Water Innovation Accelerators became more common in recent years. Yet the world reference remains unchanged: Imagine H2O.
Why and How? Let’s review!
with 🎙️ Scott Bryan – President of Imagine H2O
💧 Imagine H2O is the world leading Water Innovation Accelerator with $800+M raised in early-stage funding and 1.1 billion people (and counting) served.
What we covered:
🌎 How Imagine H2O’s Alumni network now extends to 168 portfolio companies in 20 countries
🚀 How Imagine H2O launched in 2008, creating the water innovation accelerator concept from scratch
💡 How the organization’s concept first was a Business Model contest, how it pivoted from there, and why
🛣️ How Imagine H2O swiftly realized that to accelerate water technologies they had to work on water technology adoption
💸 How only 1% of climate tech venture investments flow to water today and why it is problematic
🪣 How Imagine H2O’s non-profit business model works, and who the organization partners with to maximize its impact
🤝 How market competitors can incredibly work together to take new solutions off the ground
🌱 How entrepreneurs entering from other sectors bring a breath of fresh air and how fun it is to work with them
😵 How sometimes, entrepreneurs hang around a little longer than they should in the Water Industry
🤑 How some valuations we currently see in the Water Sector can be detrimental to both the founder and the investor
💥 How the booming accelerator playground offers incredible resources for entrepreneurs while also reaching some boundaries
🎯 Focus being the name of the game, the criterion to work with Imagine H2O, the most important thing to look at as a water entrepreneur, water as a global opportunity and a local market, scaling up, building for the long-term… and much more!
🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥
🔗 Have a look at the Imagine H2O’s website
🔗 Come say hi to Scott on LinkedIn
is on Linkedin ➡️
Teaser: The Leading Water Innovation Accelerator
Infographic: The World’s leading water innovation acceleratorInfographic-Scott-Bryan-Imagine-H2O-Water-Innovation-Accelerator
Table of contents
These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂
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Antoine Walter: Hi Scott. Welcome to the show.
Scott Bryan: Thank you, Antoine, great to be here.
Antoine Walter: Actually we have so much on the plates that you wanted to have it launched before it was launched. That’s really a good mood and a good energy. I really praise that!
And there’s a lot we will discuss today because I mean, everywhere was looking around internet to prepare for that discussion, you were listed as the leading water innovation accelerator. So I’m really looking forward this view of the market and this view of the ecosystem from the guy who leads the leading water innovation accelerator, but that all starts with our good old traditions on that microphone of the postcard.
And basically I’d like you to tell me something about a place, which I wouldn’t know by now. And that’s your post.
Scott Bryan: Sure. Sure. Well, yeah, kind of in the middle of nowhere right now just back from Singapore international water week, we’re ha how to just a fabulous time working with our partners and startups there. But yeah, after a plane ride to , another part of the world back home I’m actually in Bozeman, Montana right now.
Where it’s springtime, we’ve got a lot of snow in the mountains and we’re really hopeful about the summer and hopefully it won’t be too smoky. But Imagine H2O we’re based in San Francisco. I’ve lived there for the past, nearly 20 years. And certainly thinking a lot about the drought that they all are experiencing and certainly looking forward to seeing how we can be helpful to our partners.
Antoine Walter: So that’s really something I like to explore with you over the next hour, Imagine H2O, or to go into the details and everything you do about it. But right before, like to get to know you a bit better. And when I was reviewing your path, I saw that you started your career in ESG research and.
That sounded like something really visionary by the time you were involved in that? Um, I really, the layman here or was it visionary?
Scott Bryan: Yeah, I was really fortunate to get into that space in the early two thousands when it was really making this interesting transition from being about socially responsible or values-based investing to ESG. And I think it was great timing in the sense that at that time, institutional investors were really starting to see these trends as they related to long-term value creation and risk.
It’s kind of crazy to think that at the time it was really. Finding management teams that at least acknowledged the science of climate change. And I think we’ve made some progress on that, but also looking at board diversity LGBTQ hiring issues other labor issues.
So, it was a fascinating time, but I think on the climate side, especially having a front row seat, working with pension funds and foundations that were engaging in shareholder activism screening for . Management teams that didn’t yet acknowledge climate science, but then also being proactive around clean tech investments, both on the venture side, but also project finance.
So, that’s really where I started my career, but it was really in that context, that water seemed like a logical area. For long-term risk management and opportunity yet it really wasn’t receiving the same attention as renewables and other parts of the clean tech sector. And really didn’t have the vibrant ecosystem that one might expect for an industry of this size and prominence to both humanity and the earth.
Antoine Walter: You’re saying it didn’t get the same attention. So does that mean that by now it gets the same level of attention?
Scott Bryan: I think we’re still working on it and that’s what we’re all about. But yeah, I, I think from an investment standpoint, water is still less than 1% of all climate. Venture investments and that’s an issue that will change don’t necessarily think that water always fits the venture model.
And I think that’s something that we’ve learned as an organization but certainly at the corporate level and even utilities that are now, racing to net zero that, water solutions I think are getting a lot more attention. I think the challenge though the solutions are often complex or they sit in the back of a wastewater treatment plant and no one ever sees them.
