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The Future of Water in Coastal Cities — Urban Water Challenge Announces its Cohort IV Startups

Join our six finalists as they make coastal cities more healthy, efficient, equitable, and resilient.

We are excited to introduce a new cohort of Urban Water Challenge entrepreneurs. Since our launch in 2018, the Challenge has helped 16 startups complete 19 pilots in 10 countries. This year will unlock $365k in pilot awards for Cohort IV, increasing the total amount deployed to $1.15M over the past four years.

Imagine H2O’s Urban Water Challenge finalists receive financial awards, access to showcase events for visibility, and introductions to potential partners and investors. This validation opens up new opportunities for adoption, scaling, and follow-on funding. The Challenge gives new urban water tech a powerful opportunity to shine on a global stage — and provides communities with a steady flow of tested solutions that can make their cities more efficient, equitable, healthy and resilient.

This year, we were grateful to partner with a diverse group of philanthropic leaders,industry executives, market experts and investors who reviewed 200 applicants and ultimately selected the six most promising pilots.

“Now in its fourth year, I am delighted to see that the Urban Water Challenge has a gender-balanced cohort, with half of the finalists co-founders being female. Climate change continually threatens our water resources. Coastal cities and Great Lakes communities need tested solutions. These innovations will enable cities to become more efficient, equitable, healthy, and resilient.”

- Emily Skeehan, Grant Program Manager at 11th Hour Racing.

Without further ado, please help us welcome Cohort IV.

INCREASING EFFICIENCY

New urban technologies can help stretch water resources by increasing water use efficiency and enabling water reuse. This allows cities to grow without needing to tap new water supplies, increase their resilience to droughts, and save utilities and residents money. Improving water resource efficiency is also inextricably linked to energy efficiency as water and wastewater treatment and delivery is extremely energy intensive.

Meet Martin Gross, CEO & Co-Founder of Gross Wen Technologies

GWT’s algae-based wastewater treatment system removes and recycles nitrogen and phosphorus from a municipal anaerobic digester facility in Chicago, Illinois. Their pilot will decrease operating costs, increase wastewater treatment efficiencies, capture carbon dioxide, and produce revenue through algae byproduct sales.

Deployment Target: Chicago, Illinois

Why it matters: Anaerobic digesters break down solid waste during the wastewater treatment process. When treating the solid waste digestate, these systems release biogas which is high in GHG’s like carbon dioxide and methane. However, GWT’s cost-effective system reduces the amount of carbon in biogas released, making their technology much more sustainable than alternative solutions.

Photo (L — R): GWT CEO & Founder, Martin Gross, and COO, Max Gangestad // GWT’s patented algae-based wastewater treatment system

EXPANDING EQUITY

Innovation can advance equity by providing water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) services access to historically underserved populations in urban centers. Beyond access, expanding equity can also mean improving the quality and making water services more affordable. From decentralized sanitation to distributed drinking water networks, cities can achieve equitable drinking water and sanitation access through innovation.

Meet Diana Yousef, CEO & Founder of change:WATER Labs

change:WATER Labs has developed a low-cost, compact, waterless toilet for non-sewered households in Greater Panama City, Panama. In partnership with a large construction company, their pilot will replace pit latrines and uncontained informal sanitation with their toilets in low-income and indigenous homes with decentralized toilets.

Deployment Target: Kuna Nega, Panama

Why it matters: Millions of people across the developing world live beyond the pipe — without access to basic drinking water and sanitation services. This is because new centralized drinking water and sewage systems are unsustainable, infeasible and costly to build. change:WATER Labs provides a decentralized sanitation solution that hygienically contains waste to reduce disease and prevent sewage runoff into nearby water bodies.

Photo (L — R): change:WATER Lab’s CEO & Founder, Diana Yousef // change:WATER Labs’ Ugandan pilot of low-cost, waterless toilet for non-sewered households

Meet Ian Robinson, COO & President, of BlueConduit

BlueConduit has created a machine learning-enabled platform for lead service line inventory and reporting, to support coastal water utilities in the Southeastern United States. Their pilot will provide utilities with information required to accelerate service line replacement, meet new regulatory requirements, and communicate actionable information to the public.

