Wanted: tech start-ups to tackle water challenges

Eric Collins, CEO of Impact X, shakes hands with delegates at an event

An initiative to make tools and funding available for start-ups aims to drive innovation in water technologies, and diversity in the start-up community.

The initiative comes at a critical time. Across the world climate change and water scarcity are forcing water companies and the other sectors to adapt and invest significantly in water supply and wastewater treatment systems.

In response to these challenges, the UK water sector’s innovation centre of excellence – Spring Innovation – is collaborating with Microsoft and Impact X - a venture capital firm founded to support underrepresented entrepreneurs across Europe.

"This is an amazing opportunity bringing corporates and start-ups together to deliver greater impact for people and planet."

Jimmy Cockerton, Microsoft UK

Microsoft is looking for the first entrepreneurs and start-ups to kickstart these industry challenges, providing support including US$150,000 in free Azure credits, expert guidance from technical advisors and Azure specialists, free working space in Shoreditch, London, and tailored mentoring. Microsoft Azure is the company's cloud computing platform.

By connecting the expertise and skills of Impact X, Microsoft and Spring, Impact X-Venture Studio hopes to achieve three core things:

  • Unlock the potential of tech start-ups, at scale
  • Help tackle the most pressing challenges the water sector is facing
  • Ensure fairer representation of minority groups in the start-up space

“We hope that the Impact X-Venture Studio in partnership with Microsoft illustrates the water companies’ commitment to engaging and supporting start-up innovators and will drive increased representation of start-up innovations into the sector," said Carly Perry, Spring managing director.

Water innovation

The UK 2050 Water Innovation Strategy, which Spring is helping deliver, was launched in 2020 by all UK water and wastewater companies and outlines the importance of finding sustainable solutions.

These challenges will range from how the water industry might become net positive through opportunities in natural capital, to minimising adverse impacts from wastewater, and how the industry can improve affordability of water for all.

“Water safety, security and availability are foundational with regards to sustainability."

Eric Collins, Impact X

“To deliver real progress against our biggest societal challenges we need innovative solutions, a diversity of ideas, and equal access to entrepreneurial opportunity that can turn ideas into action," said Musidora Jorgensen, Microsoft’s chief sustainability officer. “Through industry partnerships we can provide both opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs and tackle critical sustainability challenges around water availability and security head on.”

Eric Collins, Impact X chief executive, said, “Water safety, security and availability are foundational with regards to sustainability. Partnering with Microsoft to address this area of opportunity brings together one of the great tech companies with Impact X’s innovator sourcing talent.

"The impact on sustainable solutions is potentially huge.”

The initiative also hopes to rebalance investment for unrepresented groups. Research shows that in recent years, more than 90% of the total amount of venture capital raised went to white entrepreneurs, while only 0.24% went to black entrepreneurs and only 0.02% of investment going to black female founders.

Empowering entrepreneurs

Research has revealed that venture builders that match entrepreneurs directly with industry challenges are starting to outperform classic accelerators. The data shows that 72% of start-ups from venture builders going from Seed to Series A funding were successful — compared to only 42% of traditional start-ups. Overall, the venture builder approach achieves 44% better results compared to traditional start-ups.