With the inception of its Innovation Labs, Xylem intends to provide a common framework for the water innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems to work with the US Giant.
Why and How? Let’s review!
with 🎙️ Sivan Zamir – VP Xylem Innovation Labs
💧 Xylem is one of the largest water and wastewater technology company globally and follows the simple motto: “Let’s solve water”
What we covered:
🔬 How Xylem invests in its R&D to stay on top of the Water Technological Game
💡 How approaches to innovation are evolving, and how that led to the inception of the Xylem Innovation Labs
🤝 What the various tracks of XIL actually are, and how do they bridge the best of Xylem’s internal world and of the water entrepreneurship ecosystem
🛣️ How the name of the game is to improve the market access for new Water Technologies
🍫 How it doesn’t depend on one specific stakeholder group to make innovation happen: it is all about “passing the baton” that happens to be the entrepreneur
🪦 How to avoid “death by pilot” and which frameworks to deploy for that
🇺🇸 How making technology work in California is a good proxy for the United States and, ultimately, the World
🧑🤝🧑 How innovation always comes down to people
🚀 How Sivan intends to feed the Xylem Innovation Labs with her startup spirit and acumen
6️⃣ The six areas of interest Xylem intends to focus on – and Sivan’s favorite child
🧠 How mindsets evolve and how people become more interested in new technology adoption
🏭 How many of the water innovations to come might already be deployed in other industries
🚀 Investments and partnerships with Burnt Island Ventures, the Westly Group, and Isle Utilities, moving the needle in a conservative industry, building a sit for everyone at the table…
🔁 Evolving innovation timelines, business model innovation, silver bullets not existing, Xylem as a bridge between diverse worlds, learning from others’ trials, finding a cultural fit between small and large companies, innovation as a service… and so much more!
🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥
🔗 Have a look at the Xylem Innovation Labs’ website
🔗 Come say hi to Sivan on Linkedin
is on Linkedin ➡️
Teaser: Bring Innovation to Market
Infographic: Bring Innovation to Market1397244-Linkedin-Infographic-S5E15_0622222
Table of contents
These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂
Antoine Walter: Hi Sivan, welcome to the show!.
Sivan Zamir: Hi, I’m so glad to be here.
Antoine Walter: I’m excited to have you, because in just about three weeks, you’re the second vice president of Xylem I’m talking with. So I’m starting to think that’s I’m on a series, right? And before we go into all the serious stuff, we will be discussing today. There’s just one question for me, which is you’re located in Los Angeles right now.
And when I had Austin Alexander on that microphone, she mentioned that she was located in Montana. I’m wondering, how are you distributed around the world and how do you manage that fact that you’re not all at the same place, given your role and positions within Xylem
Sivan Zamir: That’s a really good question. So I think that one of the opportunities that we have at Xylem as a global company is the fact that water is so local. And yet now we’ve had the opportunity to really globalize it. So with our local presence, we can serve our local markets and customers, but by also having people located in different regions, all over the world and running a centralized and global teams, we also have the opportunity to connect all of those different local regions with our.
Global resources. So we can talk across regions. You know what we’re seeing in different locations, I run a global teams, ILM innovation labs, which I know we’re going to get into and talk about throughout this podcast. But my team has the opportunity to also connect different regions, given the fact that they have a global purview.
So I actually think that it’s a really exciting opportunity that we have to work globally, which interestingly. We’ve gotten more used to doing in the water industry throughout the pandemic. So I would say that’s one of the positive takeaways that we’ve had through Corona virus is the fact that people have gotten more used to interacting globally, which has really given us that opportunity.
So I think it’s an exciting thing that we’re able to.
Antoine Walter: So you cracked the secrets. We’re going to talk about the innovation labs. And I’m wondering, because you’re located in California, which is the hurts of the startup. Eldorado. If you look at it from a global perspective is that a key asset for you?
Sivan Zamir: So one of the things that I used to say when I was leading different water technologies, startup. Is the fact that I always considered California to be the Eldorado. I think you named it correctly, the Eldorado of testing out new technologies. At the time, if you ran a global water technology company and you?
could prove out the technology in the United States, oftentimes it was widely accepted in the other locations.
And within the United States, California was the gold mine. If you will, if you could prove out the technology here, given the complexity of the entire regulatory landscape and all of the regulations in place. So if you could make a technology work here, you could make it work anywhere. So oftentimes I would recommend that we use California as the central test bed.
If you will.
Antoine Walter: There’s another thing, which usually at that stage, I’m trying to put my guests in a box and I desperately tried to put you in a box. And I can’t exactly name how I would frame that box, because I’ve seen that you’ve been a researcher, a mentor and advisor, a consultant, a board member now vice presidents of one of the largest companies in the water industry.
You’ve been in the water startup nation. Which is Israel, which we discussed extensively on that microphone. A couple of times now in California, which is usually when you mentioned California, then people say water scarcity, water reuse…, I mean, all those hot topics in the water industry. So first, do you have a box in which you would fit yourself?
And second, how did you end up at Xylem and heading the innovation.
