How Glanris CEO Bryan Eagle launched a circular economy solution to combat water scarcity

“When I look back on, why did that business work versus that one fail, many times, I have to answer that there was some amount of luck – something happened.

“You ran into somebody, just happened upon something that led you to whatever the next big thing is, and it happens more than a lot of CEOs would want to admit. It doesn’t, I guess, polish your image if you say, ‘well, I was just really lucky.’

As a young man setting out to make his luck in New York, Bryan Eagle, Glanris CEO, discovered a passion for the entrepreneur’s credo early on in the game and his first boss – the owner of a legendary advertising agency – became his role model for entrepreneurial success.

After long forays into building IoT and telecoms businesses, Bryan pivoted into greentechpreneurship in 2018 when the Glanris idea literally landed in his lap: a university professor in Memphis had designed a low-cost, 100% green water filter with potential to radically change the economics for production of clean water worldwide by turning the world’s biggest agwaste product – rice hulls –into water filtration media. Bryan was asked to join the team to help launch the business.

Spurred on by the desperate need for solutions to water scarcity, he jumped in with both feet and since its 2018 launch, Glanris has made headway in the U.S. industrial sector and attracted international interest with utilities lining up for green water filters that can cut costs by up to 90% of traditional filters and cleanse water in just 1/3 of the time.

It’s the type of game changing, circular economy solution the world desperately needs as we race against time to shore up our dwindling water supplies.

But there’s a story behind the story of how Glanris came to light as a fabulous and fast-growing solution to sustainable water management, and that story has a lot to do with what Bryan has learnt about luck:

“The fact of the matter is, being lucky is largely to do with being in the right place at the right time, and being able to commercialise that.”

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The bigger your ecosystem, the bigger your ‘luck’ dynamic

“The broader your ecosystem, the more opportunities you expose yourself to, and I think that expands luck.”

Commercialise within a related ecosystem

Having commercialised a company inside a related ecosystem I had seen firsthand how valuable that was; whether it was like, ‘hey, I need a good IP attorney that understands this’…. ‘we’re looking at this software test platform…has anybody ever used this before?’ When we were building a telecom-related business in the late 90s, for anything we needed to know, there was somebody in the incubator ecosystem that could help us answer that question. What a fabulous resource!

The term accelerator is used a lot. That ecosystem helped us to accelerate our business tremendously because we got stuff answered with a snap of the fingers. We really got spoilt. Before we even graduated from that incubator, we sold the business for $40 million.

Glanris was born out of Bryan’s innovation ecosystem

When I moved back to Memphis, I created a nonprofit to promote economic development through entrepreneurship. I expected all this stuff to pop out of the box – it doesn’t pop out of the box. It took years to build an ecosystem and connect with the universities and the local businesses and to have them understand the value.

It takes a village

I’m a big believer in, ‘it takes a village,’ whether that’s raising children, or building businesses. You can’t do this on your own. It’s much better when you try to get connected. It fuels innovation in a way that shortens the time to kill a lot of stuff.

Celebrate your unsung heroes

Everybody knows who the CEO is – but what I’ve seen is that often when companies hit points that led to them becoming successful, there was somebody in the company that came up with the idea for how to move forward. And if you hadn’t had that person and that team dynamic – these companies would not be successful. It really is a team effort, I wouldn’t be at Glanris without the inventor and team behind it. I look at that as the ripple effect.

“If you can deliver the green solution, and make it the easier path – that’s when you win.”

It’s not always the better solution, it’s the solution that allows people to continue doing what they were doing, but also solve problems – these are the winners going forward. Those companies will be the next big companies of the world and this is the decade to address it.

When you’re out there trying to sell something that’s green, and it costs three times as much, there might be people that will adopt it, but your market is going to be tiny. When you see solar panels and other greener technologies get to the point where the cost per kilowatt hour is lower than traditional methods, that’s when people will rush to adopt, without any need for subsidies. We’ve seen this happen in the energy space.

As Winston Churchill said, ‘capitalism is the worst economic system out there, except for all the others. We’ve got to make it work within what we’ve got, because people don’t like to radically change.

To build your innovation ecosystem:

Connect with

University professors and researchers, investors, leaders and mentors who have successfully launched innovative businesses, external consultants and advisors

Cultivate your network

Host regular events, meetings and discussions where people can share their experience, ideas and expertise.

Promote innovation

Create a programme that trains your team on turning ideas into actionable plans and bringing them to market. Open up avenues for regular idea sharing within your team.

You’ve had tremendous perseverance as a serial entrepreneur now on your 12th startup. Do you have any daily rituals that keep you going?

Occasionally, you need to be anaesthetised by activity.

To me, that’s a good reflexive walk – visual walking, seeing, listening to what’s going on around you. That helps to relieve stress and think through the problems of the day and turn off – I try to do that several times a day.

When I lived in New York, that’s the thing I enjoyed most, just being able to stroll and think.

….……………..……If Bryan could teleport himself into the future, he’d be on the beach in the Caribbean, working on his next venture – electric boats. “There is a great market to be tackled with taking what people are doing now on the car and converting that into the maritime. Boats, particularly power boats, are great polluters and there’s no need for that.

“So, if the right company showed up next year and offered us the right amount of money for this, I would love to be taking all those technologies from the automobile world, and applying it into the maritime space, and doing it in a place where I could swim in the winter.”

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Eco-living hacks I’m loving:

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Kafilat Adedeji, Ufarmy CEO, helps urban dwellers in Nigeria eat well and earn a living, using high-tech solutions to upcycle agricultural waste for Vertical Organic Farming. Since Ufarmy’s 2019 launch, the company has trained and equipped over 1,500 women and youths to make a sustainable living that’s good for the earth.