FutureStructure

5 Water Tech Startups, One Nonprofit Seek to Better Area Utilities

The six will give presentations about their products, each with improved plans, better ideas for pitching to prospective customers, and more information about how to satisfy customers’ needs.

by Mike Rutledge, the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio) / May 16, 2017
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(TNS) -- Five water-technology start-up companies and one non-profit-organization hoping to hoist their fortunes have been working with area utilities, companies and other experts to improve their chances in the global marketplace.

The six on Thursday each will give 10-minute presentations about their products between 5:30 and 8 p.m. at Union Hall, 1311 Vine St., in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, each with improved plans for its products, better ideas for pitching to prospective customers, and more information about how to satisfy customers’ needs.

One company, Power Tech Water, of Lexington, Ky., hopes to rework the way light industry treats and purifies water. The company can reduce customers’ water-treatment costs by about 60 percent, founder Cameron Lippert said.

Another, AguaClara, based in Ithaca, N.Y., designs non-electric, municipal-scale water-treatment systems that can provide clean drinking water to poor communities around the world. Rather than electricity, the company’s systems are powered by gravity. They can be operated by someone with a sixth-grade education. Using locally available materials, technology developed at Cornell University in 2005, and meeting World Health Organization standards for drinking water, AguaClara has already built 14 systems in Honduras that serve 65,000 people, and four systems in India that serve 2,000, with another underway.

WaterStep, a non-profit organization based in Louisville, Ky., provides water-disinfection systems for areas that have lost water after disasters. The systems are about the size of hotel cleaning carts and can produce large quantities of clean water. Mark Hogg of the organization said his non-profit hopes to use sales of its devices to financially aid the non-profit’s operations and provide help after disasters.

ANDalyze, based in Champaign, Ill., has a technology that tests for heavy metals, such as lead, in water, that can be conducted for $6 per test. The portable devices use DNA enzymes to test and measure contaminants.

Cincinnati-based Searen is developing technology that streamlines high-flow water-treatment processes, such as fish-raising industries.

Hamilton-based KW Electric plans to install a mini hydroelectric dam in the place of the low-level dam, also known as the south dam, south of downtown Hamilton that raises the water level of the Great Miami River as it passes through Hamilton. It believes there is a large market across the country and elsewhere for the green energy producers.

Under plans announced in September, when Pipeline H2O was announced, the businesses were to have a Demo Day elsewhere in Cincinnati on Wednesday, when each of the companies was to present in front of hundreds of people from around the world attending the WEX Global water summit.

The companies were expected to present their innovations to a worldwide audience of water experts, but local officials say that plan was foiled by the election of President Donald Trump, before the new president took office.

After the election of Trump, who has said he doesn’t believe humans create climate change, the European-based WEX Global organization canceled the conference, which was about to draw about 300 from around the globe.

Ryan Welsh, principal engineer in the Greater Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District’s Engineering Management Division, said the conference, which he was helping organize, was was called off after a lot of the European sponsors withdrew “support over concern about what’s going on with the federal government, after the November election.”

“They didn’t think there was a big market here for environmental technologies, given the direction the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is headed,” said Welsh, of Ross Twp., who also has been working with Pipeline H2O companies and plans to attend their presentation this week. “We were notified probably around Christmas. It is disappointing,” he said, although he holds out hope it can happen here at a future date.

“We were going to be part of that, and have our demonstration day as part of that WEX conference,” said Antony Seppi, an official with both Pipeline H2O and the city-run Hamilton Mill business incubator that houses it. “But with that organization being an international organization, they just saw some things going on politically that made them come to a decision to withdraw that from the United States.”

Pipeline H2O hopes to capitalize on the fact the Greater Cincinnati region has a waterfall of expertise in the areas of water, sewage and other areas related to water, including hydroelectric power. The worldwide market for water-related technologies could be in the area of $500 billion, area water proponents believe. This region, from Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana to Greater Dayton, could become a “Silicon Valley for water,” they hope.

Paul Kling, chief operating officer of kWRiver Hydroelectric, recently told Hamilton City Council his proposed hydroelectric dam, which he hopes will replace the low-level dam on the Great Miami River, should have a second benefit to the area, aside from producing another 5 megaWatts of green energy. Aside from that, his dam will be safer — although not completely non-dangerous — than the dam that now is there.

“We call it ‘inherently invisible,’” Kling said. “So you practically won’t even see it, and it will take that hydraulic boil, that’s a safety hazard, out of the dam. Not entirely – I won’t say it’s going to be entirely safe.”

Rather than creating the turbulence immediately downriver of the dam, much of the flow that now passes over the dam and then drops over it at a sharp angle, trapping things within a disrupted current, the new gently sloping dam, which will be made of durable fiberglass-type material, will pass through the dam. That will alleviate much of the “boil” just downriver. The excess water that doesn’t go through the device flows right over the top, “and you would even have a lot of trouble seeing it, under a lot of conditions,” Kling said.

It will cross the entire river, from side to side.

Meanwhile, he said, “we are working closely with the city utilities, and thanks to your support, we now have eight international companies working with us, and our plan is to move forward and get a small prototype on the dam, possibly as soon as this fall, and work forward from there.”

Kling estimated four of the eight companies his business now is working with “are Fortune 500 companies, and the other four are probably more regional players.”

Several weeks ago, he brought 18 people from those eight companies together, “and now every Wednesday at 10 a.m., I hold a conference call, and we go through the schedule (of putting the prototype in the river this Autumn), the logistics, and issues, whatever you can imagine, and the design hurdles that we’re facing to make that happen,” Kling said. “It’s happening now. We’re making it work.”

Kling said the Pipeline H2O program really helps someone like him, who has worked for a large company (Duke Energy, and later a consulting business) three decades and has a master’s degree in business administration. “But until you actually sit down and do it, it’s a little different,” he said. “Somebody can tell you how to ride a bicycle, but until you actually start riding the bicycle yourself, it’s a little different.”

One thing Pipeline has done “is put me in an environment where I am around other people and and groups who are in exactly the same situation I’m in — facing slightly different problems and issues, but nonetheless, the same general plan and things to have to work through.”

The program also has taught him and other companies a lot about “what the priorities are, and what the importance of things are” for potential customers when they’re considering buying a product. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how cool your device is, or how many technology hurdles you’ve overcome. Unless somebody wants to buy it — unless somebody wants to invest in it — it’s never going to happen.”

“What Pipeline has allowed me to do is see into the mind of the investor,” he said. “It’s like applying for a job, in a lot of ways. There’s a job available that you really want, and you go, and you make your job application and you sit down and you do your interview and all that. You may or may not get selected, but you have to realize that that person doing the hiring, just like the people investing their money, has a lot of different choices to make. You’re not the only game in town, and when they reject you, or if they reject you, it’s not because you were necessarily bad. It’s because they had a better option with their money at that time.”

Knowing the investors’ needs helps meet those needs, he said.

In coming weeks, ANDalyze will continue working with Hamilton’s water utility and water Superintendent John Bui (pronounced boo-EE) to use its device, including within the city’s water network.

Seppi said during Thursday’s presentations, companies will detail their products, the problems they’re seeking to solve, and the value that their projects bring to the table. At the end of the program, officials will announce the two companies that will win $25,000 for doing the best jobs with their products.

Even next year, when officials work with their second Pipeline H2O class, Seppi said they will continue to follow progress of this class, which started with six companies, but ended with eight: “There will always be that connection there, in terms of working with the graduated classes. We will always be a resource for them.”

“I think it (Pipeline H2O) has been a success so far,” Walsh said. “There were a lot of good applications, so it’ll be interesting to see how things develop.”

©2017 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.