Water tech catches a wave from “aquapreneurs”

Climate Economy

Water tech catches a wave from “aquapreneurs”

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Money is gushing into digital water technologies.

“Climate change is the problem, but water is the messenger.” So observes Jose Ignacio Galindo, co-founder, and CEO of San Francisco-based Waterplan, an early-stage software firm helping Amazon, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Danone, Diageo, McCain, and Meta understand their operational impact on watersheds where they do business.

Waterplan represents a new generation of “aquapreneurs” focused on industrial and commercial water applications. From planning tools to advanced wastewater filtering and recycling systems to freshwater generation technologies, these startups are thirsty for funding and finding more investors willing to fill their cups as 2030 looms.

Just ask Boston-based superfiltration company ZwitterCo, which disclosed a $33 million Series A funding round in September — the biggest early-stage infusion to date for water tech. ZwitterCo makes membranes for treating wastewater contaminated with oils, fats, greases, or proteins. Often, companies have this water hauled away at considerable expense. Now, they have another option. “The water reuse story is something that resonates,” says ZwitterCo CEO and co-founder Alex Rappaport.

Historically speaking, venture capital flowing into water technology has been a trickle rather than a flood — an estimated $470 million in 2021. That’s a mere drop in the bucket compared with the $27 billion invested in climate tech in the first half of 2022 alone. The category barely rates separate consideration — solutions for stormwater abatement, wastewater treatment, pipe maintenance, irrigation, and so on are often categorized as agtech, urbantech, or industrial tech, which include non-water technologies. But money is gushing into digital water technologies, in particular, with Bluefield Research predicting global spending for that segment alone to double to $55.2 billion in 2030, from $25.9 billion in 2021.

Climate change is the problem, but water is the messenger.

Innovation across all applications is coming from all over the world. Just three examples: Chemical-free purification systems from Singapore-based Pure Active Water (Dole is a customer); mobile wastewater treatment equipment from Indra Systems in India (being used by local textile-makers and biorefineries); and a real-time monitor of discharge from Canadian firm Island Water Technologies (used by pulp and paper companies).

The startup activity coincides with a new wave of interest in water risks among corporations, and not just with the usual suspects in food, beverage, and agriculture. Tech companies AmazonGoogle, and Meta — which aspire to become “water positive,” regenerating sources from which they use water — are investing in reducing water consumption at their thirsty data centers. Procter & Gamble is vowing to source 5 billion liters of water from water recycling and reuse systems at its facilities. (It’s more than halfway there.) Even Elon Musk has water on the brain: The opening of Tesla’s factory in Germany in early 2022 was delayed over concerns about the long-term water supply.

“Water is only going to get more important,” says Tom Ferguson, managing partner at Burnt Island Ventures, a firm focused exclusively on water entrepreneurs. Ferguson says water startups are particularly interesting for organizations concerned about adaptation alongside mitigation. “Climate change is water change.”

This article originally appeared on GreenBiz.com as part of our partnership with GreenBiz Group, a media and events company that accelerates the just transition to a clean economy.

Featured image: Island Water Technologies

Written by

Heather Clancy

Heather Clancy, GreenBiz editorial director, is an award-winning business journalist specializing in chronicling the role of technology in enabling corporate climate action and transitioning to a clean, inclusive and regenerative economy. She started her journalism career on the business desk of United Press International, and her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was the launch editor for the Fortune Data Sheet, the magazine's newsletter dedicated to the business of technology. She co-authored the Amazon best-seller for entrepreneurs, "Niche Down, How to Become Legendary By Being Different."