It’s not a solar panel on your roof or a Tesla and your driveway or a windmill on the hill. these solutions can be complex. And how do we demystify them and get, larger audiences of people to understand what water innovation is. And what’s possible.
Antoine Walter: guess that’s exactly. What’s what you do with imagine H2O. I like to go to the roots of that story, because actually you were the first employee, if I’m right. of Imagine H2O. So what’s the story behind that? How do you get to be that first employee and maybe for the two guys in the water industry, which don’t know, Imagine H2O, yet what’s your elevator pitch to Imagine H2O.
Scott Bryan: we’ll really Imagine H2O you show got it started at Harvard business school. And it was Tam and packet and Matt Evans who are on our board that founded the idea and they were working with a professor on what kinds of resources would be necessary. Innovation and startups in the sector, and again, comparing it.
to other industries that they saw.
I just happened to link up with them through a couple different routes. I was in San Francisco again, at the time I was working at Royal bank of Canada and we had just launched a philanthropic initiative called the blue water. That was looking to support water solutions. And we had done a lot of early work with traditional water NGOs, but we wanted something like Imagine H2O.
We just didn’t know it existed. Something that could be about entrepreneurship, innovation, and hope. And that’s what brought us to imagination H2O. Oh. And we actually underwrote the organization for its first three years. I was on a volunteer team helping launch the organization with Tim and Matt.
And we actually did an executive search. We were looking for someone to lead. The organization happened to be 2009. When the financial world was changing pretty rapidly. And I thought, gosh, if we’re not finding the right person, I think I might be that person for the job. And the rest is history.
So it’s been a really. Fascinating ride certainly learning experience to build a new organization in this space.
Antoine Walter: How would you define Imagine H2O today
Scott Bryan: definitely as a water innovation accelerator, that’s the core of what we do, but I think we really evolve the model a bit. So it goes beyond. Purely recognizing the company and our first few years we were business plan competition. We then just saw the winners turn around and leverage the judges, our staff, even our interns to find investors and customers.
So there was a quick pivot toward the accelerator model but still operating under the assumption. The problem was the lack of investment in the space. And that’s where we really focus on building a track record with investors. Since then our alumni have collectively raised over 800 million in early stage investment.
So I think we really proved our ability to be effective there. But over time we saw investors come back to us and say, well, who’s actually using this stuff. Why is the customer adoption piece taking so long? So it’s really been the last five or six years that we’ve really focused on building out a network of tech adopters in the municipal, industrial and agricultural markets that really serve as a.
A platform of warm leads or entities that are willing to pilot new solutions. So I wouldn’t say we’ve solved the customer challenge and water altogether, But I think we’ve really made some great progress as far as creating a place where an entrepreneur can come get their idea, validate it connect with investors, and really benefit from all that we have to offer as an accelerator in the form of capacity development visibility and insight.
Antoine Walter: I’m not the biggest, specialist there is of accelerators, for sure. Not it’s a topic we’ve been discussing on that microphone sometimes like with with Kimberly Baker. Susan M bit more recently with John Robinson. I’m just wondering to me you seem to have a quite special approach to that because you’re a non-profits and because you don’t take equity in the companies, is it special or is it to me, which is wrong with that.
And if it is special, why did you decide for that.
Scott Bryan: We were structured as a non-profit really from the get-go and saw that our work was going to be bigger than simply accelerating startups, but, really. Identifying the challenges and looking at the opportunities to solve them. And we just started with the entrepreneurial piece.
But we certainly understand that there’s ties to policy public awareness and storytelling. There’s a lot that we can be doing as an organization. And hence the name imagine H2O. But in the entrepreneurial space. Yeah, I think we. Been unique in the sense that we were very early mover. And we’ve not taken an equity model.
That’s allowed us to partner with a lot of municipalities that are often the major buyers of solutions, but also the ones that face the most challenges and sometimes political scrutiny. So if we can be a partner to them, And remove any conflicts of interests. We’re not a consulting firm or nor are we a fund that.
really enables us to maintain this neutral convener status.
And I think that gives us a fascinating in a vantage point in the sense that we’re kind of at this nexus between entrepreneurship investment philanthropy and the public sector.
Antoine Walter: I don’t want to push you in a corner. I mean, I get the big picture. I’m just wondering who brings the money in the game because you’re non-profit right. But you still need to be sustaining what you do. What’s the, I mean, business model doesn’t really apply as are a nonprofit but what’s the way all of that works?
Scott Bryan: Yes, we’re non-profit in the business model is impact and outcomes. So a good portion of our funding comes from philanthropies. Oftentimes these are families that have a passion for these issues and are doing a lot of grant making on the water conservation and access side.
And view us as being complimentary to that approach. And sometimes we’re even a toolbox to their grantees. On the corporate side we partner with the likes of Xylem, Suez, Kubota Kurita. TetraTech all of them. View us in a way as of a partner to their open innovation teams. So we’re early eyes and ears on the ground.