Sivan Zamir: Ooh. If I fit into a box, I’m going to say hard. No on that one. Probably not. But you know, I think there is a common thread throughout my career. I started my career as the construction manager. I’m trained as a civil engineer and I started my career working out in the field, wearing a hard hat and steel toe boots.
And one of the things that I always found, Interesting. Most fascinating, most challenging is how you really bring highly technical concepts to life. And so what I mean by that, in the construction world. And I know we’re talking about water here today, But there’s, I do think there’s a lot of parallels is that all you have all of these brilliant engineers, architects and other people that are designing a building, for example, or a piece of infrastructure.
And you’re relying on the laws of physics, the properties of materials taking into account climate impact. And yet, the thing is that with all of those best laid plans, you can have thousands of pages and all of the software running behind it to help design that building. The thing that brings that to life is people.
And so when I went from the construction industry, moving over to the water industry, I made that switch. When I moved out to Israel, as you point out, I lived in Israel for about 10 years as well. I had the opportunity to switch and work in the water sector and bring a couple of new technologies to market in the water sector.
And I was fascinated again, by the fact that new technology on its own is fascinating, but how that actually gets to market and makes an impact in the real world is through people coming together to, to bring that to market. so I would say that’s maybe the common thread, although it doesn’t fit into a box
Antoine Walter: think it’s an element which we have. Discussed a couple of times on that microphone, how hop connecting the people and putting the people at the center is probably a right way to connect things. We’ll be going a bit deeper into the innovation labs in just a minute.
But right before I’d like you in really under 40 seconds to give me your best elevator pitch to the Xylem innovation labs.
Sivan Zamir: All right. I can do 40 seconds or less. like I said, I spent a lot of time bringing new technologies to market a lot of effort on spearheading that work. And I had worked with many of the largest companies in the water sector and seen and experienced many of the challenges of corporate service partnerships.
And I really felt that I could bring that perspective from the startup side, from the new technology side to a large company. And so with Xylem in particular. I saw that opportunity. To be part of a company with a really compelling mission. I think we can all agree and acknowledge from outside in that, that there’s a very compelling mission that Xylem has, which is to solve water.
And that by working with Xylem could have a significant amplified impact and bring not just one technology to market at a time, but multiple technologies. And so my pitch to the Xylem leadership was that I wanted to be a part of building the innovation program I wish had existed when I was a founder, which today is Xylem innovation labs.
Antoine Walter: what I’d like to explore in our deep dive is try to understand how the innovation labs fit into Xylem strategy and into the water sector. As a whole, I know that you’ve been reading Paul O’Callaghan’s thesis on the dynamics of water innovation, and. One of the thing, which he lists. I think it’s in the introduction is how the water industry invest in R and D and Xylem is one of the company that he explicitly names and he underlines how.
Investing more than the average and more than most of the companies with about 4% of your turnover, which goes to innovation, which makes an average of $180 million. And my first question is to try to understand how the innovation labs fit into that. Is it part of R and D? Is it something which comes on top of it or what’s the link between both.
Sivan Zamir: Xylem’s innovation labs it is a part of xylems R and D ecosystem. So you hit the nail on the head there. And if I have the numbers, right, I think in 2021, our R and D spend was $204 million. Is what I had read from the books. But what we’re doing at Xylem innovation labs is really complimenting all of the internal R and D that we have going on at the company by scouting and partnering with technology companies that are outside of Xylem.
So it’s really a compliment to all of the other R and D work that we’re doing. And together Fullscope creates an entire picture of Xylem’s, R and D efforts.
Antoine Walter: So that’s the first thing I’d like to unpack, which is there’s the internal stuff and there’s this external stuff. How do you differentiate between both. And don’t tell me some are internal, all the external, because I know my question is not framed the right way but how do you bring all of that into music?
Sivan Zamir: the way that I think about it, The concept of corporate innovation and corporate innovation is not a new concept it’s been used in industries for the last 20 years with technologies that are advancing faster and faster in the global landscape, large corporations started to understand and recognize that not every brand new thing to market was going to, be developed internally.
And so started in investing. Having teams embedded within their R and D departments that would help to, augment or act as a supplement to the internal R and D work that they were doing. So that’s effectively how we see ourselves and how we position Xylem innovation labs is really, like I said, complimenting our internal R and D teams so that they can focus on the things where they have the most strengths, if you will, and leverage their strengths.
And then we go ahead and augment that by looking at external technologies and companies.
Antoine Walter: to see if I got it, that means you have your core R and D and then are some topics where you feel, oh, we have some added value. We could help other companies, that’s the internal track to they come to you and you collaborate. And then there’s areas where you say, oh, that’s very interesting, but maybe not part of what we can do.
In-house let’s look at external companies so that they can supplement us is that’s an over simplification.
Sivan Zamir: Nope. I think you got to just, right. I think maybe you could answer that question for me in the future.
Antoine Walter: Then, let me take one step back. how did Xylem decides to go for this innovation labs? What’s the problem you try to solve?
Sivan Zamir: Xylem actually has been investing in working with universities and startups and new technology companies for some time. And this last year, what we really did is we built on those efforts and we renamed our external innovation partnerships team as Xylem innovation labs, but it is work that’s been going on with.
