Once overlooked, “bluetech” or water tech — specifically, technologies that enable water conservation and the distribution of safe, clean and easily accessible water to all — is attracting solution-oriented startups and self-described “waterpreneurs” from all corners of the globe. As the urgency around issues such as water scarcity continues to grow, this industry, once experiencing growth at a rate that could best be described as a steady trickle, is now in full-on deluge mode. And there’s plenty more room for disruption.
Describing “precious but undervalued” water as “not only key to the world’s stability, prosperity and peace but also essential for business to operate,” the World Business Council for Sustainable Development notes in a 2018 report that the value of the water tech market will be worth $20.1 billion by 2021.
This growth is, naturally, spurred by mounting demand. Per the WBCSD, over the next 30 years demand for water within the global food system is expected to increase by 40 to 50 percent and 50 to 70 percent in the municipal/industrial sector.
On the consumer-facing water conservation front, leading the charge are startups including Flume, Buoy Labs and Urban.Us-backed Rachio.
Founded in 2012, Rachio’s Wi-Fi-enabled smart sprinkler controller and leak-detection system is geared to take the guesswork — and environmental guilt — out of maintaining a healthy and attractive yard. Compatible with a range of virtual assistant platforms, the idea behind Rachio is to extend the smart home to the lawn, all the while promoting sustainable water usage in areas impacted by drought.
In 2018, Rachio completed $10 million in series B funding with investors including Eastside Partners, Bonaventure Capital and the Alexa Fund. An additional $10.5 million in funding was raised by the Denver-based company in previous rounds. Although the exact number of total units sold to date has not been publicly disclosed, last year Rachio estimated that number to be “somewhere in the six figure range.” Touted as the best-selling and reviewed device in the smart watering category, the company’s signature eight-zone second-gen sprinkler controller currently boasts a four-and-half star Amazon rating with over 2,000 mostly glowing reviews.
And drought-sensitive smart irrigation is just the beginning. Access to clean drinking water is also an obvious major issue — a crisis in many parts of the world, the United States included. (More than 2.1 billion people go without safe drinking water per World Health Organization data.) In South Africa, Cape Town narrowly escaped being the first major global city to run out of water last year. While “Day Zero” has been postponed (for now) Johannesburg-based I-Drop Water, a for-profit social startup bolstered by seed funding from Chivas Venture and a Venture Award from Oxford University’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, has a win-win solution.
Established to bring “safe drinking water everywhere, for everyone” I-Drop Water deploys water dispensing machines equipped with nano-purification water filtration technology at grocery stores in African cities where affordable and clean drinking water is elusive. I-Drop Water’s “bespoke GSM platform” enables customers to refill their own reusable containers with low-cost purified drinking water. Shopkeepers also profit from pay-by-the-liter water sales while, at the same time, the staggering amount of waste associated with the consumption of single-use plastic water bottles is reduced. To date, I-Drop Water dispensers have been installed in dozens of locales across South Africa as well as Botswana, Ghana and Zimbabwe.
“Having grown up in Philadelphia and moved to South Africa 7 years ago, I’ve seen how access to safe drinking water is increasingly becoming a global challenge and how a lack of safe water is causing extraordinary suffering around the world,” I-Drop Water co-founder and CEO Kate Thiers-Streere explained in a blog post ahead of the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit. “The chance to launch and grow a company that is tackling this in such a novel way feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
If you’re working on a unique solution that promotes environmentally sustainable water usage, aims to improve access to safe drinking water in urban areas or helps mitigate flooding that has become more common particularly in coastal cities, applications for URBAN-X cohort 06 are open. Apply by April 1st at urban-x.com/apply.