get to North America and you say, Hey, I have dome diffusers, people will look at you and say, Hey, I’m not willing to build a jacuzzi.
I want to have a treatment plant. So, Do you think there’s a rational behind all of that, or it’s just about finding The best local technology adapted to local habit?
Michael Doran: It, It’s really interesting because in out part of Ontario or Canada, it, it truly was not following the progression and development that occurred in Europe. And so that we’ve had the luck or the opportunity to utilize what we feel is the best opportunities for efficiency and effectiveness where we don’t have the legacy scenarios as much that we have to overcome that way on transitioning somebody from a method they’re comfortable with because quite frankly, most people just don’t understand which are the options that are out there.
For us too, I think the efficiency on the power costs or the consumption is also relevant. And then obviously the ambient Ozone control is also a big portion of that too. it is, it is different though.
I mean, there are people, there are different ways to apply ozone and there are ways that people are more comfortable with. But we definitely believe in the methods we’ve been doing.
Antoine Walter: You’ve been picking ozone, which is one of the things you can be picking within the water industry. We’ve covered. Now, the ozone part, let’s examine a bit, if you will, the entrepreneurship part of it. It’s amazing to develop a system in six months when the timelines can be decades in that industry.
I said it, I was working for an ozone company in six months, we were maybe drafting the outline, not coming with a full blown product. So, so that’s amazing. When you look back in time, I think you’ve now passed the 1000 systems, which you have been installing. You said organic before, but is it organic and linear growth or did you see inflection points where all of a sudden things got faster or slowed
Michael Doran: Yes definite inflection points. We were traveling along sort of with minimal growth and just sustaining for quite a while, and then with the pull that we had into different markets and different sized equipment that really us being able to adapt and evolve to those scenarios really led to inflection points in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
And it’s about really understanding the different plateaus and the different verticals and then taking the evolution accordingly to those different scenarios. So, just recently we’re getting into. Larger and larger kilogram an hour type systems, which is really changes the dynamic from an entrepreneur standpoint or a business standpoint comparatively to doing single gram an hour ozone systems back in the day.
So it’s really been amplified by the verticals, by the size of the equipment, by the different levels of opportunity. And then even the gravitation towards. Full stainless steel piping systems or NEMA 4X ratings and things like that really drive a lot of it as well. The instrumentation and monitoring of systems can be sometimes as expensive as the actual ozone production as well, so it’s really unique , in a lot of those scenarios too.
Antoine Walter: You mentioned several inflection points. Can you just pick one, and tell us the story of that specific one?.
Michael Doran: Yes. One of them for sure was around the there’s a local town Colberg, which really was focused on getting off chlorine and sulfur dioxide on there. On their system, they were have been evaluating different options such as parasitic acid or things like that to really still provide the great disinfection, but they truly did care about the environment.
They were discharging into a trout stream that led to a public beach, and the people there really cared about reducing the amount of chemicals they were putting into the environment. Through the support of the Green Municipal Fund through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, they were able to get the support financially for a grant offset that allowed us to retrofit their existing chlorine contact chamber with an ozone system.
And it was one of the first of his kind with the slipstream utilizing the basin effluent to supersaturated ozone and reintroduce it there and the impact on the quality of the effluent, like the reduction in toxicity, the achieving the disinfection, the fact that you could see 10 feet down through it really was just such a huge eye-opener for us because it was being done at anywhere between 12,000 meters cubed to 36,000 meters cubed a day.
So we’re talking about substantial volumes of water for us. I know from some of the big boys that would be, you know, normal or small, but for us it was truly one of those inflection points where we could see the impact both on the environment and for the community.
And the operational costs of our systems were comparable to a chlorine and sulfur dioxide system, which was eye-opening comparatively to the historical views on ozone and the OPEX associated with ozone. So we, we tend to joke around with the operators there that eventually we anticipate the trout to be swimming back upstream into the plant because the water coming out so nice.
Antoine Walter: That’s a good one. You mentioned the big boys. How do you. Swim like those trouts within that competitive ocean, who’s your direct competition? Is it within the ozone guys that you see competition, or do you rather compete against the chlorine suppliers and say, look, there’s an alternative chlorine free, the strongest disinfectant on earth.
And so far and so on.
Michael Doran: for us we’re very fortunate to be part of the International Ozone Association and I’m actually on the industrial committee with representatives from those other organizations. And they’re great people and they do great work. And I think though that we have more agility at times to handle unique scenarios and be able to adapt to those unique scenarios, being more of an lean and agile organization.
