Bluefield Research attended the Innovate 4 Water conference in Geneva. The event, hosted by World Intellectual Property Organization, brought together a diverse mix of water entrepreneurs, regulators, academia, and investors, across a wide thematic scope covering water and wastewater issues in emerging and developed markets.
Here are some takeaways:
Politics (including water) is local: The geographic diversity of the presenters reinforced just how local the water business can be, while foreshadowing the difficulties technology providers face as they look outward for growth. For example, one interesting way to look at global smart water markets is to segment countries into markets driven by operational efficiency, including regulatory and competition, vs. those driven by water scarcity.
Water companies continue to innovate: Two companies I found particularly interesting: A company out of Israel, called Nufiltration Ltd. is collecting used dialysis machines, used for filtering blood, from medical hospitals. Essentially they’re taking these membranes that are being disposed of, sanitizing them and designing them into water process technologies. So they’re essentially finding a lower cost input material and moving toward a circular economy mind-set, really an interesting application. The second was a company called Hydromea. They envision swarms of underwater drones that can deploy in order to map out pollutants once they reach an open water surface, or to map out oil spills and so on. Spill management is currently a laborious process involving boats and labor, and monitoring through drones could return an intriguing proposition.
Let’s not forget about the operator (or our customer’s customer): You commonly hear that innovation in the water industry is slow, that because utility customers are very conservative, it´s a major inhibitor to innovation, and specifically pace of innovation, in the water sector. Booky Oren brought up interesting points about how technology innovators can improve the pace of adoption by developing products relevant to the utility customer. He suggested that engaging the actual operators and the field employees of the utility, charged with tackling problems on a day to day basis, are key to problem identification and solution development.
Focus on utility pain points: I would add that software providers who position their solutions as being complimentary to the utility´s existing suite of software solutions, which is often a bit of mess, rather than the master solution or a major shift in a new direction. If you position your product in a way that is material and relevant to utility pain points, complimenting existing systems, you have a much higher chance to find opportunities to scale at a much faster pace than your competitors.
Bluefield provides overall context to innovation in the water sector from a global scale, looking at smart water trends globally and can advise on the direction of technology trends, from a thought leadership perspective, while also providing stress testing and data driven guidance from our research perspective. We can also harness our custom consulting experience and go to market strategies for similar technologies and solutions, and again walk companies through where we think that their technologies have the best chance or the best opportunities in the global market place. Contact us to learn more.