The series’ first theme, Source and Cycle, broke the typical cycle of water conversation – a room packed with water experts, entrepreneurs, and business professionals shared experiences working on the edge of water innovation.
Get ready to hear more about TAP-IN, Colorado’s new reverse pitch innovation challenge (see below to find out what a reverse pitch is). TAP-IN aims to tackle specific water challenges real Coloradan end users are facing by uniting disconnected communities and creating space for new ways of thinking.
Community turnout at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, June 21st had quickly ballooned to standing room only, exposing Colorado’s determination to solve these big water problems.
The six well-polished “problem pitches” spanned a range of water source topics including:
- Water Reuse Byproducts – Damian Higham // WateReuse Colorado
- Reservoir Evaporation Loss – Jordan Macknick // National Renewable Energy Laboratory
- Trash in Waterways – Devon Buckels // The Water Connection, The Greenway Foundation
- Efficient Infrastructure Leak Detection – MaryAnn Nason // City of Boulder
- Sustainable Supply for Urban Agriculture – Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd & Nicole Vasconi // Denver Botanic Gardens
- Peak Demand Management – Greg Fisher // Denver Water
In 2015, Colorado’s Water Plan detailed a vision of continued growth toward “a productive economy, vibrant and sustainable cities, productive agriculture, a strong environment, and a robust recreation industry.” At the heart of every goal in Colorado’s Water Plan lies a commitment toward innovation – a plan truly written by the people, for the people to implement.
TAP-IN’s keynote speaker Scott Bryan, President of Imagine H2O, recognized that “innovation is thrown out a lot these days, and we don’t always know what it means.” The first TAP-IN event tackled just that: What could innovation in water management actually look like? A few takeaways from Bryan’s keynote at TAP-IN: Source and Cycle remind us of the complex nature of water problems. Keep these in mind as you forge new business relationships and blend the edges of traditionally separate sectors.
- There is no single Silicon Valley for water
Where do we look for water innovation inspiration? Unlike the world of cutting edge technology and data science most investors are interested in, water may follow an entirely different growth model of fragmented market adoption. Sure, we can continue to wait for the Federal ‘green light,’ try to upscale approaches from much smaller countries like Israel or Singapore, or rely on sparse environmental technology clusters, but what if inspiration was right under our nose? “We don’t really need a critical mass of entrepreneurs, we need a critical mass of customers” Bryan suggested.
Extensive entrepreneurial activity already exists throughout Colorado, with an endless list of potential – untapped – partners. Any new sector overlap or partnerships leads to innovation of some kind; so reach out today to your public institutions, academia, engineering firms, small tech, finance, industry associations, startups, and foundations to share ideas and resources.
- Water is not going to be a consumer trend
Water supply and demand management is ultimately a people issue. Drinking water utilities are a conservative and risk adverse industry. New tech needs to be long lasting and scalable – simple tools that work with, rather than replace, existing technologies. Limitations such as municipal procurement processes or aging infrastructure mean we cannot simply upgrade water delivery systems to the latest iOS. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope to borrow, adopt, and test radical technologies and prototypes for water, especially those innovations that remove process inefficiencies (e.g. pricing and billing) and listen to many unique customer segments.
- Reset expectations for capital investment
Global money is certainly keeping an eye on the water space, but, unfortunately, less than 0.25% of global venture capital spending currently goes to water. Bryan suggested that many are “looking to venture capital to solve the innovation puzzle, and, arguably, venture models do not fit the water model.” While some investors see the water market as too regulated, too fragmented, and too long a design cycle, others have successfully capitalized on immense business growth opportunities. Investors simply need to see a reasonable amount of return; maybe not 100x ROI, but perhaps 5-7x. Water innovators are challenged to capitalize on many waste-to-value opportunities and help debunk such misconceptions.
- Colorado businesses and end-users are ready to embrace innovation!
We already know that Colorado is an entrepreneurial hub – a state full of creative minds and problem solvers. If you take away only one lesson from the first TAP-IN event, let it be this: The water sector and community are ready, at the table, to build new partnerships and drive innovation! They ask the entrepreneurial and business communities to join in and help; together, our problem solving skills are stronger. If you have an idea, solution, or insight, our “Source and Cycle” problem pitchers are ready to hear from you.
BIG THANKS to TAP-IN’s lead partners for a successful event!
What is a reverse pitch? In contrast to traditional pitch competitions where entrepreneurs pitch ideas to potential investors and customers, a reverse pitch event puts end users and their specific challenges (problem pitches) in front of entrepreneurs, equipping them with valuable insight into real needs, while revealing potential open markets prime for entrepreneurial solutions.
Author: Megan Holcomb, program manager at the Colorado Water Conservation Board
Sources: Gies, E. (2012 Mar). Venture Capitalist Sees Water as a Strategic Investment. Retrieved from www.forbes.com/sites/ericagies
/2012/03/26/venture-capitalist-sees-water-as-a-strategic-investment/#46c529f048c9  Wesoff. E. (2010, Sep). Realities of VC Investment in Water Tech. Retrieved from https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/