So we understand sort of a pathway that is the path of least resistance. I mean, for instance, we know that we are not going to be able to compete against a UV light retrofit. And we also know that certain times chemicals, you’d have to figure out what the life cycle cost versus an opex or CapEx cost would be for the rationale associated with it.
As well we know that we’re not gonna go head to head on, the city of Toronto or something, on that scale and scope that falls on the radar of those other organizations. So it, it is about knowing myself and know where you can make the most difference, and I think that’s something that we are.
Constantly working towards to, to ensure there’s some opportunities that we’ve been presented that we probably chased for too long and spent too much resources on. And in an organization like ours that’s in a growth phase time is a limited resource. So really understanding where you can be impactful is key from a business
Antoine Walter: You mentioned the growth phase, and I’m coming back to that in just a minute, but you also mentioned the International Ozone Association and I. Bring you that question, which I think I brought also to Jim by the time he was on that microphone, because when I used to be an ozone professional, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the International Ozone Association.
It is a place where you sit together with all your competitors, you present at every congress, your new stuff, new technologies, new applications, just for all of them to say, Hey, sounds interesting. Let me copy. So I never could really understand the meaning of that association.
Michael Doran: That’s really it. Like we are very passionate about the underutilization of ozone in the world. We really, truly feel that it plays. A huge part. And I mean, you can see it from the growth in ozone generator sales. It’s actually quite impressive the compound annual growth rate of ozone generator sales in the world right now.
And just in gonna continue to grow. But the organization is really, it’s an interesting one because it’s. People who are passionate about being able to provide solutions. So they do let down their barriers. They do let down the competitive barriers to an extended period of time to share knowledge, to share resources.
Even the journal of ozone Science and Engineering is such a great resource for the applicability of ozone and the different stoichiometries with advanced chemistries and things of that nature. But don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day, I mean, we all. Looking for business and looking for work.
So, the good news is the more of us out there making ozone a readily available tool, the better It really is for everyone. And we also all know that car companies like Ford and G M C can be on the road at the same time as well. So the market share out there is quite large and that’s one thing about the IOA is the resource knowledge sharing.
For us all to be successful for Ozone to be successful is sort of the flagship that helps drive everyone.
Antoine Walter: Flagship is also a key word where I’m coming back later, but let me take the growth question actually. You mentioned that you’re in a growth phase and you have, I guess, further objectives to, to push the envelope. Of your about 1000 thousand systems today. How much are in Canada? How much are abroad? Do you intends to go further abroad?
What’s your vision?
Michael Doran: So we have installations in nine countries, but a lot of them were specific individual one-offs from people that were very interested in the offerings that we had and we were very fortunate and to support them. We are very much focused on being one of the dominant ozone suppliers, if not the dominant ozone solution provider in Canada.
But also we are very interested in the market share in the And externally after that it’s easiest to grow most in geography that you can support. And that is truly, again, part of our business model is the ability to support it. So if the pull was such in an international market that we would develop and adapt our model over there, then we would definitely support that.
But currently it’s In our backyard first, and then growing out from there.
Antoine Walter: How many people are you at Aclarus today?
Michael Doran: 18 today.
Antoine Walter: All in your headquarters or distributed across Canada, north America.
Michael Doran: Across Canada right now. So, currently most of us are based in Peterborough, Ontario, but we do have some satellite offices to be able to support the remote scenarios as well and really leverage our expansion. And as well, we work with some great partners. That are located in different provinces or different areas and are able to support them as well.
So they’ve been able to distribute and provide our solutions and integrate other pieces of their equipment to the solutions, and then we’re able to support them and train them.
Antoine Walter: So you mentioned this ambition. I mean, ambition probably already the case but to further be the big boy in Canada. And that connects to my flagship question, what is the status of the Montreal Wastewater treatment plant using ozone, which is supposed for 15 years to become the biggest in the world?
But I’m not sure if that will ever happen.
Michael Doran: I, to be honest, I am not sure. I it was really funny because when we were talking to some of the representatives on that project and we mentioned, well, we’ve done work with McGill University on how ozone is effective at the removal of contaminants of emerging concern such as illicit drug metabolites.
Or we’ve done two municipal installations on wastewater and they’re like, really? Oh, okay. Cuz they have a very large organization and a very large project and I believe it is proceeding. But I remember hearing about that when we started our company and now the thought that we’ve actually done those types of applications and they haven’t finished theirs yet.