That’s again, acts as a filter, but really brings people together. And I think that. Again, because there’s not one single corporate entity that kind of controls everything we do. We are that platform solution that in some cases, peers or competitors are partnering on. So, when I get on our judging calls I’m always impressed to see it.
If people that may be sometimes compete in the market, actually working together, looking at a new solution and thinking about how do we help this entrepreneur?
Antoine Walter: And what are the typical entrepreneurs, which you help, what it was a terrible way to to phrase it. Who are they? What kind of companies do you help?
Scott Bryan: I think the fun part of our job has been , to find those entrepreneurs that are entering from outside the sector that bring talent and know how . From renewables or biotech or big data. That’s I think some of the really rewarding work, but we also worked with serial entrepreneurs that have founded other companies and bring that experience.
And then there’s certainly people that have been in the water industry and it played prominent roles within large corporates, but see an opportunity to do something on their own. So, it’s really going to have a. When I think about the human capital and kind of talent piece of our work, that’s where I really get pretty excited.
Over time we’ve probably moved. Later stage when we first started again, it was a business plan competition. So we even had enough pre-revenue campus ideas submitting their ideas water, smart software, Rob and Peter submitted their draft business plan to imagine H2O.
That was their early indicator of, Hey, this is a go. But I think over time we’ve probably moved more towards early revenue. Companies that have
some kind of technology, at least a prototype. And I think that we’re probably more of a scale up program for those kinds of entrepreneurs, but I don’t want to move too far from our roots and even with our program and Singapore, know, we offer clinic programming to help those kinds of pre-revenue ideas. And I think we’ll do more of that because I think it’s really important. You can’t. Simply be looking at early and got a growth stage companies in this space. You’ve got to, again, kind a prime, the pump, and we thinking about how we bring new talent and ideas in.
Antoine Walter: And how long is your involvement with those companies?
Scott Bryan: Our accelerator programs are typically 10 to 12 months long. But we’re now finding that we’ve got some repeat customers. So, companies like Sentry or Drinkwell that have gone through all three Imagine H2O programs, our accelerator, imagine H2O Asia and the urban water challenge.
So there are times where we’ll work with a company over, I think with Manasseh drink, well, Probably worked with.
him over, off and on for the past six or seven years. Always that kind of the right time for him based on the program that we offer.
Antoine Walter: You’re an accelerator, and you can change the path of those companies. And I do get that you have especially network to make it happen. And I’d like to go a bit deeper into that in a minute, but right before, like to understand a bit the timelines, because. I had the discussion that the microphone with Paul O’Callaghan who wrote his thesis about the dynamics of water innovation, and he was able to show that it takes 12 to 16 years for technology to be in the middle of the market.
And then very concretely. I had Andrew Benedek on that microphone discussing how Zenon took off from the early start in the eighties for the moment where they were in the middle of the market, which is late nineties to two thousands. It seems to me that even if you have the best technology in that very specific markets, that the water industry is it really takes a while and a lot of dedication and we’re discussing decades before you see a major dent.
Can you bend that? And how can you differentiate between resilience to an idea and the commitments to execute it and pushing a dead body?
Scott Bryan: I totally agree with Paul and Andrew on those timeframes and we need to be realistic with all those all who are involved. And I think sometimes people ask us. Differentiates a successful entrepreneur from one that doesn’t succeed in this space. Then oftentimes I find myself talking about the founder and the team and their understanding of those time horizons.
We certainly work with entrepreneurs that just get impatient and move on, and I think that’s a healthy thing that has to happen. But I think in our own work and how do we really bend the arc, if you will, and shorten these timeframes, this is where I’m pretty optimistic more on our work to actually fund pilots.
We provided over 1.4 million in funding to pilots in 16 countries in the last few years. And. One that removes the financial barrier that a lot of utilities will say, Hey, we don’t have the money to do this. Well, if you remove that then it’s pretty amazing how quickly things can happen.
And beyond that, we funded 1.4 million, but the recipients of those funds have then gone on to secure over 7 million and follow on funding. So, everything that we do it really kind of comes with or starts that, where can we be? Catalytic player in this space, but then how do we align with, and find partners who can provide that follow on funding?
So I think that’s one area where I think we can move things faster. But I would say, a lot of our work is trying to help entrepreneurs get to yes or no. And encouraging again, the entire sector to be better at that. Because we can’t afford to have to string a lot of people along or nor can we just be patient and say, well, water’s conservative.
This takes a long time. We really need to be realistic about, what the solution is, who the team is behind it. And can this be something that is really going to be valued in the market over time?
Antoine Walter: In the figures, which you showcase on your website. I saw that you have an 80% survival rate across your, if I’m right, 168 companies in portfolio, and I’m wondering, is that good or bad?
Scott Bryan: Yeah, great question. And I sometimes say, well, there’s an asterix on that because I do think sometimes entrepreneurs hang around a little longer than they should in this space. And I would say there, there is a percentage of our companies, and I think we’ve gotten better at identifying them early and avoiding them where they can go from paid pilot to paid pilot.
