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Over 90 Startups to Compete in Urban Drinking Water Scarcity Challenge

Installing an OxyMem MABR system at a wastewater treatment facility. OxyMem is a previous participant in the Imagine H2O accelerator that is running the Challenge. | Image credit: OxyMem

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 calls for universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030, but the planet’s growing population is a major challenge in the way of achieving it. The UN predicts a 40 percent shortfall in global water supply by 2030. Meanwhile, about 54 percent of the world population currently lives in urban areas and the UN forecasts that percentage will grow to 66 percent by 2050. With 37 megacities with populations of 10 million plus already, this mass urbanization will surely exacerbate the challenges of managing living environments, especially when it comes to water in emerging economies.

With these facts in mind, water innovation accelerator Imagine H2O opened its 2018 Urban Water Scarcity Challenge last month and invited startups advancing resilient drinking water solutions for cities to apply. So far, a diverse list of ‘waterpreneurs’ from over 25 countries have registered for the Challenge ahead of the July 2, 2018 application deadline.

Ceres Imaging, another past participant in the Imagine H2O accelerator, uses spectral imaging to help farmers manage their water and fertilizer use, as well as manage pests and diseases. | Image credit: Imagine H2O/Ceres Imaging

“Entrepreneurs are pioneering new solutions and innovative business models to tackle urban water scarcity. Yet the resources required to deploy and scale these ideas are often lacking,” said Imagine H2O President Scott Bryan. “This program unlocks financial and technical support to prove the benefits of smarter urban water management.”

The Challenge’s Founding Partners, 11th Hour Racing and Bluewater Group, collectively committed up to $1,000,000 in cash awards and investment to three overall winners. The three winning startups will be honored at a special event held during Stockholm World Water Week, August 26-31, 2018.

Teams with scalable drinking water solutions in the following areas will be eligible to compete:

  • Alternative Supply – Decentralized, capital efficient and sustainable solutions to develop and augment urban drinking water supplies;
  • Distributed Access and Delivery – Scaled technologies and innovative business models supporting decentralized drinking water purification and distribution systems; and/or
  • Ecosystem Health – Solutions empowering cities to monitor and manage environmental health of waterways and ecosystems affected by water contamination.

Of the more than 90 startups registered in the Challenge so far, 48 percent are from North America, 20 percent from Africa, 16 percent from Europe and 11 percent from Asia. The top five countries are in the following order: USA, Canada, India, UK and Uganda.

“The rich pool of applicants clearly highlights the global interest on the growing issue of water scarcity, and the drive to find scalable and innovative solutions. The next stages of the challenge will be extremely interesting, with the evaluation of the candidates starting right after July 2,” said Todd McGuire, Program Director at 11th Hour Racing.

The Founding Challenge Partners have committed $250,000 in deployment awards to be evenly distributed amongst three winners with market-ready drinking water innovations in urban centers globally. Additionally, the winners will be eligible for $750,000 in seed investment provided by Founding Challenge Partner Bluewater Group, as well as introductions to investors and customers in Imagine H2O’s global ecosystem. Interested startups can register on the Challenge website.

“The Challenge will drive direct and scalable impact for water-scarce cities, inspire community awareness and public action, promote innovation and entrepreneurship, and facilitate the deployment of real solutions to an existing problem,” said Anders Jacobson, President of Bluewater. “We believe human ingenuity can evolve, refine and develop technologies that create sustainable solutions to urban water scarcity issues.”

Innovators pursuing opportunities to demonstrate technology in Southeast Asia may be eligible for additional funding and visibility opportunities through the program’s Imagine H2O Asia Track, including at Slingshot@SWITCH, a startup pitch competition supported by Enterprise Singapore.

The Challenge is separate from Imagine H2O’s annual accelerator program, for which applications for the 2019 cohort will open in the fall. However, the three Challenge winners will be invited to the second round of the 2019 Accelerator evaluation process.


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