HAMILTON, Ohio -- Hoping to leverage the Tri-State region’s long history of innovation in water treatment technology, a coalition of local governments, utilities and nonprofits has created a program to commercialize more such innovations.
Called Pipeline H2O, the program Monday began taking applications from businesses that want to be part of its first 15-week class, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 1.
“We’re looking for the best water startups from around the world,” said chairman of the board Rahul Bawa, today at Union Hall in Over-the-Rhine during a news conference announcing Pipeline H2O’s creation.
The accelerator will be run by The Hamilton Mill, an incubator based in the city of Hamilton that Bawa also chairs, which focuses on advanced manufacturing and clean technology businesses.
Companies in the class will get the benefit of learning from local industry experts, but also get the chance to try out their ideas with Hamilton’s municipal departments as part of The Hamilton Mill’s “City as a Lab” program.
The eight-to-10 businesses in the class will also compete for two, $25,000 awards, with the winners to be selected by their fellow contestants, Bawa said. Each business will also make a presentation at the Water and Energy Exchange (WEX) Global America Summit 2017 in May in Cincinnati, Bawa said.
The ultimate hope, Bawa said, is that the participants will make the connections needed to give any company, especially a startup, what it really needs: customers.
The impetus for Pipeline H2O came from Washington, D.C.-based Village Capital, a seed-stage venture capital firm that runs business development programs for startups trying to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.
About two years ago, Bawa said, Village Capital “came to us and said, ‘This region might have something going on in water.’”
Village Capital has communities worldwide where entrepreneurs get support to tackle big problems, Bawa said, and they wanted this region to be one of them. In March, Cincinnati became one of the inaugural class of 16 VilCap Communities, a program designed to help regions underserved by investment capital.
“Greater Cincinnati has one of the best municipal water works in the country,” Village Capital CEO Ross Baird said in a news release. “That, combined with the region’s strong startup ecosystem, made Cincinnati an easy choice for Pipeline.”
The first federally funded water-research project in history happened in 1913 in Cincinnati, Bawa said. The region has produced more water-based patents per capita than any other, he added.
“We have a ton of knowledge of water here, and honestly, most people don’t know about it,” he said.
Pipeline is a prime example of Cincinnati leveraging its resources to better the region, Mayor John Cranley said in a news release.
Vibrant societies need safe and clean drinking water, and they need technology to make it available to them, said Sally Gutierrez, director of the environmental technology innovation clusters program for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development in Cincinnati, the largest federal water research lab in the country.
Those innovations could be as simple as more cost-effective ways to manage leaky pipes, she said. Solutions that aren’t sexy, but necessary.
“That’s what the promise of Pipeline is all about,” she said.
The EPA was one of the organizations that partnered with Village Capital to create Pipeline. Others included the Cincinnati Water Works, the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University’s Center for Innovation and Cintrifuse, a local business accelerator that has agreed to lead fundraising for the awards.
The region is attracting more opportunities like Pipeline every day, Cintrifuse CEO Wendy Lea said, which are bringing the best and brightest to the city.
“Water can and should put the City of Cincinnati on the map,” said Cincinnati City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld. “The assets we have would be the envy of so many cities and regions across the country.”
Sittenfeld voiced the greatest expectations for Pipeline H2O, referencing the founder of Facebook.
“I believe the next Mark Zuckerberg for water … will come from here, as a result of this,” he said.