A while across the company. And our goal is really to make sure that we’re identifying technologies. As you mentioned, when you were talking about. Corporate innovation and internal versus external work. So we’re making sure that we identify technologies that are really in alignment with Xylem strategy, and then what we do and what we’re bringing to the table is creating a clear process of how to engage with Xylem and to investigate whether or not there’s a fit for us to partner.
So it’s really creating that clear process, clear workflow, touchpoints decision-making. And so on that often.
There’s so much frustration around working with large companies and a big part of what we’re doing through the Xylem. Innovation labs team is clearing water that up.
Antoine Walter: that is what you do inside and outside. It’s this partnership you have with , burnt Island ventures, what’s different for a company that would be working with you and for a company that would be. With your support with burnt island ventures.
Sivan Zamir: That’s an excellent question. So our investments in burnt island ventures, and we also are a limited partner in LP in Westlake. It’s really complimentary to the work that we do at Xylem innovation labs, Burnt island.
ventures. They focus specifically on early stage water deals while the Westley group focuses on growth stage digital and industrial technologies ranging from cyber security to advanced manufacturing.
They also work on energy And mobility. And so what our investments in those funds do is give us visibility into technologies and companies across the entire sector, and also across growth stages, which is phenomenal. And when you ask and when you mentioned, how does that work differ? If a company is getting support, for example, from Burnt island ventures and Xylem innovation labs, there are a couple of companies that are part of both programs.
. One of the things that I talk about a lot is the fact that new technologies coming to market, that’s not going to be made possible by one particular stakeholder groups, so as Burnt Island as an examples of venture capital firm, we are a large technology and solutions provider. It’s an entire ecosystem problem.
So by a company, working with a venture capital firm, And with Xylem, we actually have interests that are aligned. They’re bringing capital and business acumen and guidance to the table while at Xylem, we’re able to bring technical and channel access and opportunities to the table. So it’s a really good partnership across the board.
Antoine Walter: what’s the typical portrait of one of these companies? What is the typical size. A good suit for the internal one. What’s the typical size, which would be a good suit for the other way. I mean, you said it’s early stage for burns island and it’s lead to stage or growth stage for Wesley group.
But how does that translate into how many founders, how many people working inside? How many projects they already have?
Sivan Zamir: a good question. Engage with companies at various different stages. So we work with universities, that’s all the way back at sponsored research and technology transfer level. So technology readiness level, that’s pretty early days all the way up to technologies that are growth stage that have quite a bit of traction in the market already It really depends on. What stage the technology is at what commercial readiness level that it’s at and what the needs are of our customers in a verge or internal business. So that doesn’t quite give you an exact breakdown, but we do have?
a pretty expansive funnel in terms of the types of technologies that we’re looking at different stages.
So I can’t say that we only look at technology readiness level of five or six And upward, if something to that.
Antoine Walter: And what’d you expect from this companies?
Sivan Zamir: We expect to be able to engage with them in a commercial capacity, the ones that are in a later stage. So the ones that are a later stage working with Xylem partnering with Xylem could look like. Culminating, any white labeling agreement, any reselling agreement and a licensing agreement, if the technology and the commercial readiness is there, if it’s at the earlier stages than what we might be doing is working with those companies?
to help advance their technical development.
Accelerate that for just a little bit. And in the meantime, we get a good up close look at what those technologies are and help us frame our thinking about how to approach the market when it is ready for marketability and commercialization
Antoine Walter: And do you have a typical frame as to how you work with them? I mean, the size of the stakes you take or how long you expect them to take you to go into the next level of the journey.
Sivan Zamir: the way that we engage. All of these companies, we’ve got two different tracks within the Xylem innovation labs program. We’ve gotten earlier stage technology track. And So these are with companies whose technology readiness levels a little bit earlier stage on the scale there and there we work with them to accelerate their product development.
Those are not necessarily companies that we are looking to bring to market at this exact moment, but we are looking for some opportunities for deployment and for piloting. On the other side, we have an accelerator program, which is more like a commercialization or commercial partnerships program.
And in that program, it’s a six to nine month program where we do commercial pilots of the company’s technologies, and also work on building the business case around that particular technology and see how we might be able to leverage that partnership and leverage Xylem’s channel access to bring that technology to market.
So it’s a discreet timed programm.
Antoine Walter: my timeline question, wasn’t innocent. I think your guessed. We will have the chance to share the same panel at BlueTech Forum in Vancouver. And the panel is a beach under the umbrella of Paul O’Callaghan‘s body of work. Aside from giving the shares of RND investment of Xylem within your turnover.
That’s not the body of the work. The bulk of the work is about the dynamics of water innovation and he gives typical timelines of how long it would take for a technology to go until the middle of the market. And I’ve been discussing on that microphone with Andrew Benedek, who’s the perfect example of how Paul is, right?
Because he started a membrane company in the eighties, beginning of the NTS the MBR market just boomed at the end of the nineties, which means that for almost 20 years, he was a prophet in the desert. And from the two thousands up to 2010, he was like
the king of the game.
