Karen Frost is the vice president of economic development for The Water Council. Applications for the Tech Challenge can be submitted at watertechhub.com.undefined
The Water Council and its corporate partners recently announced the second round of the Tech Challenge. WQP Managing Editor Lauren Del Ciello asked Karen Frost, vice president of economic development for The Water Council, for more information about the challenge and how interested applicants can apply.
The Water Council Tech Challenge
Lauren Del Ciello: What was the genesis of the Tech Challenge?
Karen Frost: The Tech Challenge emerged from the relationships with our member companies. Since The Water Council has successfully offered multiple ‘challenge based’ programs for a number of years, including our BREW Accelerator, BREW Corporate Accelerator and Pilot Program, members proposed that we create a Tech Challenge competition that would augment the companies’ open innovation efforts. In doing so, we create opportunities for supplementing their innovation pathways into channels or adjacent markets that they may not have connection into or, at minimum, confirm existing pathways. We began Tech Challenge in late 2018 and have had one initial round and are now in our second round. This program is a natural extension of our core ‘match making’ role, linking industry statewide, nationally and globally.
Del Ciello: The Water Council and its corporate partners recently announced the second round of the challenge. What were some great takeaways from the first round?
Frost: Our corporate partners were definitely pleased with the pipeline for the initial round! While we would like to further build the applicant pipeline, sponsors have found opportunities that are still being followed. We know that even though there is ultimately a monetary ‘prize winner’ for the competition, the real value is that our sponsors can continue dialog, relationship building and evaluating opportunities with any or all of the applicants. That can open pathways for licensing, co-development, acquisition or other manners of engagement. In addition, the Tech Challenge presents opportunity for our sponsors to receive applications from adjacent industries and open their teams to different innovation paths.
The program itself also offers the R&D teams an opportunity to function as a cohort with other business units within their own organizations, as well as other companies’ R&D teams. This provides additional value beyond the competition itself; it creates a trusted cohort environment for the team members themselves.
Focus on Inline Sensors & AI for Pipe Networks
Del Ciello: What is the focus of the second round and why were those solution types selected?
Frost: The challenge topics are chosen by the sponsor companies themselves. This round, our sponsors selected inline sensors and AI for pipe networks and systems. Each topic has additional information to help direct applicants, including any additional subtopics, success criteria or specific performance measures. Our technical adviser partners with the corporate R&D teams to gather and discuss topics of interest, then works with the teams to refine and prioritize all interest areas, and those with common interest advance to become challenge topics. As more sponsors join the program, we can add additional co-sponsored topics or host a dedicated challenge topic for a specific sponsor.
Del Ciello: How does the challenge serve as a platform to push the water industry forward as a whole?
Frost: Bringing a new technology to market and integrating that within the industry is no small feat. It takes time, talent, money and energy to create the technology, validate the technology, integrate into products or product lines and advance to market. The Tech Challenge program provides linkages and opportunity between innovators, entrepreneurs or researchers with corporate sponsors with an expressed need. This connection helps to advance technology as a whole by providing channels for potential partnership, thus optimizing time to market. And The Water Council shares the open challenges throughout our global network and their networks to propel the opportunities far and wide, and hopefully into view of innovators and problem solvers worldwide.
How to Apply for the Tech Challenge
Del Ciello: Who can apply and how can interested applicants learn more about the Tech Challenge?
Frost: That is the great thing! Anyone, anywhere can apply! Having a physical prototype is not required. Existing companies, entrepreneurs, researchers, students or solution providers from adjacent industries can respond to a challenge. You can view challenge topics, application requirements, as well as submit applications on WaterTechHub.com. Once a user creates a free account, they can review all Water Council open challenges and apply to other opportunities as they are posted. The current round of applications closes on Nov. 3.