07 June 2022

Alumnus Looks to Seaweed as an Answer towards a More Sustainable Future

Seven years after his graduation, Nicolas Erwes (MA, ‘15) co-founded Seaweed First with his brother, Antoine. Seaweed First is a non-profit organisation that uses data-driven insights to shift the world towards a sustainable seaweed economy. 

Upon completing his Master in International Affairs in 2015, Nicolas Erwes began work in Zurich, at Swiss Re, to monitor and assess the impact of European financial regulations. Inspired by the company's financial experts working in the space sector, Nicolas then decided to return to Geneva to launch a space sustainability project with two colleagues from the Institute.

Despite gaining the support of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and other Swiss stakeholders, the project’s financial instability took Nicolas back to France, where he had previously worked as a strategy consultant for maritime regions across the world, seeking to accelerate the development of their blue economies.

Passionate about the oceans and international relations, Nicolas then decided to become an intelligence analyst for the French Navy in 2017. From coordinating counter-piracy, anti-trafficking, and anti-illegal fishing operations in the Gulf of Guinea and later in French Guiana, to monitoring military activity in the North Atlantic, it was a unique and enriching experience.

In French Guiana, Nicolas was regularly confronted with Sargassum, a species of seaweed dreaded by regional authorities for ruining tourists’ beach experience. Convinced that there had to be an alternative to destroying this biomass, he rapidly discovered that there was an undervalued opportunity beneath the waves. 

Towards the end of 2021, he thus decided to quit the Navy and launch, with his brother (who had also been working in the blue bio-economy for some years), a non-profit called Seaweed First.

The pair are currently building a data platform to better leverage the multisectoral benefits of this strategic resource (food, animal feed, energy, biomaterials, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and key ecosystem services). 

Centered around their Seaweed Sustainability Index, they use data to promote the most innovative seaweed projects and improve the regenerative potential of the entire seaweed value chain.

They also launched a virtual event called “Seaweed Around the Clock” to raise awareness on how seaweed provides concrete solutions to today’s global challenges. 

We look forward to following the next adventures of our alumnus and his promising new organisation!