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🤖 Water Innovation & Investment

(don't) Waste Water!

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash

Host: Antoine Walter
Guest: Paul O'Callaghan | CEO & Founder | BlueTech Research
Category: 🤖 Technology

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[11:29] “The venture capital investment community would typically anticipate that 10% of their companies […] might succeed. […] The surprising thing about the water sector is the number that don’t disappear or fail and [also] don’t really make it. They kind of live in this […] gray zone, where they’re neither very successful and yet they […] hang on for a decade or two decades. So that’s probably what’s most unique, I think, about the water sector compared to other industries.”

[13:13] “[Water] is a very diverse sector. It’s made up of hundreds of thousands of different plants all over the world, different sizes and scales. […] It’s a bit like genetic diversity. One of the positives about COVID-19 I guess, or anything like that is that we’re resilient because we have diversity in our population. Water can be resilient to change because of that fragmented nature of it’s almost like a buffer against disruption.

[20:10] “[Value-driven water innovation] moves at literally half the speed [of crisis-driven innovation] through the adoption cycle. […] For example, […] if PFAS get regulated that will become […] a crisis driven market. Or one of these crisis driven markets could be water scarcity, where people are suffering from droughts, and that creates a need. And that accelerates things, like a war does, it accelerates adoption. Now it’s a bit more risky because you need to make sure that there is a crisis. That there is regulation. And we’ve seen people who think there’s a crisis that end up waiting and waiting and waiting. And then the crisis never comes. People who think […] that sludge won’t be applied to land or that ballast water treatment would be regulated quickly. And of course it was delayed. And so that’s why those things move quicker, but you have to be certain that the conditions are right.”

[38:16] “Japan has a few unique things that characterize it. There’s an emphasis on quality above just about anything else in Japan. […] And I think when they looked at ceramic membranes, […] they were willing to pay a premium for a superior technology that would last longer. It would outlast polymeric membranes and that willingness to pay the premium for that quality was what drove the rapid adoption of ceramics in Japan. Over time of course, once you can get that adopted at the high-end of the market, what you generally […] see is that manufacturing scales up, adoption goes up the expertise and then hopefully over time you get that reduction in cost and maybe more widespread adoption of the technology.”

[54:14] “The right race to be in, I think would be areas like decentralized treatment, distributed treatment, digital technologies and circularity. The three key things […] would be digital, decentralized, and circular. […] 73% of the investments that we see going into water could be tracked back to those three themes.”

[57:43] “The incumbents […] don’t tend to disrupt their own businesses. And that’s true not just for the water sector, that’s the innovator’s dilemma. […] We also see new people entering water. […] Google got into home thermostats with Nest. Are they going to get into water quality monitoring? And increasingly we’re seeing a trend where everybody from white goods manufacturers, to people who make consumer goods, et cetera, are beginning to look at the decentralized water market. And they have no vested interest in being tied to an existing system. So they do bring different ideas to bear. And I think the challenge or the opportunity, […] for the engineers in an existing water technology sector is to remember that the existing waters industry is going to be around for a very, very long time. It needs to be around for a very, very long time. But if you want to address that […] SDG 6 goals [of] 1.8 billion people, that’s a huge opportunity. […] We do need people that can continue to build a drinking water treatment plant using sand filtration and coagulation. We probably also need someone to figure out how do [to] provide clean water for somebody that lives in a slum in Nairobi [for example].

[1:03:19] “There’s a great initiative […] called the 50L Home […], which is designed to re-engineer the house, so that you live comfortably with access to everything you want and need from water, all the services, but with 50 liters per day. And […] you can get there.”

[1:07:05] “[My guess is that the next water unicorn is] any solution out there that can deal with […] the top three most pressing needs. We have got too little water, too much water and poor quality water. And as long as you’re tackling one of those issues or all of them or multiple ones, [it’s promising]. […] [Also, if] you’re combining really simple low-tech with really, really advanced high-tech, that’s the type of stuff that I get excited about.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify (Original Title: “How Long Will it Take to Grow? The 4 Stages of Water Innovation.”)
🕰️ 1 hr 12 min | 🗓️ 06/23/2021
✅ Time saved: 1 hr 10 min

Additional Links:
Paul’s Ph.D. Thesis on the Dynamics of Water Innovation
Brave Blue World Documentary