And it becomes more of a. Lifestyle business for the founder rather than the true growth opportunity. So, I think we learned our lessons early on there, but I think we’ve gotten better about, identifying companies that have real commercial liability. And I think a lot of this has done.
Partly we’ve been in, thanks to a lot of the judges and people that volunteer their time that bring that expertise. So I think we’ve got a great selection process but then couple that with a really strong accelerator program. And that’s how you get to that number, which by the way, is essentially consistent with most accelerators in Silicon valley.
So when we think about our peers outside the water space, I think it says that we’re doing something right. I do think we could probably start to take more risks. And, not be afraid to see that number decline. Because I think, again, that’s what we all need. We need to be trying things and be thinking bigger than we have in the past.
But I think right now I’m very pleased with that track record that we’ve been able to build over 12 plus years.
Antoine Walter: I found a figure of the the amount of venture money that went into water tech in 2021 because when 22 isn’t over yet, and that was $417 million. And on that same microphone, I had Reinhard Hübner share how, according to his vision of the markets. I mean, what would he. Seeing every day, there’s too much stupid money chasing too few good targets to quote him.
Scott Bryan: Yeah.
Antoine Walter: How can you filter that? Is a stamp saying, image H2O on a company, something which tells investors that it’s a safe bet or do you have that role in, in the market of a catalyst?
Scott Bryan: Oh, yeah. We really help entrepreneurs navigate a very complex investor landscape. And I think because these solutions are so localized or specific to a particular market, there’s not going to be one investor that is , successful at being a resource to a founder across the board.
So I think that. Helping entrepreneurs find the right capital is a role that we can play in the form of us building out our investor network. But that’s not our role to say, Hey investor, this is kind of, this is our take on this company. That’s where I think we let the market do its part.
But I think to that point, agreed last year I think we were about 40% of that number. So, our alumni definitely continue to raise more and more. And I think that there is more capital available is that smart money or not? I think that’s one up for debate.
I do think, again, back to our earlier days, we did see some impact investors come in and they were just so excited to do a water deal that you saw valuations that didn’t necessarily benefit the founder or the investor. So I do think that we need investors. I can share the tough facts with the founder as far as expectations and numbers.
But I do think that there’s better entrepreneur ships are across the board. I think we’re seeing a higher quality of entrepreneur, but also a higher quality of investor in the space. And I would point to, I think. Again, kind of the arc that we’ve been on is this in the sense that we’ve really moved away from being an industry of tinkers to one of entrepreneurs?
I think we’ve gotten better about that. But I also think the investment community has also had to evolve.
Antoine Walter: so that’s , one end of the story. The other end of the story is what you mentioned with your tech adopters. And we’ve been alluding to the fact that this industry is quite conservative. So I’m wondering in a quite conservative industry, where do you find tech adopters, which say, Hey, Imagine H2O is knocking at my door and bringing me a new company.
And for sure, I trust them. Let’s do a pilot.
Scott Bryan: Again, I think that network is really, again, built. Good entrepreneurs to yes, no faster. And having a diverse network of end users that believe in entrepreneurship. But also understand the limits. I would say that, again, it’s important to remember that water is a theme, not an industry, and some industries are gonna move faster than others.
And I don’t think we can always assume that. The fragmented and conservative nature of the market that we see is always going to be true. And I think that whether it be in food and Bev or companies that are find themselves operating in a more. Regulated environment, there will be different timelines for adoption and I’m hopeful.
But again, I can’t say I’d point to one industry that’s able to move faster than others as far as water adoption. I think food and Bev has been a great partner to a lot of entrepreneurs we work with, but , these are very localized solutions and a major food and beverage company might manage its facility in one region, very different than another region.
So finding one water solution that can be rolled out across an entire enterprise is difficult and not always realistic.
Antoine Walter: There’s quite a lot to unpack in what you said. I would say I see two follow up questions. The first is , simply going to give us some example of those tech adopters and what they commit to. And second, when you mentioned food and Bev what did it make sense at some point to. Narrow a bit, the water industry, which you mentioned is not an industry, is a theme, and to say let’s go to some specific verticals.
And and let’s share that we take all the challenges in those verticals and we explore them and we’ve, we find the right companies for those right challenges.
Scott Bryan: Our tech adopters, our leaders generally across the municipal industrial and agricultural sectors. And they commit to a meeting with our entrepreneurs. When there’s a fit, we’re not going to force an awkward marriage. We really want. Impactful outcomes. I think in the municipal space partners like Eby, mud or metropolitan water district have really been active in piloting our solutions.
And in the case of Matt, they’ve even provided additional research funding to our companies. So I think that there are examples in the municipal space. Singapore pub DC water and others where we’ve been an active partner on the industrial side. Yeah. I think just being a California based organization, we’ve had the benefit of being close to the central valley and thinking through.
The wastewater challenges that food and beverage companies have on the processing side, but even growers like Driscoll’s and what technologies can they deploy in the field and sometimes in land that they don’t necessarily own. So I would say it’s as much about, matching entrepreneurs to these networks as it is about us learning about what their pain points are.