It is something that we take pride in, but we wish them the best and hope it is successful.
Antoine Walter: You hope or you think it’ll really happen one day.
Michael Doran: I do think it will happen one day. I think it just makes so much sense in so many regards and I just am surprised that it is taking as long as it has.
Antoine Walter: That’s just my very personal, stupid mind. But when I was seeing all the debate with the merger between SUEZ and Veolia, I was thinking, what will happen to that project because, All the brain works is now with SUEZ because it was made by the people which are still part of suez, and all the technology part is now with Veolia.
So it’s two different companies which somehow own that contract. So I guess it’s not the end of the fun. And I guess probably, I hope for them it’s the kind of thing they have discussed in due diligence. So that , that one is sorted out.
Michael Doran: I really hope so because I mean, it’s interesting that just the concept of the mergers and acquisitions in the ozone space itself and how disruptive that can be to the support of existing ozone systems or ozone installations and there’s a lot of companies Clearwater Tech or Pacific Ozone that have been.
Amalgamated into larger organizations where we are provided an opportunity to go service and support those systems. And so there’s really an interesting dynamic that’s been going on in this, in the space, and that’s one thing where we really do see the concept of being able to provide the solution and the high touch, high feel versus just a product offering is a differentiator for us.
Antoine Walter: I’m not fully sure now if it’s Veolia or Saur, so I might be saying something more stupid than me which. Quite a stretch, but if I’m right, a time ago, Veolia did own Trailigaz, which was an ozone company, which they sold Wedeco took over at the time. So now it’s Xylem. And so now Veolia has, again, an ozone company.
So it sounds like. Life is a cycle, but those are all M&A happening, I would say at another level than the one you are at. It’s the, this kind of big boys you were mentioning. Nevertheless, when I was preparing for that episode, I found an M&A entry for you. So what is this M&A entry that happened in 2020?
Can you tell me if the entry is right and what it was about and what you wanted to achieve with that?
Michael Doran: We had known some individuals in the marketplace that were part of an organization that was called Water Tap in the Ontario government sort of water technology acceleration program. And they, these individuals Rick Van Sand and Brianis specifically were two industry professionals that knew the water space that formed a capital company.
And when we were in a position. In our own growth cycle. It was them that I reached out to for their advice and for their input, and I was fortunate enough for them to take an interest in getting involved in the company and really the understanding and of the business landscape associated with water and.
The understanding of how to properly create your own identity and processes to drive a water business was something I did not have. I knew technology , but understanding the business side of it was so impactful for our growth and their patients. In the rawness of where we were towards the more evolution of our processes to where we are.
Is something that’s just been so rewarding and I’m so thankful for their involvement in what we do and who we are now as a full team. They’re very high touch, high feel they’re very passionate and believe in the vision, and it’s not your standard. Arms length investors, it’s people who are in here at the boardroom table, at the regular operational desk, and at the Christmas parties.
Like they, they truly are involved in the the culture and the passion of what we are doing.
Antoine Walter: And so with that setup, what is your vision? What are your KPIs over the next, I don’t know, five years, for instance? Where do you want to head?
Michael Doran: We are anticipating and predicting to be able to sustain within 30 to 45% compound annual growth. So we really do want to become 50 to a hundred million dollars in a very short order as far as annual revenues, and be able to be incredibly impactful in the landscape in the water industry in Canada.
Antoine Walter: And with all of that, you still have time to go fishing?
Michael Doran: Not as much as I’d like to at times, but but definitely definitely have an opportunity to do that. It is very handy with some of our remote installations. They’re usually in some beautiful natural environments.
Antoine Walter: And how involved are you with this new uses of ozone like micro pollutant removal? At one time it was 1.4 dioxane, which was the hot kid in town. Nowadays it’s a bit more pfas, but where ozone might reach its limit as well.
Michael Doran: Well, we were fortunate enough to do some early work with McGill University and Trenton University on these illicit drug metabolite removals. So we did piloting both in municipal infrastructure to measure the removal of CECs and endocrine disruptors and things like that, as well as seasonal lagoons in remote communities for lowering their toxicity for the discharge as well.
We understand. The great work that lots of international universities or applications have provided that we know if we are getting one level of treatment, then the conditions are such. We also know we are achieving those other unique ones, even though we aren’t always able to quantify it.