He was in the middle of the market. So it gives you a sense of how long you’ll have to push in the middle of the desert. Before you get to that point where really you get traction. Now I’m wondering if I was heading the Xylem innovation labs, which is not my case, of course, but if it was in your shoes, I would have a hard time investing in companies and expecting a return on investment, which takes about 20 years.
So is that a problem? Is that a tricky market to be in the water industry? And it’s typical timelines, or do you think you have a way to beat the game?
Sivan Zamir: An excellent question. In terms of Paul’s thesis, dynamics of water innovation. I mentioned to you before that I’ve read that. And I oftentimes cite and quote Paul’s work, especially the analogy or the metaphor of the passing of the Baton of technologies from different stakeholder groups.
The way that I like to think about it is that Baton is the technologists themselves. And so the technologist is the constant in that entire equation. So. All of the different stakeholder groups, bringing that technology for their working with the technologist to bring that technology for, to market in terms of the average time to market the 12 to 16 years, I think we’re seeing things change from both perspectives.
From the market perspective, people are becoming more and more interested in new technology adoption becoming more, open, more receptive. There is regulation in place that is helping push forward a number of the different technologies that we need to help to solve a number of the world’s water challenges.
We also have different kinds of business models that are there to help bring those technologies forward, to overcome some of that valley of death, of piloting that I think The desert that you were referencing which a lot of technologies get stuck in this loop of piloting over and over. Or we call it a death by pilot.
So. Trying to avoid that and come up with creative solutions from government, on the regulatory side, also government private funds, venture capital, different kinds of financing to help overcome things from the financing side. Also in terms of customers people in the workforce are becoming more and more open and receptive to working with new technology. So I think we’re seeing a lot of cultural change there from all different stakeholder groups, like I mentioned. And then in terms of the timeline itself, the types of technologies are changing as well. So a lot of the technologies that Paul talks about are treatment technologies, which are much more capital intensive.
And now what we’re seeing is a lot more on the digital side technologies for our asset management, anything from satellite remote sensing to predictive maintenance technologies, to, augmentation of SCADA systems like wastewater network optimization. So those kinds of digital technologies that are much less capital intensive, that our OPEX systems are going to have a faster adoption rate by the market
Antoine Walter: The first part of your answer, which goes along the regulation is what Paul would qualify as crisis driven. So I think that’s the part he covers. Then the second part where you mentioned the business models, I’d have to reread Paul’s body of work. So maybe I’m wrong, but I think that’s the part, which is really changing right now fully with you.
When you mentioned business model, I mean, what do you exactly encompass within that? Is it. The buzzwords like water as a service, which beats the barrier to adoption because there is no risk or much less risk to adopt a new technology. Always steer much more meat on that bone and isn’t like integral to what you’re doing with this company is beyond the technology to also look at the business model side of things.
Sivan Zamir: I mean the latter. So certainly there’s different kinds of business models like water as a service. And I think that’s definitely intriguing. I find with business model innovation as it’s called in terms of it being a buzzword, it really depends on your customers because some customers have are more favorable towards capital expenditure, some towards operational expenditure.
So you don’t want. I oftentimes will advise companies that you need to be a little bit careful and flexible, especially when you’re entering into the market, because you may not have the opportunity to completely change the way that a customer is able to, or willing to spend their particular budget in any sort of financial cycle.
When I think about business model, you could think about it in a different, a couple of different ways in the first it’s about how technology companies are packaging, their pricing and their ROI and how they approach the market, whether that’s packaged as a CapEx or as an OPEX, and coming up with creative ways to approach the market in that sense, which I absolutely think is important and imperative.
Another way that I think about it is how do we, again, from the different stakeholder groups, because it’s not all incumbent on the technology companies, there’s not one silver bullet of repricing your technology. And then all of a sudden it’s going to be able to make its way to market.
So, the other way that, I mean is how can we come together to overcome different challenges? Of market adoption and accelerate that market adoption. So in one example that I think of is, if you’re familiar with isle utilities, the global municipal consulting firm, they also have their technology assessment group, their tag group which I think a lot of municipalities are familiar with.
They just came up with the concept of the trial reservoir, which is a private revolving loan fund. That funds pilots for municipalities. The caveat is that the municipality has to agree that if certain success criteria are met, then they’re going to turn that trial into a full scale commercial deployment.
And only in that instance to, as the loan fund get replenished. So for me, that is one of the areas where business.
model innovation is thinking about how do we overcome that death by trial, if you will. And Isle utilities in their stakeholder group as a neutral third party in those instances as well, positioned to help accelerate new technology market adoption.
So us at Xylem and Xylem innovation labs were a sponsor of that private loan fund. And because it’s a private loan fund as opposed to a governmental loan program, they have the ability to deploy those funds a lot faster, which I find to be compelling.
Antoine Walter: mentioned as well that people might be changing and that’s, we might see more. I mean, people taking a bit more risk in that area. And if I’m provocative, does that mean that the water industry is no longer the most conservative industry ever
Sivan Zamir: I’m not sure that I would have said that the water industry was the most conservative industry ever to begin with. Oftentimes people will say, oh, you know, and just be dismissive and say the water industry and people in the water industry?
are so conservative. Well, you know, it’s for good reason, I, for one don’t necessarily want.