Deployment Target: Southeastern United States

Why it matters: Lead pipes were the building blocks of the modern day water distribution system. However, now lead exposure has been linked to detrimental health effects on humans including children’s development. BlueConduit’s software optimizes the lead service line replacement process through accurately predicting lead conveyance pipes locations that cities can use in decision making.

Photo (L — R): Blue Conduit’s COO & President, Ian Robinson // BlueConduit’s AI Platform to predict LSL inventory

IMPROVING HEALTH

Water technology can play a critical role in improving public and ecosystem health. From the public health lens, better drinking and wastewater treatment methods, more effective water quality testing, and strengthened public awareness of water quality. Additionally, water technology can reduce our impact on — or even help restore — water ecosystems. This not only improves natural systems and wildlife habitat, but also benefits people through the many advantages that healthy natural systems provide.

Meet Mansi Jain, CEO & Co-Founder of DigitalPaani

DigitalPaani has developed an IoT-powered operational intelligence and lifecycle management system for wastewater treatment in municipal, residential and industrial settings in the Indian state of Goa. The pilot will demonstrate its impact in a variety of wastewater treatment plants, creating the necessary field evidence to allow the state government to mandate use of such a system across all plants.

Deployment Target: Goa, India

Why it matters: While cities in India are focused on installing more water distribution and treatment plants, they lack operational efficiency tools, leading to the inability to handle complex operations and prevent the discharge of untreated effluent into surrounding water. DigitalPaani’s IoT system improves plant management through not only identifying problems, but also by recommending changes in operating parameters, training and guiding every task executed by the operations team.

Photo (L — R): DigitalPaani’s CEO & Co-founder, Mansi Jain // DigitalPaani’s IoT-enabled operational intelligence and lifecycle management system

Meet Julie Bliss Mullen, CEO & Co-Founder of Aclarity

Aclarity has developed a novel electrochemical on-site water treatment system for the complete destruction of contaminants in wastewater. The commercial installation aims to destroy PFAS in landfill leachate at two sites in Detroit, Michigan, to prevent harmful compounds from reaching the environment and address new regulatory standards.

Deployment Target: Detroit, Michigan

Why it matters: PFAS, a group of manufacturing chemicals that is known to be harmful to the environment and human health, commonly enters the environment from wastewater discharge and landfill leachate. Alacrity’s system treats the water that drains from landfills and destroys the PFAS before it can enter the environment and cause harm.

Photo (L — R): The Aclarity team at an installation; CEO & Co-Founder, Julie Bliss Mullen (2nd from left) // Aclarity’s electrochemical water treatment system pilot installation

BUILDING RESILIENCE

Global water infrastructure is ill-equipped to sustain more frequent and extreme storms, floods, droughts, and fires. New technologies can help increase resilience through adaptation to these climate change stressors. From predicting climate risk to monitoring stormwater to green infrastructure, cities have more tools at their disposal to build resilience.

Meet Billy Gilmartin, Co-Founder of SewerAI

Sewer AI’s predictive, cloud-based software solution provides wastewater and stormwater condition assessments for critical conveyance pipes in Los Angeles, California. The pilot will increase accuracy, accelerate productivity, and reduce the overall cost to maintain and renew aging collection systems near one of the world’s largest wastewater treatment facilities.

Deployment Target: Los Angeles, California

Why it matters: Limited insight into the conditions of sewer pipes combined with aging and overworked infrastructure increasingly leads to unexpected sewer collapses and overflow events that affect residential neighborhoods and marine life alike. SewerAI’s software enables municipalities to assess the condition of buried wastewater assets, predict likely failures, and optimally prioritize the rehabilitation or replacement of their assets.

Photo (L — R): SewerAI Co-Founder, Billy Gilmartin // SewerAI’s enterprise AI software for wastewater and stormwater condition assessment

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Imagine H2O empowers people to develop and deploy innovation to solve water challenges globally.

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Imagine H2O

Imagine H2O

The water innovation accelerator. Empowering people to deploy and develop #innovation to solve water challenges globally.

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