We just do know that those things are occurring because of the times we have been able to monitor, document, and quantify it with.
We’re also working with some different organizations that are developing specialized sensors. So there are people who are currently developing PFAS specific or Biological dissolved organic carbon specific sensors that would be indicative of some of the other contaminants that we would be addressing.
But yeah, so it’s not always directly measurable, but it’s definitely being able to be inferred from the research that’s out there, that we are seeing those other substantial decreases when we’re achieving our solutions.
Antoine Walter: So does that mean that you’re also looking at different types of growth paths where instead of. Having more installations, you could be also beefing up the scope of delivery on your usual type of installations.
Michael Doran: Yes, both that and the applicability of the retrofit on existing infrastructures for municipalities that are seeing changes in their source water. I mean, as climate change affects source waters and as. Awareness associated with contaminants of emerging concern come forward. The ability to retrofit a small footprint ozone system into an existing infrastructure to provide that barrier level protection has been a substantial thing as well as us.
Being able to provide an ozone system or a complete treatment train. And the one thing that we’ve been noticing a lot more lately is the emergence of younger engineers as there’s been a sort of a wave of turnover in the industry where they’re more interested in the applicability of ozone and the applicability of utilizing current infrastructures and optimizing it.
So there is different processes. We’ve seen for even things like trihalomethane formation, potential reduction. So we’re utilizing ozone and biological processes now, and those weren’t typically considered especially on a retrofit scenario. So instead of trying to fit a membrane into a conventional plant, you can actually take a look at involving ozone and AOP processes to limit the THM formation potential during seasonal organic loading.
So it’s really unique applications that we are gravitating towards. And that is something that really energizes me is as a team being able to take a look at these really cutting edge leading edge scenarios and being involved in providing solutions.
Antoine Walter: can fully get why that is fascinating. Now, if I take the flip side of that coin, isn’t it a dangerous place to be as a scale up? Because you might be investing a lot of time and efforts into an application, which ultimately doesn’t become as big as expected.
Michael Doran: Absolutely. And that is going back to understanding the variability of and the strategy. And that’s really where my partners have really helped hone the types of questions we need to be asking ourselves to really feel strong about the strategy or the market applicability. So for instance we. Are very interested in certain aspects of pharmaceutical, but we are not an electrolytic ozone company.
So there’s a difference there in knowing market penetration and market dominance in those types of applications. We would be sort of barking up the wrong tree there in that scenario. But really understanding the questions to ask yourself about total achievable market or pathways to market barriers, risk profiles.
That, that’s really where my business partners have just really opened up a new way of thinking to us about understanding how to be the most successful solution provider in the limited resources we have at times, which is time in people. And then really understanding how to maximize that and.
Maybe we can’t do it today, but maybe we can do it tomorrow. So that’s something that we always keep on the back burner as far as new verticals or new applications we might want to attempt in our product development.
Antoine Walter: When I opened that conversation, I mentioned how I enjoyed the storytelling on your website and how there’s really a backstory. Which, honestly, we can feel throughout what you’ve said so far. So just to close with what I opened with you wanted to cure cancer and and then you didn’t follow that path and you created an ozone company.
And now that you’re working on this endocrine, disruptors and and emerging contaminants, which are suspected to be carcinogenic, do you consider yourself like also closing that loop and somehow solving and curing cancer?.
Michael Doran: So the short answer is yes. I mean, we really do feel that we are having a positive impact on the environment and a positive impact on people’s health. Whether it’s through the removal of contaminants and wastewaters that are going into the hydrological cycle that are compounding back on people or whether it’s providing barrier protection on drinking water systems for people.
We truly do feel and believe that those are things that we are making a difference for, and there are just the thought of the volumes of water that we can treat and we can help eliminate those chemicals that. Cause such pain in people’s lives, both on health and scenarios, and provide them the quality of water that we all deserve.
Antoine Walter: Well, Michael, it was so pleasant to follow your path and to go into this World of ozone and, I mean the canadian kindness is often mentioned as a reference, but you are the awesome definition of that. So thanks a lot for this deep dive.
Michael Doran: Thank you. Really do appreciate the opportunity to put ozone back in this manner.
Antoine Walter: If that’s meant for you. I have a last section, which is called the rapid fire questions.
Rapid Fire Questions
Antoine Walter: And so in that part I try to keep the questions short. You’re supposed to keep the answers short, and the one which is going on Sidetracks all the time is always me. So my first question there is, what is the most exciting project you’ve been working on and why?