My local wastewater and water treatment plant operators to be experimenting on the water that comes out of my faucet, that I rely on every single day. So there’s absolutely a reason for the conservativism of the market. I think we can all work together to help. You know, to help move that forward.
And one of the things that I think is exciting that we’re going to see in the coming years is the water industry start to branch out and adopt other technologies from other industries that have been proven and bring those into water. So I think we’re going to actually see an accelerated rate of adoption of technology in the industry that we can borrow from other industries.
We don’t have to create everything ourselves from the ground.
Antoine Walter: that the war industry is conservative for good reasons. I wouldn’t disagree with that. And it’s, yeah it’s really a topic that’s regularly bounced. That’s all the brilliant minds which come in that microphone yet. If I’m digging a bit further into that, I fully get it on the municipal side of the market.
But what about the industrial side of the market? Because are. Of course, water is very important and you don’t want to disrupt your full operation stressed because your water quality was swinging. But I would say it’s not a matter of life or death. So do you see within your pool of adoption, fast movers, let’s say, do you see a difference between industrial players and municipal players?
Sivan Zamir: A hundred percent. I see a difference between industrial and municipal. Well, I don’t know if I should measure that by percentage, but I do see a difference. I do see a difference between the two however, I don’t always know that there’s an overlap. So what I mean by that is when I’m talking to startup founders and entrepreneurs about market entry, you can certainly start for example, improve at your technology in the industrial sector, but that’s still not going to.
Pardon the pun hold
water. In terms of adoption in the municipal sector, you’ve still got
to play the long game and work in the municipal sector. Prove out your technology there and take it. On the industrial side of things we’re seeing a lot more industrials make these net zero water proclamations.
And I think the understanding, the conception around water scarcity and clean tech, they’re starting to merge and people understanding that climate change and water chain are synonymous. They’re one in the same. So now from net zero carbon goals, we’re starting to see net zero water goals.
And there’s still a lot to do there as far as standardizing and talking about what that means and how to implement that. But a lot of industrials we’ve seen Pepsi and Meta and gap, make those proclamations just in the last year. And those folks are not necessarily water experts. So they’re going to rely on companies like Xylem in order to bring those technologies for that are going to be needed to meet those net zero water goals.
Antoine Walter: You mentioned a while ago in our conversation, how your innovation labs are aligned with Xylem strategy and should be a way to, to achieve that strategy. And hence, it’s interesting to see a bit the vision you have of the future because you have six. Focus areas within what you do. And those six are decentralized treatments, decision, support systems, digital asset management, contaminants of emerging concern, water, quality monitoring, and water reuse.
So you have this six focus areas. If I ask you, who’s your favorite child within those six, do you have one that you pick and you say that’s the one, maybe you personally, you prefer, maybe it’s not even the most relevant. Is there one
Sivan Zamir: If I had a favorite. Interestingly, my background is probably the least rooted in treatment and more on the side of digital twin and internet of things. Those were the two companies that I was on the founding team of, we’re in those spaces. But I would say that I’m leaning now more towards decentralized treatment.
I really like the opportunity to provide local communities with the ability to localize and treat their own water and become self-sustaining and independent. And what’s wild is that from California in the central valley, which is you know, I live in Southern California, but the central valley here, we have communities that are in need of decentralized systems all the way to many of the emerging markets regions that we work in.
I think to put the control of being able to be self-sustaining and meet one
of your needs in everyday life, which is water in your own hands. Just like we’re starting to do with power grids is really an important technology and you’re going to be even more so, as we move into the future.
So all the digital stuff is really exciting and definitely, really neat and going to be needed. But decentralized treatment, I think, is something that we really need to pay quite a bit of focus and attention.
Antoine Walter: there’s a clear link between both because it’s hard to have decentralized treatments if they’re not digital, because yeah. If it is centralized, but you need to send all your teams all the time next to the container or whatever it is that will never hold water to copy your pun. And it’s quite funny because honestly, I would say it’s a virtual high five.
That’s also my preferred child in that list.
Sivan Zamir: You’re right. It absolutely is the case that the two go hand in hand, so we can virtual high five and also there’s a virtual handover as well, literally from digital solutions to decentralized treatment. That is one.
of the big challenges is having the operational expertise.
I’ve talked to many companies that do different kinds of decentralized systems and really looked into why they haven’t grown at a faster rate. And it’s because without digital tools to help support them, they still need to have onsite operators in all of those different locations. And so it prevents not only communities from being able to access those decentralized treatment technologies, but also the companies themselves from being able to scale.
Antoine Walter: Which leads me to my next question. Do you have a secret sauce I know. Yeah it’s a very short one. It just wanted to trick you a bit. It’s just because xylem has its innovation labs and all the companies have tried and experimented that field in the past. I will not give names that’s not the point, but I have a hard time finding a successful one.
And I’m wondering what makes. Different and confidence that you will succeed, where , “Fail” a too big of a word here, but they didn’t succeed as much as they expected it.
Sivan Zamir: So I think what you’re talking about is a central innovation teams or corporate innovation teams within large corporations. And I would say. What we’re really doing is making sure that we learn from others and learn from the trials and tribulations that others have experienced in terms of this type of work.
