Allen Wagner November 06, 2013
MILWAUKEE — Water is the most fundamental and essential ingredient for life. And yet it is something we have yet to master or fully make efficient in our daily lives.
That’s what the public-private partnership at The Water Council is seeking to solve, PitchBook found on a recent visit to the Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization at the invitation of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The Water Council brings together local and international entrepreneurs in the water-technology space with corporate mentors and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Science to build a world-class institute for water research, entrepreneurship and product development. The startups are active in trying to solve fundamental problems with our current water infrastructure, such as storm-water runoff, sewage issues and storage problems in the third world. The larger corporates in the building mentor the entrepreneurs. And the School of Freshwater Science is active producing cutting-edge research and novel solutions in water technology, much of which may develop into startups themselves.
Much of this activity services the council’s Global Freshwater Seed Accelerator, which provides grant money, office space and mentorship to water-focused startups.
“It’s extremely helpful for us to be in an atmosphere where there are experienced and mature companies that deal with water, a university of freshwater science, and entrepreneurs starting their businesses,” said Hensley Foster, president of Stonehouse Water Technologies, which produces a novel building material for the construction of lightweight and easy-to-build water tanks. “All of this is a mentorship program. Everyone is talking the same thing, and even though everyone has different products they’re working on, we’re all only a few degrees of separation away.”
But The Water Council’s efforts and support haven’t just helped to develop startups in the space, such asPaveDrain (permeable surfaces), Vegetal i.D. (innovator in green-roof systems) and angel-backedAquaMost (disinfects flowback of fracking water), it has also served to establish Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a global center for water research. So much so that Milwaukee was designated a UN Global Compact City for its freshwater expertise.
While in Milwaukee, PitchBook also had the opportunity to speak with Alan Perlstein at the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC), a public-private entity focused on the energy power and control sector. It consists of companies, governmental organizations, NGOs and universities that seek to have industry drive more of the research conducted by universities.
For example, rather than funding research for the sake of research, a corporation may seek solutions to an energy storage problem or new technology to meet future energy challenges by working with other members of the consortium to fund grants for university research into that problem. M-WERC expects to award between three to five grants this year for a total of $500,000.
“What’s great is you’re seeing collaboration between academic institutions and collaboration between companies,” Perlstein said. “You have the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Milwaukee talking to each other, and in industry, different companies talking about their shared inefficiencies and how to solve those problems. We’re really breaking down walls.”
PitchBook will have more on The Water Council, related clean tech companies, and other video and written content from Wisconsin over the next few days and weeks. Stay tuned.