The future of water looked bright at the 3rd annual Innovators Forum, held on September 25th at WEFTEC in Chicago. Hosted by Current, with BlueTech Research and Imagine H2O, the theme of this year’s forum was The Intelligent Water Transformation. The event brought together more than 170 of the water sector’s leading innovators, researchers, investors and end-users to explore how intelligent water management is transforming utilities, services and industry.
Among the highlights was the launch of the static website for H2NOW Chicago, America’s first real-time microbial water quality monitoring project. Key partners, Randy Conner, Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Water Management, Kari K. Steele, President of the Board of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), and Brian Perkovich, Executive Director of MWRD, were on hand to speak to the platform’s power to inform water managers and the public about the health of the Chicago River.
“H2NOW Chicago fits seamlessly into Mayor Lightfoot’s vision of transparency for the City of Chicago,” said Conner. “We look forward to the successful conclusion of the pilot next year and expanding the project beyond its original scope.” Echoing the importance and potential of the project, Steele added, “H2NOW is grounded in both discovery and transparency. By understanding what’s in the river and when it’s in there, we can better plan for how and when to interact with it and start to develop and implement better policies to continue to improve its quality.”
The Forum was also an introduction for Alaina Harkness, Current’s new Executive Director, “Being able to participate in WEFTEC and the Innovators Forum on my third day on the job was an immersive introduction to the world of water!” Harkness added, “Current’s power comes from its network of dynamic, cross-sector water innovators. I’m looking forward to expanding and building from these partnerships to accelerate promising solutions to our biggest challenges in water.”
The Forum’s first panel, Driving Adoption of Next-Gen Decision, Support Automation and Optimization Tools, revealed how digital technologies first deployed in other industries are being adapted in water and at adoption rates faster than typical capital-intensive solutions. “Data-driven insights using newly developed analytical tools are reshaping how utilities and industries approach asset management, replacement and maintenance,” explained Steve Kloos, Current Board Chair and Partner at True North Ventures.
Moderated by Jeremy Lenz, CEO of Lenz Consulting, the panelists were Rob Montenegro, EVP of Grundfos; Diogo Vitorino, CTO of Baseform; DMP Corp’s President and CEO, Chris Dooley; and Ting Lu from Clean Water Services. All offered insight on strategies to help organizations transform their business models using data to demonstrate cost savings, reliability and sustainability.
“Company leaders need to look past the buzz words, like AI, and deeper into the concepts and tools behind them,” Vitorino pointed out. “Those are the things changing the traditional ROI conversation to include other factors that deliver knowledge and insights.”
Panelists highlighted the need to submit the value of transformation by demonstrating how automation can mitigate risk by removing human error and, of course, the need for patience. “Change will be incremental rather than exponential at first,” Lu explained. “But change will come eventually, by integrating transformative culture, smart technology and a thoughtful process.”
The Forum’s second panel featured a dynamic and engaging group of founders leading data analytics companies in the water sector: Jodi Glover, CEO and Co-founder of Real Tech Inc.; Megan Glover, CEO and Co-Founder of 120WaterAudit; Dr. Christine Boyle, CEO and Founder of Valor Water Analytics; and Emily Hicks, President and Co-Founder of FREDsense.
Through the panel, attendees were able to step inside the mind of four innovators who are heading the pack of companies building cutting edge data-driven tools. Innovators who, in addition to their contributions, are bringing diversity to the sector. “Let’s take a second to look at this panel. We’re all entrepreneurs who happen to be women!” observed Jodi Glover. “That never occurs in this sector, which means this is an important moment, especially as more women become involved with data and water.”
The panelists began by structuring an understanding of the data world in terms of Creation, IoT, Visualization and Analytics, and then explained how each plays into the greater value proposition of data. From there, the conversation expanded to include many timely topics, including the powerful role data plays in managing the people in the company, and how to ensure clients are able to implement the products they purchase and reap the benefits of their full potential.
“I look forward to seeing how each of these founders continue to improve the water sector as a whole with their innovative offerings and incredible determination,” said moderator, and VP of Programming at Imagine H2O, Tom Fergusson.
In addition to the featured panels, a series of roundtables engaged participants in deeper discussions about a range of topics including changing customer needs, the proliferation of sensor use, decentralized treatment solutions, reducing energy costs, and the latest breakthroughs in water reuse. These dialogues opened up channels of collaborative problem solving that left participants wanting more.
“We had several attendees tell us that they were enjoying their table conversations so much that they wanted more time to discuss with their groups,” said Jeff Guild, VP of Business Development and Professional Services at BlueTech Research. “That’s always the kind of feedback you want to hear when hosting a big event.”
We are already looking forward to next year’s WEFTEC and Innovators Forum in New Orleans. Hope to see you all there!