And like I mentioned earlier, corporate innovation. It’s not something new they’ve been around for 20 years and they’ve been adopted and quite successful in other industries like in financial institutions and in pharmaceutical. And you’re starting to see industrials adopt this entire concept more and more including construction companies like with John Deere as an example, and then also across water companies and we’re learning how to do it.
Right. And it really starts again. The customers, what are the customer challenges? What are the customer problems? And we make sure that we are scouting specifically solutions that address those problems, where there is a market fit or where there is a market need. And then. Our team is put together in such a way that it really is an insight outside team, but we have people with all different kinds of backgrounds.
Again, I come back to talking about stakeholder groups. We’ve got folks on the team with, backgrounds that have an acumen in the business world. People who have been at Xylem for a very long time. Entrepreneurs folks who have worked with venture capital firms with government institutions.
And so it really is a team that understands all the different elements of all the different stakeholder groups. So we’re able to bring all of those folks together and really work together on how to bring those new technologies to market. One of the things that is oftentimes an encumbrance is the cultural fit between a small company and a really large company.
And there’s a number of things that we’re doing there to address that I would say. Some of it.
is pretty low hanging fruit. If I’m honest around making sure that there’s a clear point of contact within the large company, making sure that we have clearly defined timelines you know, success metrics response rates, all of that, which can get lost in a large company and Xylem 17,000 people.
We’ve got presence in well over a hundred countries. It’s a very. Large place to navigate if you’re a small company of five to 50 folks. And so just having that consistency and transparency is really helpful. Another thing that we do, which we found to be really valuable is putting on a crash course on how large companies work and specifically how’s Xylem works.
And so we put on this seminar series by Xylem colleagues for the companies that we engage with on concepts, around IP, product development and manufacturing, sales, channel management. And so the company. Have that level of transparency and understanding the emerge better equipped to engage with Xylem.
We’ve gotten really great feedback on doing that kind of work and responses from the founders that we engage with, that they’ve not had that level of transparency in working with large companies before.
Antoine Walter: Awesome. Best practices. Thanks a lot for sharing. Do you have also pitfalls to avoid
Sivan Zamir: Yes, it would be becoming a Namor with the technology for technology sake, which is really hard to do because there are so many interesting technologies, so many fascinating companies, some of these technologies that we see are incredibly compelling. But they have to be driven by an actual customer problem that is compelling enough that customers are able and willing to pay for it.
And so that has to be the driver, which is not always the sexiest thing to say to, you know, when you’re looking at some really neat digital solution, whatever that might be, but you have to make the connection to the market. And so that’s a pitfall that everyone should want to avoid regardless of the industry that they’re in.
Antoine Walter: I’m very curious about your selection process. Is that. You reach out to companies where you feel like discussing with your customers, that there’s a need and they might be fulfilling that need, or is it those companies which pitch you and you judge them as to how compelling they are to this market trends.
You, you know, existing.
Sivan Zamir: Boots on the ground with the market need, what are our customers what challenges are they experiencing today? What challenges are they anticipating to be experiencing five to 10 years from now? They frame out the challenge, the problem. And then that gives us you know, basically The ability to go out into the market and scout, what are the potential solutions to those problems?
So the solutions can be very creative. There’s all different kinds of, you can solve one problem in a multitude of different ways. And so what we do is help to scout and to understand which of the potential selection of solutions are going to best fit to solve that customer problem. But we start with the customer problem, not with market trends
Antoine Walter: Does that make you a kind of innovation as a service?
Sivan Zamir: Interesting question. Yes, I would say innovation is a service. I, why not? If we can do water as a service, why not innovation as a service?
I like that term. Maybe we’ll coin it here. You heard it first right here.
Antoine Walter: So, when it was discussing with you at your colleague Austin Alexander, we discuss how Xylem intends to have an impact on the carbon side of things, on the sustainability side of things and how you walk the talk by having footprint and handprint targets. What is your personal roadmap as to the impact you’d like to have in the next five years?
Sivan Zamir: certainly at Xylem, we’re looking to work with our colleagues across the company to pave the way for new technology to come to market faster. That is the company-wide issue that we’re looking at. And then within that, there’s a myriad of different problems, myriad of different potential solutions.
That’s the goal. And we have short, medium and longterm goals that are mixed in. Ultimately, and this is something I think a lot about and something I’m looking forward to speaking about next week at BlueTech forum is that one company Xylem one organization. We can’t go it alone. We have to work together with all the other stakeholders with municipalities industrials, government non-profit research firms, consultants resellers distributors.
all of us to address the challenges, the customer challenges that we’re talking about. And so my hope is that some of the work that we’re doing with asylum innovation labs that by collaborating with our industry peers, that we can all be doing this type of thing. And then what we’re talking about then is not if we’re working on innovation and if we’ve got an innovation team or innovation program, but rather that we’re all doing it.
And what we’re competing on is which technologies we’re selecting and which technologies we’re placing our bets on. That’s where I’d like to get, if you’re asking about five to 10 years?
from now, that’s where I’d like to be five to 10.
years from now.