And. Messaging them out to our community. Again, I think we’ve got to have entrepreneurs understand what the customer wants, at the outset. And the earlier we can make these conversations happening. So it’s not just about a sale or a pilot. It’s really, what do you need? How can I make your life easier?
That’s the kind of conversation that we often have between our entrepreneurs and our tech adopters.
Antoine Walter: You mentioned how the landscape evolved during the 12 years of existence of imagine H2O. Today, when you’re helping entrepreneurs, do you still have to teach them that it’s not about the tech it’s about solving a customer challenge or is it really something which is a skin, which is, which became even, I know it it’s common place
Scott Bryan: We definitely have to teach that lesson and the application process and certainly have a 250 to 300 companies we see each year. There’s a portion of them that don’t get that. And if anything, the value that we bring to the sector is telling that subset of entrepreneurs of, Hey there’s a market that you’re getting into come back when you’ve identified that beachhead.
On the other hand, I think with entrepreneurs that we ultimately select and work with. They’re big thinkers. They’re ambitious. And sometimes you have to bring them back and say, no, this is the beachhead market that you said you were going to focus on. Yes. You’re trying to hit up, grow or spread the risk and think about how you get into other sectors.
But you’re not going to be able to enter three markets at once. And I think on the digital space, this is where we see it a lot. That’s where it’s.
very tempting for an entrepreneur to say, okay, I can have a few customers in the municipal side and then I can go work with. You know of industrial water as well.
That’s a fine line. And especially around creating cashflow early on for these companies it’s tempting. And I think , our role is to help entrepreneurs understand what the pros and cons of that might be.
Antoine Walter: from the companies you’re in portfolio and all the ones you’re speaking with every year. Do you see a pattern. In where they want to heads, I’ll just give you my preconception. And so you’ll tell me if I’m wrong. My preconception is you hear the stories of bringing water to all of what is scar city, which is hitting quite hard.
And you’re thinking all those people will be lacking water. So I need to help them. And it’s, people’s, who’s going to be the municipal side of it. So I would expect more people looking into that sphere. Whereas, if you look at the water use and the places where the challenges are probably the more intricate and there’s maybe a bit more space for new comers, it’s maybe more the industrial side of things, but you might not discover it straight away.
You might need to get an accelerator to open your eyes and to bring you to the right section of the market. So that’s my preconception. Would you say it’s somewhat accurate or would you fully disagree with it. .
Scott Bryan: I think that the majority of entrepreneurs that we ended up working with they’ve gotten more precise. And maybe that saving the world piece is what’s driving them, but you’re not going to boil the ocean here. You’ve got. To start somewhere. And I think that starting in a beachhead and understanding where you can find those opportunities for scale, that’s what keeps these teams going.
And it’s the same for, ignition that we’ve worked with that, brings tropical weather forecasting to, I think they’re over a million small plot farmers in Africa that they’re working with to a membrane company. I think what keeps these founders going is that understanding of making progress in this space. And.
that can be very tough. If you’re going to say we’re going to go reach a billion people. That’s just not a realistic starting point.
Antoine Walter: And when you discuss. These intrepreneurs. Is there something which is a red flag for you, where you say no way? If that’s your argument where that’s your reason for being in business, where that’s your added value, then it’s not a good fit for us.
Scott Bryan: It first and foremost, we only accept. Startups that are incorporated as a business, or if they’re pre-revenue, they have plans to incorporate as a business. So we’re not supporting other nonprofits. That’s what philanthropy is really set out to do. So we really view a successful. Water innovation business as representing a truly sustainable solution to a water challenge.
So we’re not about, creating more projects. We’re really thinking about what’s going to be valued in the market that will employ people and solve pressing challenges. So, if we’re not talking with entrepreneurs that get that piece, that yeah, we will say. See you later. And sometimes the idea might just be so far off base.
Yes, we definitely need to think big in the context of climate, but yeah, towing icebergs from the Arctic, we’re going to be realistic with an entrepreneur that brings us that idea. And we’ve seen plenty of them. There, there are a lot of people out there trying to do that. Again, I think hats off to everyone.
That’s trying to think of a creative solution, but we are very, I would say realistic about what we’re trying to accomplish as an organization.
Antoine Walter: I made a deep dive and the trilogy on that microphone about towing icebergs, which sounded to me like the most crazy idea when it started. And when it ended, I was like, why did nobody ever try it? So I still don’t have a religion that, where I’m heading with that is how crazy is to crazy.
Scott Bryan: Yeah, I don’t think I have a good answer to that, but I will say reflecting on this question with our team is yeah, we would like to be able to take some more risk and I think we’ve gotten. Good at what we do when it comes to validating idea at providing an access to capital, but are there some technologies out there that kind of delve into the space of a really big thinking?
We’re still going to say no to an entrepreneur. That’s trying to defy the the laws of thermodynamics or doesn’t believe in unit economics. So that’s that piece of reality we’re always going to touch on, but certainly we’ve seen companies come through claim something and our judging panel says that’s just physically not possible.
But I also think we’ve got to keep an eye out for an issue like PFS. We’re still a ways off from having a real suite of solutions that can be deployed in the communities that need it the most.
