The H2O Challenge and Global Demo Day is an initiative developed to empower 10 startups from around the world that are working to solve the most challenging problems from the water sector. Entrepreneurs of all ages and from different backgrounds have the opportunity to participate in a one-week acceleration program developed by IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, in collaboration with the City of Knowledge business and technology park in the former canal zone in Panama. The program helps each start-up to validate their business model, improve their management, sales and financial skills and establish a solid strategic action plan. Once the selected projects have been advised for a week, a two-day event is hosted at the City of Knowledge in which the entrepreneurs have the chance to pitch their solution and action plan to a panel of experts that has the task of choosing the three most disruptive, viable and sustainable solutions. The top three receive additional support and funding for their ventures.
Water-related problems are diverse and the solutions require different approaches in each region.
Universal access to clean water is one of 14 Grand Engineering Challenges of the 21st Century. The H2O Challenge aims to be a medium to develop viable and financially sustainable solutions to address this challenge. Through the H2O Challenge, start-up companies showcase their solutions for the urban and rural water problems such as water supply systems in places of scarcity, quality control devices, water filter systems, and so on. The ultimate goal is to support and develop these ventures into viable and profitable businesses.
This year was the second edition of the Challenge and the projects focused on water research and development of innovative technologies for efficient management, filtration, potabilization and agricultural usage. The accelerator took place from July 17th to 24th and the H2O Challenge Conferences and Global Demo Day were celebrated on the 25th and 26th. Both events were carried out in Panama’s City of Knowledge, which is an innovation ecosystem integrated by an international community comprised of innovative companies, international and development organizations, as well as academic and research institutions.
During the two-day event a discussion was carried out over why and how solutions for the water sector in both urban and rural regions should be implemented. Representatives of the organizing entities, the City of Knowledge Foundation, IE Business School, CONAGUA, SENACYT, and the World Bank, as well as invited participants such as the Panama Canal and Panama’s Ministry of Environment talked about the regional and international context.
Throughout the presentations and workshops held at the first day of the event, the necessity to view water as a shared resource and recognize its ecological, social and economical value, were recurrent themes. All the participants agreed that water-related problems are diverse and for each region the solutions require different approaches. For this, Alexander Bakalian, World Bank’s global leader for water and sanitation, said the problem with water is that it is “sometimes too much, too polluted, or too little.” He also mentioned that there are currently more than one thousand start-ups putting their efforts into the matter and that everyone involved in the water sector should try to keep up to date. In this context, the H2O Challenge serves as a platform to identify viable technologies and approaches that have been developed by a group of entrepreneurs from a particular region of the world, but that could be implemented in several other nations that have similar contextual realities.
This year, start-ups from Ecuador (Yaku Pura), Mexico (The Tide), Colombia (Loginvex), Costa Rica (Ecowash), Panama (Super Agua, IGrow and Green Modular Water), Portugal (WaterWise) and Norway (EnviroNor) competed during the Global Demo Day. A panel of experts evaluated each of the entrepreneurs Pitch-Deck, taking in consideration how innovative is the solution, the team the composes the start-up, how prepared they were, market opportunity and how they communicated their idea.
The H2O Challenge identifies viable technologies implemented in particular regions of the world that could also serve in other nations that have similar contextual realities.
The solutions presented by the start-ups ranged from technologies that impact rural households to water management systems useful for urban areas. Although all of them were viable and innovative, just three had to be selected. From the panel of experts’ perspective, the most innovative and scalable solutions were Loginvex, The Tide and WaterWise. Loginvex took the first place with their ionic and modulated water purifying filter that works with solar or wind energy sources. The Tide took the second place with its idea of creating a digital platform that has the objective of uniting interested parties in the water sector: academia, investors, NGOs, NPOs, etc. As the third place, WaterWise was chosen for their integrated SCADA system with sensors that monitor and control water distribution in urban areas.
The events contributors, Panama’s Ministry of the Environment, SENACYT, the World Bank, City of Knowledge Foundation, and IE Business School, gave the top three winners 30,000 USD to cover at least 3 months worth of expenditures of lodging costs in the City of Knowledge, private space in the City of Knowledge’s coworking space, and round trip tickets. IE Business School agreed to offer advice during this period of time so that each start-up can improve their market approach and business plan. As way to contribute with the development and implementation of the solution chosen, the event’s contributors committed on giving 40 thousand dollars in investment to each start-up.
With the continuing need for water access and management around the world, programs like H2O Challenge are becoming more and more important for future technology and business ventures. Stay tuned to their website for updates on the 2019 program.