Antoine Walter: It’s an awesome answer, but I’m still pissed because you mentioned everybody, but not your suppliers and now working for one of your suppliers. I’m really sad because we’re not part of that game. Okay. But, okay. Accept it. I’m going to be nasty with the rapid fire questions, but just 2, roll up that section.
. I’m French. Sorry. I have, sometimes a weird French whom are. I’m wondering how’d you measure that success, what will tell you that you succeeded?
Sivan Zamir: What will tell us that we succeeded?
is starting to see some of these technologies come to market faster using the work that we’re doing, both in Xylem innovation labs and propagating across in conjunction with all of Xylem and starting to see those company. Come to market through our sales channels and starting to turn the tide around in terms of how start companies or smaller companies, universities engage with large corporations and really starting to pave the way and change the perception of that work in the industry.
You’ve mentioned a couple of times throughout this interview about the challenges or the difficulties or different perceptions about how that work goes. We’d like to see that change.
Antoine Walter: well, Sivan it’s been a fascinating exploration with you of that intricate word. This innovation, which is sometimes internal, sometimes external, but clearly in a new fashion. If I might dare to say that I propose you to switch to the rapid fire question to run it up.
Rapid fire questions:
Antoine Walter: So in that last section, I tried to keep the questions short and the you duty is to try to keep the answers short.
You’ll notice that I’m the one sidetracking. My first question is what is the most exciting project you’ve been working on, and why
Sivan Zamir: I briefly mentioned it before. I would say the isle utilities, trial reservoir, private revolving loan fund to accelerate. New technologies to market for me as one of the most exciting, because I experienced that pain from the new technology provider side. And so to see a neutral third party come in and be a part of solving that for me is really exciting.
You also mentioned Austin Alexander’s work on sustainability. So the focus of the first fund is on decarbonization technologies. So that’s something that I’m bullish on as well.
Antoine Walter: I have to say, I took a note on that one and that’s really a rabbit hole I like to explore. So maybe you can keep that in mind from my last rapid fire question, but right before I have a second one can name one thing that you’ve learned the hard way.
Sivan Zamir: I’m not sure that we have time for that on this podcast. no, I’m joking. So the thing that comes to mind. To not be afraid to narrow your focus when you’re doing something new, it’s better to do one thing really well to Excel in it versus being average at a whole broad swath of. When you’re a new founder of an, of a new technology company, it’s really hard to do that because you think you’re going to block yourself off from all different kinds of opportunities.
When in fact, if you narrow in on the technology, if you narrow in, on your beach head market, you’re actually going to open up all different kinds of opportunities that you didn’t know existed before. So not to be scared of doing that
Antoine Walter: is there something you’re doing today in your job that you will not be doing in 10 years?
Sivan Zamir: Something that I hope that we’re not doing anymore in 10 years is piloting something for every new customer before it gets adopted at commercial scale. So it’s my hope that we can band together and really rely on reference projects sites. And there is a number of testbeds that exist right now, all over the World.
That are doing that and customers that are becoming more willing to share results. So I think we’re on our way there. We’re just not there yet.
Antoine Walter: so you mean that every water user is no longer a special snowflake.
Sivan Zamir: They’re
all special in their own way, but they just don’t need to repeat the same technologies over and over.
Antoine Walter: What is the trend to watch out for in the.
Sivan Zamir: I would say. Cross-collaboration across industries, which we touched on before as well. We’re seeing other industries like big tech looking at the.
water sector and wanting to get involved. So that’s a really exciting frontier to be working on is how can we collaborate with partners and other industries to bring leading technology that’s already been proven out in other sectors.
And how do we bring that over into the water sector? I think that’s something we’re going to be seeing more.
Antoine Walter: If you were a word political leader, what would be your first action to influence the fate of the words? What are challenges?
Sivan Zamir: So many things come to mind when you ask that question anything from public versus privatization of water, breaking down water management to the watershed versus utility level and also government spending and regulation. There’s something to address in each of those areas. But one of the things I think I would really do getting to the root of how we think about and address water is education in schools.
I know quite a few as well. Everybody listening in does as well, especially in the water industry that we all know other adult professionals that have very little to no idea about where their water comes from and how it gets to their tap, how it’s conveyed, how it’s treated. And that is unfortunate.
And shouldn’t be the case. And that really starts with education.
Antoine Walter: it’s one of the most common water jokes, but it’s also one truth. Where does the water come from? It comes from the top. Yeah. Of have usual answer, you get, but very interesting to see that dedication is on the top of your list. It’s sometimes one of the answers I get, but it’s not though the most the most common one yet.
I’d say it’s probably the one that sustained. So you, I would elect you as a word, principal leaders, you have one voice. That’s a good start
Sivan Zamir: Well, what’s wild is that what’s wild. Is that when I was working on the new technology side and I was located in Israel, I would travel back and forth every six to eight weeks between Israel and the United States building up our sales and distribution channels here in north America. And. My own friends and colleagues and other areas used to joke that working as a water technologist was a really great cover for being in the secret service or being an undercover, Israeli secret service agent, because they couldn’t conceive of what it meant to have a career in water.