And I guess maybe you hinted to it before.
Michael Doran: Yes, it was the Shore Lake 40 Project, but the First Nation projects for us have been really, truly impactful on so many levels to listen to people talk about the challenges in water and being able to help survive sur surpass the challenges and provide good water. That truly is the, those communities has been some of the most impactful.
Antoine Walter: Can you name one thing that you’ve learned the hard way?
Michael Doran: Yes. They won’t beat a path to your door . So that is definitely one of them. That and also getting to a quick, no, I think those are important aspects in uh, the water industry.
Antoine Walter: Is there something you’re doing today in your job that you will not be doing in 10?
Michael Doran: I hope it’s the level of advocacy we have to do for ozone. I hope that it becomes more understood in its applicability and becomes more commonplace that people are more familiar with the power and integration into infrastructure.
Antoine Walter: I told you about the Sidetracks. What makes you think that it might be changing in the next 10 years when ozone is around for more than a century?
Michael Doran: I think just the sheer growth in the market is one of the fastest growing markets in the disinfection of water treatment space. It’s been much more adopted in North America. And this is all through the lens of being somebody in Canada. So, I mean, I know it’s saturated in the European and Asian markets and things much more, but here I feel that there’s, it’s just an open landscape of opportunity and I think that having more and more installations here, I mean, people can count on one hand.
The level of municipal infrastructure with ozone in Canada. So, now it’s becoming much more prevalent as, and people understand it and I hope that the applicability of it just becomes more well understood.
Antoine Walter: But you still get reactions like, what are you doing at the ozone layer?
Michael Doran: Uh, I do, and I also get, so is it a pate? Is it a liquid? And no, it’s a gas and it needs to be mixed in the water and generated on site and, you know, so it’s it’s that level of familiarity for sure.
Antoine Walter: what is the trend to watch out for in the water sector?
Michael Doran: Yes. I think the growth of ozone is the c e c aspects are also very substantial. The. Requirement of something like the integration of an ozone system into a retrofit to make the plant more compliant or provide better water. I think that truly is it the applicability of ozone in these advanced contaminants.
Emerging concern is one of the trends that I think people should pay attention to.
Antoine Walter: So for the next question, you don’t have to travel that far because it’s this big United Nation conference, which is in New York next year. But, you know, people have been, some have been happy, some have been very peaced at the agenda. So I get you a chance here. You can add something to the agenda or remove something from the agenda.
So what is it that you would be.
Michael Doran: I would be adding just the question about what’s the true value of water? And I think that too often it’s seen as an expense. Too often it’s seen as a cost burden that people skimp out on without understanding the true impact on your society. I mean, the I liken it to the initial concept of when they realized, How harmful lead could be, where, you know, it was really dramatically impacting the entire population.
I, I really see the need for quantifying the health, the socioeconomic impacts of water quality as being a key driver, really understanding the metrics associated with the value of water. I think that is something and the. Then you can really start to justify the water reuse applications, the investment in technology, the investment in infrastructure, because you truly understand the scale and scope the of the impact that water contamination has on people.
Antoine Walter: You have my vote that. If I can comes on the agenda, of course, doesn’t bring you very far, , but you have my vote. It’s the beginning. Last question. Would you have someone to recommend me? That should definitely invite as soon as possible on that microphone.
Michael Doran: I, I do, I actually have three. If you can bear with me for a second. So Chuck Smith is the owner and president of Pinnacle and Guardian Ozone, a very knowledgeable individual in the ozone space. Bob Kennedy is the CTO of New Terra, that they’re just doing some great work internationally with regards to their installations.
And then Mark Lewis is the director of Sales at Delco, which is a company based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, doing some really impactful things with their technologies as well. So just the right mentality of people in the water space. I find tho those individuals.
Antoine Walter: You brought a pinnacle, which used to be something. I, I think we had posters of them when I was working at Ozonia, like, that’s the enemy.
So that would be interesting.
Michael Doran: yeah, absolutely. We work quite a lot with them and have learned quite a lot from them.
Antoine Walter: Well, I stand my points. Michael, it’s been an awesome pleasure to have that conversation with you. So thanks a lot and I hope to have a follow up with you somewhere down the line where you have achieved and realized your vision and and you have new milestones to share. So thanks a lot.
Michael Doran: I really appreciate it and I look forward to that future conversation for sure.