Antoine Walter: I was to try to push the envelope here, I’m really giving you something which is written. On plates and on t-shirts. So it’s really lame and it’s this sentence, which is attributed to Einstein all the time, and they’re pretty sure and have a pronounced data of craziness is doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes.
So among your advisers, who verifies? I mean, if you come with something which is extreme, thermodynamics was know one example, but really. Far away. I had a discussion on that microphone with Gerald Polack, for instance, on the fourth phase of water and his looking at ways to bring that to market and to bring technologies around that yet, if you go to physicists, they would tell you that they are not four phase of water, that aging phases of water, and those are the rules of thermodynamics.
But yet the exception of Gerald when it comes to the force of his water is very different from a physician, which is looking. The table of elements. So some will call it genius. Some others would call it being a different kind of thinker and some others would say it’s crazy.
Scott Bryan: Yeah.
Antoine Walter: And you will have to decide in which box you put it.
And what’s your process for that?
Scott Bryan: Yeah I think. We’ve got to get better about creating those sandboxes, if you will, where those ideas can thrive. I think that there’s some exciting. Developments on the research side, just from a pure federal funding aspect. So something like now we, which we’re a part of here in the U S a DOE funded initiative on desal and energy.
That’s we need to be able to encourage that kind of R and D and provide the support mechanisms for researchers. I don’t necessarily think that’s been our role or will be for the foreseeable future. But I think that we can be the right partner when that research starts to show some promise.
Antoine Walter: So this involvement of governments and funding makes for very good transition towards Singapore, which is the country known for having decided in the sixties that if they wanted , to become what they wanted to become, they had to start with water and the result is spectacular.
And you’ve opened H2O Asia one year ago, if I’m right.
Scott Bryan: It’s actually 2018. So we’ve been over there for a little while and have run a three, three cohorts there now.
Antoine Walter: What was the aim of creating something dedicated to that region? And what did you differently there that you would be doing from the original Imagine H2O?
Scott Bryan: Yeah. I think of a phrase that stuck with me very early on in our days and imagined the stroke came from David Stanton and that’s water is a global opportunity at a local market. And I think as we started to. Evolve as an organization and look around the world for where are those markets that are moving faster?
Southeast Asia was just an, a natural one. And we had discussions with Singapore pub on and off, really from the very founding of imagine H2O. So when the time was right. We set out to build something there that wouldn’t just be an accelerator for Singapore for entrepreneurs from Singapore, but also be a kind of a deployment bridge if you will, for global entrepreneurs and regions throughout the region.
So, that’s been a different piece to do both the acceleration and the deployment piece in one program. That’s allowed us to work with very early stage and pre-revenue ideas from, local universities and entrepreneurs, but also be a great resource for a company like century from
Canada, looking to deploy solutions in Vietnam.
Antoine Walter: So, how do you help you in the same program? That those very. Types of companies.
Scott Bryan: Yeah, it’s essentially two different tracks. But it’s yeah, it’s accelerator resources for regional startups but more on the deployments. For global ones or growth stage companies that are they’re really ready to deploy there. And that’s where we’ve launched a new partnership with the world bank called w tap, where we can provide pilot funding to entrepreneurs working throughout the region.
So that, that’s a really, I think, exciting piece for us to be able to provide that support with a partner like the bank
Antoine Walter: You mentioned this global opportunities and the local markets. Do you have further plans to expand your coverage of the various regions?
Scott Bryan: I think that’s still in the cards for us. And that’s really what we set up to do. And we started imagining show Asia, but on the other hand, we were reminded that you got to get this right. And really gonna prove that the model can work at the hub or regional level. Very positive and optimistic about what we’ve done there, but I still think there’s a lot that we can be doing across Southeast Asia and south Asia.
If anything, I’ve looked at our applicant numbers and to see increasing interest from entrepreneurs in India. And I think there’s a lot more that we could be doing there via our standard programming or something.
Antoine Walter: So you have three tracks. So we have the imaging H2O, original
Scott Bryan: Yeah.
Antoine Walter: Imagine H2O Asia. And what’s your third truck
Scott Bryan: The urban water challenge
that really started in the aftermath of Cape town and day zero. We were working with some of our philanthropic partners on what.
do you do for these coastal cities that really are on the brink. And it’s been a fascinating partnership. 11th hour racing is one of the partners on it.
Ocean kind, being the other. Those are both philanthropic organizations. Have a strong commitment to ocean health, but also see the connection between ocean health and wastewater. So that’s a, that’s certainly a piece of it. But really thinking about scarcity circularity, decarbonization, decentralization, those are all themes within that program.
And the award is up to a hundred thousand dollars per pilot through the urban modern challenge. So it’s really become our Marquis pilot funding metrics.
Antoine Walter: mentioned how century was taking all the. So, what did they do in the urban watershed?
Scott Bryan: They were actually deploying a solution the wastewater treatment plant in south hollow and using that program to test out the international markets. And since I think they’ve done more of a focus on Southeast Asia and that’s where they’ve participated and Imagine H2O Asia over the last they were, we were just with them in Singapore water week a few weeks ago.