They didn’t know people that did that for a living. and I think that has changed a little bit in the last few years with our understanding. Essential services in the water industry throughout the pandemic and not being one of the industries that’s really been highlighted. But before that it was a, it was wild to me.
That was something that they were not familiar.
Antoine Walter: it’s interesting. You mentioned that because that’s one of the. We are tourists. I think we’ve done too much of a good job during the pandemic. We should have just failed at some points. So that’s the water guts disrupted. And then people would have noticed that, that thing, which they have every day in the places, which are blessed to be with running water.
Might disappear. And then you start focusing a bit on it. It’s something you see in the industry when Taiwan experienced some droughts and it was cutting the semiconductor industry, all of a sudden than what his courses, he became, the number one topic on the agenda. I told you, I’m the one sidetracking.
I don’t expect you to take you in my sidetrack, but it’s really interesting because it’s a different interpretation of what happened during the pandemic.
Sivan Zamir: Well, that’s where I would go back to what I would do as a role of leader in terms of education and culture, because having lived between Israel and California, you see the difference in the cultural understanding of the general public with respect to water in Israel. I remember during the nineties, there was a historic drought and there was this commercial.
Called east land meet the ambition through Israel is drying up and it was this woman talking about how Israel is drying up. There’s no water to waste, no water to lose. And as she’s speaking, her skin starts to dry up and then starts to flake off, which is a really disturbing image. But you have all of Israel’s population that remembers that commercial and to them.
My husband is Israeli. And so when he hears a tap running, it sounds to him. Like nails on a chalkboard. He has to turn it off. He cannot hear that water running. Whereas here in California, the commercials that we see about water conservation are funny and they’re like cartoon, water droplets dancing around saying to, to save water as if it’s not a life-threatening and really serious issue.
So culture and education, I think are a huge part of it. I did join you on your sidetrack despite your morning, not to.
Antoine Walter: Thanks. Feel less lonely. Let me bring you on track for my very last question. And I was trying to put some answers in your mouth, but you free steal. Would you have someone to recommend me that I should definitely invite as soon as possible? Not microphone.
Sivan Zamir: Absolutely. If you haven’t already, I would recommend Mirka Wilder. She’s the CEO of De Nora water technologies and really an incredible leader that has made such tangible. Changes in her organization at De Nora that even from the outside, looking in are so visible. So it would be phenomenal to hear her on one of your.
Antoine Walter: I’m just trying to make peace with myself because I promised I’m not asking that question anymore. And still am. They’re asking that question. I noticed a pattern as soon as I have a woman on that microphone, the recommendation goes towards a woman, which I find amazing because I started that podcast with a thesis, which was, I wanted to have 50/50.
And I ended up being at somewhere 85, 15 between men and woman, which is even worse than the industry, which is at 17% of women. So first awesome recommendation. Thanks a lot. And here’s the question, which I promised myself. I wouldn’t ask any more. So you are granted with a joker. You can really skip that one, how can I frame it?
What can we do to really break that curse of having to tap so little into the full potential we have out there in the markets, which would tend to a 50, 50.
Sivan Zamir: I think that we’re seeing a lot of that being balanced out right now. So, what I’ve actually seen in the water industry is a lot more women in the water industry.
A few years back, I was voted as one of the top 20 women in the water industry, I think on the startup side of things. And I used to joke that, you know, there’s only 22 of us, so it’s not that difficult to be in the top 20. But from there until today the balances is much better. My team is just about a 50 50 split and that has to do with equitable I think hiring practices, meaning that I make sure that I interview a diverse slate of candidates, whoever. Is best suited for the job should get the position. But how can you hire a woman as an example for a particular role if you’re not interviewing any women?
So I challenge the recruiters and the HR folks and myself that I work with when we’re looking to scout folks for a new role that we make sure that we have a diverse slate of candidates to select from in the first place. That being said I do find water to be a much more friendly place for women to work in, especially coming from a background of construction.
So I’m pretty bullish on it. And having a women in leadership roles, I think is a big piece of the puzzle as well.
Antoine Walter: thanks that full for the awesome answer to my fuzzy question. Sivan, it’s been a pleasure to have you on let microphone, I’m looking forward to having the follow-up discussion with you on the panel. We’ll be sharing in Vancouver for the BlueTech forum. And if people want to follow up with you, having listened to all your advice, where should I redirect them?
Sivan Zamir: To follow up with me you can find me at my email address. Sivan dot Zamir at Xylem dot com. I’m more than welcome to follow up with me. I’ll redirect you as make sense within the organization, but that’s part of what I was mentioning before with Xylem innovation labs. We’re really looking to shift the paradigm and have a lot more transparency in terms of how we interact with the entire innovation ecosystem and you know, all of our stakeholders and not have it view.
Secret organization within Xylem we’re out there. so you’re welcome to contact me. I look forward to being in touch.
Antoine Walter: for the ones that didn’t note it down, the link is in the show notes. I think it could appreciate all of you. how transparent you were, Sivan, today within these discussions. Thanks a lot. And yeah. See you soon in Vancouver.
Sivan Zamir: Yeah. I look forward to seeing you as well. It’s going to be, it’s going to be a lot of fun.