Water security is one of the most pressing environmental problems the world faces today. Water is so much of a concern that the United Nations has declared today, March 22, was World Water Day 2012. Organizations around the world are taking measures to address the issues surrounding water, including Imagine H2O. Imagine H2O is a nonprofit organization that focuses on solving water problems. Each year, the nonprofit launches a competition with a different water-based focus and the theme for the 2011 competition was wastewater.
A panel of water sector experts and investors were selected to judge the 50 startup applications and two winners were chosen. Bilexys, based out of Brisbane, Australia, was selected the winner of the pre-revenue track competition while Boulder, Colorado-based New Sky Energy was selected in the early revenue track.
Bilexys is creating a new process that would use wastewater as a raw material source in a new chemical and plastic production process. New Sky Energy’s product combines carbon dioxide with industrial wastewater to make usable carbon dioxide-negative solids. This means that a customer can minimize CO2 emissions in a potentially profitable manner.
The Imagine H2O water innovation challenge changes every year. In its inaugural year, 2009, companies were tasked with solving water efficiency problems. In 2010 the topic was water energy and wastewater was chosen for the 2011 challenge. I asked Scott Bryan, chief operating officer of Imagine H2O, why wastewater was chosen as the topic for the 2011 challenge.
“It's a huge challenge and opportunity for investment. The wastewater market is valued at $200 billion per year across the industrial, commercial and residential sectors worldwide. In that vein, there is a willingness to pay for wastewater solutions as the industrial and municipal sectors see an opportunity to convert what was once waste into profit.”
With over 50 companies participating in this year’s contest, the judges’ panel had a big challenge in front of them. Bryan explains what set the winning companies apart from the rest of the finalists.
“In a word, experience. Although theses companies are early-stage startups, they're run by people who have significant experience as entrepreneurs. It's exciting to see serial entrepreneurs looking to water as an opportunity. This is an important trend for a sector that has historically lacked the level of entrepreneurship and investment that one would expect given the magnitude of the global water crisis.“
Although this is only the third year of the competition, participation has increased every year. This is good not only for Imagine H2O but also for the participating companies. Bryan explains that, “many of our former winners are quickly attracting customers and investment after participating in our prize process.”
More money for these water startups could easily translate into more green jobs and ultimately working solutions to some of the biggest water issues the world faces.
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