Antoine Walter: I mentioned it in the opening, how Imagine H2O is always referred as to the leading water innovation accelerator. And I think it’s not only referred to us that it really is that you’re 12 years in, in between. Many other programs have been launched is it’s all serving the same cause and hence very good news across the board, or is it competition?
Scott Bryan: Look, I think the more resources for entrepreneurs in this space, the better we need to help them win. This is in general entrepreneurship and innovation remains an underutilized resource in the global search for solutions. And I think the more that we can do the better on the other hand, I’d like to see more coordination across these programs.
And I do. Wonder how many accelerator programs does a startup need to go through? And is there a point of diminishing returns that a founder might be tempted by, grabbing more attention and headlines versus you, at some point you really got to go operate a business. And again, we learned the hard way early on, we gave some gold stars to entrepreneurs that could win a business plan competition?
Running a business was another piece of it. So I really think if we’re going to be, if this is a route kind of helping entrepreneurs, when we’ve got to be very strategic about where these programs help them and when and make it less confusing. But, I know there’ll be more programs in this space and I, again, I think largely it’s a good thing.
But I do come back to, how does this make the N entrepreneur’s life easier and that’s not always the case.
Antoine Walter: What’s your long-term vision, because I had seen when you had 150 companies in portfolio was saying, we have 150 and we want to have 150 more, which sounded to me like a way to say we’re here for 12 more years, but also that there’s an end to it. So is it like that or what’s your longterm.
Scott Bryan: Long-term name is. Take what’s been a successful model and scale it. So I think our pilot funding is a great opportunity of where that four or $500,000 a year. Be a multiple of that. And instead of thinking about 40 pilots, how do we think about 150? So that’s a piece of it. We definitely want to keep an eye for quality over quantity.
But I do think you’ll see us do more on the ecosystem building side and being, providing more offerings to the entrepreneurs. We decline each year recognizing that some of our best companies have applied to Imagine H2O three or four times before they get in. So I think that will be another aspect of it, but I think any good nonprofits should be thinking about its ultimate demise.
You’re here to solve a market challenge. And if you don’t. Nailed it, as far as creating a lasting solution then you have to really question the model. So I think for us, as you start to see a healthier ecosystem for innovation, in which an entrepreneur can easily find the talent and capital and customers, then there’ll be less of a need for this kind of work.
But clearly there’s still a long ways.
Antoine Walter: And what’s your north star metric for success. Is it Imagine making spectacular exits, or is it this fact that you’re now able to disappear because the challenge you wanted to solve is.
Scott Bryan: Exits are nice. But I think the north star there has to be beyond the transaction. And does the buyer actually turn that solution into something that. They’re scaling across their platform And that they’re really selling it. And building the business. So that’s, on the exit side, but as an organization, look, we’re not here to find a silver bullet.
We’re really here to. Kind of find millions of acts that people and businesses can take to ensure a more sustainable future when it comes to water. So that’s not always thinking big and centralized. It’s thinking small. It’s thinking about affordability. It’s thinking about jobs. It’s really looking at the big picture and how do we make these solutions last and not be something that everyone gets excited about.
And then three years later, it’s gone!
Antoine Walter: And really a tricky question to, to close that deep dive. If I’m asking you, your favorite child among these 168 companies in portfolio, what is your preferred.
Scott Bryan: We like them all. We like most of them. But no, I, again just have a really fun time in Singapore working with some of our insurers there a few weeks ago. I think Mohammed sheriff Hartman from hydro leaf is somebody that I just get really excited about as a founder amazing personal story, but an impressive wastewater treatment business.
That’s working with industry in Southeast Asia. I think about someone like Bessie shorts that cloud the street he’s really. They of helping the insurance sector think about risk and flood management in a very informed way. Greg knew bloom from membrane would be another one. Yeah.
He’s in the membrane space, but I think Interesting take on it. We’re often cautious about getting of working in that space, but it’s a kind of founder like him. That’s got a novel technology and solution, but as also thinking I think really. Creatively about the story around decarbonization and what water innovation can mean.
So maybe those are just three entrepreneurs that have been on my mind a lot lately. But I think that as a collective I’m really been hopeful about where we’re seeing them think about decarbonization in the water sector. And how do we solve climate through water solutions?
Antoine Walter: I think your answer is revealing. asked you Which company is your favorite one and you answered with three entrepreneurs. So what matters is really the entrepreneurs more than the tech the vertical or whatever. It’s three that, those, I mean, people have changed a word, not.
Scott Bryan: Yes, definitely. I mean, I think there’s some technologies that we’ve identified and supportive and yes, there’s a good founder, but you also say, gosh, if this worked, this could be big. But more often than not.
we’re thinking about, Hey, is this is this someone that has a real eye for a beachhead?
And has a believable, incredible story. That’s ultimately going to attract the team the capital and the customers to scale. And without that center person, that will be hard to do.
Antoine Walter: Scott. It was a fascinating dive on the sit, on the surface of what you do with Imagine H2O. And there would be much more to, to uncover and to unveil, but I think for a first pass, that was where this is really fascinating from my end. I propose you to run it off and to switch to the rapid fire questions.
