“I had three months to prove myself”

Van Remmen 25 years: the personal story of Ton van Remmen

Interview by Luuk Talens

Just back from India, three children, a fourth on the way, fresh mortgage debt, and a borrowed car. Not an ideal time to start your own business. Yet Ton van Remmen did it, on January 1st 1999. With rock-solid faith in UV technology and a touch of overconfidence. “I may possess some sort of innate naivety.”

Pakistan and India

Anyone looking out of the window at Van Remmen UV Technology sees the serene peace of the Salland countryside. A few cows, an orchard and some shiny solar panels. How different was the world where the first ideas for the company began. “In the ’90s, I worked on land drainage projects in agricultural areas in India and Pakistan. With farmers, tribal leaders and politicians, we developed a smarter water system so that more people, for longer periods of time, could use more agricultural land of better quality. This reduced local inequality and contributed to healthier nature and more food. A privilege to do and a life experience that brought and still gives me a lot.”

Important lessons

The time in Asia showed him the important value of clean water for humanity. But also how important it is to work together and take responsibility for the world around us. When he then learned about a technology that made that possible, the choice was quickly made. “I fell in love with UV. Where everyone just added chemicals to water, such as chlorine or ozone, to improve its quality, with UV you just add a bit of energy. With the same result. That technology was so beautiful, so clean and so easy to apply… I firmly believed that this was the technology of the future.”

The first year as an entrepreneur was tough. Vacation in Egmond in the summer of 2000

Uncertain establishment

That belief was so strong that he founded his company Van Remmen UV Techniek in 1999 even though it was not an obvious choice. Ton laughs: “We still had to find our place in the Netherlands, had just got a mortgage, three young children and a fourth on the way and not even our own car. My wife Véronique said to me: if you haven’t sold anything within three months we’ll quit. I set up a desk and a cabinet in an empty bedroom and was on the road day-in-day-out. Constantly telling my story, handing out documentation and convincing people. But the first orders started to come in. My parents helped out, Véronique answered phone calls, sometimes with baby Wessel on her arm, and the other children helped pack boxes. But the company grew step by step.”

Improving the technique themselves

Ton delved further into the technology and discovered that there were still many improvements possible. “We opted for a scientific approach, driven by curiosity. What exactly happens in such a UV system and which factors can we improve? That led us to assemble and design the reactors in our own way, which made them disinfect much better at lower cost. By later validating it, we could always guarantee that reliable operation.” That idea landed in many different sectors. From the swimming pool industry to the maritime sector to the food industry. UV was embraced and Van Remmen grew into one of the leading UV experts in Europe, with twenty enthusiastic employees. And the children who helped pack boxes? They are now valued colleagues in the company.

Taking responsibility

Still, Ton is not the person to sit back. Because now that the company is firmly established, the ideals from his younger years resonate stronger than ever. Not only with him, but now with the whole team. “We are now very focused on promoting sustainability among our customers and our environment. Although I think that’s a lousy word: sustainability. It’s just about taking responsibility. Here and now, for future generations. We have a responsibility to treat the world around us with care and to solve problems. We want and can contribute to clean and safe water. Not only here, but all over the world. With our systems, of course, but also by making our technological knowledge available to others. That way, we can take responsibility together and inspire others to do

Ton gets happy when he sees our UV systems in practice

The year 2049

Will we be able to conclude in 25 years that this mission has succeeded?  “I truly believe that together we can turn the tide. That by 2049, the year of truth, we will have created a society in which we use resources in an ecologically responsible way. And that we can rely on clean and safe water worldwide, for people and nature. We still have a long way to go, I realise that. Maybe I possess some sort of innate naivety, but I truly have faith that we will make it. And without trust, there is no hope.”