Scott Bryan: The tough ones!
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Rapid fire questions:
Antoine Walter: Actually there’s one. We’re really looking for your answer, but let me start with the first one. What is the most exciting project you’ve been working on, and why?
Scott Bryan: I again, I would point to this growing expertise and capability on the pilot funding side in both our urban water challenge and the w tap partnership with the world bank are both examples of where we’re just, we’re going beyond of helping the entrepreneur. Build their business, but to really make an impact in the markets that need innovation the most.
So when we think about expanding access to innovation, I think pilot funding and our role there plays a really exciting role.
Antoine Walter: Can you name one thing that you’ve learned the hard way?
Scott Bryan: One thing that we’ve learned the hard way I think that. I think it’s, it took us longer to build the organization early on than we realized and building a track record in this space because in a way?
look there accelerators weren’t commonplace in any sector at the time. That certainly they were starting to take. Shaped faster in the tech space and other parts of Silicon valley.
But I think it was hard for us to be in Silicon valley, looking around us and seeing have rapid growth in other spaces and wondering, well, why isn’t this happening faster? So I think that was a tough lesson early on. I’d love to be acting in and thinking bigger and faster in the future. But I also think that we bring that sense of reality , that we all need in the space.
Antoine Walter: Curiosity. Who was your company? Number one.
Scott Bryan: Ooh that first year or two companies that we really helped. One was fruition sciences, which was working with vineyards. And they had a SAP flow sensors that were deployed being deployed in vineyards and both California, France and Chile. Use less water make better wine. That was their value proposition.
So that was a fun one to work with. And then water smart software was an early one from that first year where, really thinking about what are the service-based offerings in this space of, what can what’s been done successfully in energy and how can that be applied to water? I think that was one of the lessons and, exciting pieces of that first.
Antoine Walter: So sorry for the sidetrack. I was curious,
Scott Bryan: Ah, sir,
Antoine Walter: is there something you’re doing in your job today that you will not be doing in
Scott Bryan: I think we will be doing less education of the market to outsiders. I think we get a lot of potential partners, whether they be from philanthropy or corporate saying, tell us about. Water solutions and why we need to care. I think there’ll be less of that. I think there’ll be more urgency and greater clarity around what’s actually needed to solve these things.
And I think, again, that evolution on our side more towards actually funding pilots as is a piece of that, that we’ll be doing more of.
Antoine Walter: What is the trend to watch out for in.
Scott Bryan: Maybe more of a cautionary one. I, I think that we’ve been really excited about water as a service, and then he had a service-based models. I think that COVID has driven an important transition in.
that mindset. But I think again, we need to be realistic about the limits here and the truth is that we’re not seeing a lot of municipalities.
Going into service-based contracts with startups. Although we talk about that happening. I also think investors are cautious because, they would rather see an outright sale or some investors would on the other hand, corporates are, yeah, they’re going to always want to keep things off their balance sheets.
So they, I think there’s competing interests and we need to be realistic with entrepreneurs and the sector about what this means. I think longterm definitely. That’s where we’re going. But the pace and the steps that are required to get there. That’s where I think there needs to be a real open conversation and analysis of when and how we’re going to get there.
Antoine Walter: If you were a word political leader, what would be your very first action to influence the fate of the world’s water challenges?
Scott Bryan: I think it’s so many ways our water challenges are often a crisis in governance. So, I think we really got to do a lot to. Clarify policies And in other cases, enact new policies. And I think I’m hopeful though, in the sense that water can be a convener and certainly in this country where we’re very politically divided.
And I look around the, the Rocky mountain west, for example, I think that you can see some people coming together. Both sides of the aisle around this issue of wash water scarcity, and long-term risk to economies and in ways of life. So I think that it’s going to get harder, but I’m optimistic about what’s possible from a policy standpoint, but certainly it’s going to take some leadership and some different models and thinking than what we’re, we’ve been here.
Antoine Walter: And finally last question. Would you have someone to recommend me that they should definitely invite on that microphone?
Scott Bryan: Well, I think Greg Bessey and Mo as I just mentioned,
Antoine Walter: I wouldn’t have guessed.
Scott Bryan: From our they just come to mind because they’ve been top of mind here recently, but happy to walk through the Imagine H2O show portfolio and see if there’s some other great entrepreneurs and thinkers and really leaders that should be on this panel.
Antoine Walter: Well, Scott, it’s been a pleasure if people want to follow up with you, where should I redirect them? The.
Scott Bryan: Imagine H2O dot Org is where it all lives. So please come there. If you’re a startup, you can register if you’re an investor or a tech adopter, that’s interested in connecting with our startups, you can do that. And if you’re a corporate or a philanthropy, we certainly welcome a conversation with you.
Antoine Walter: Thanks for your openness. Thanks a lot for everything you’ve shared today and thanks for the recommendation. But. I would love to recommend yourself again, but to go deeper into that matter. But it was really a pleasure to discuss with you and yeah. Thanks a lot.
Scott Bryan: All right. Thank you for having me and yeah. Look forward to being on again.