Is water tech a hidden gem of the clean tech sector? At least one BC organization believes so.
Invest Vancouver suggests water tech “provides an untapped economic opportunity for the Metro Vancouver region,” serving a multi-billion dollar global market.
Wait—what is “water tech”?
The term encompasses technology that mitigates risk for utilities and end water users while producing benefits such as more efficient use of resources and reduced pollutants and waste, according to IV. A niche of the broader “clean-tech” umbrella, water tech is an unassuming staple within Vancouver’s overall technology ecosystem.
IV’s latest report, “Water Tech: The Metro Vancouver Region’s Untapped Clean Tech Opportunity,” provides BC with an up-to-date overview of the region’s opportunities and challenges in the sector. Below we parse some of the key highlights of the report.
1. Metro Vancouver’s water tech ecosystem is sizeable.
Invest Vancouver identified 59 Metro Vancouver-based, export-oriented water tech firms. These firms are involved in technology innovation, research, design, or development. They average a dozen full-time employees.
The list of firms “reflects the twin influences of the region’s innovation ecosystem,” notes the report, including the regional hydrogen cluster and the region’s supporting role in the province’s resource extraction activities. Salient names include Mangrove Lithium, which has major backers in Bill Bates and BMW, and entrepreneurship@UBC alumni Acuva Technologies, a 2021 BC Tech Awards finalist focused on providing access to affordable clean drinking water in as many countries as possible.
Notable water tech deals so far this year include a $7 million Series A1 venture funding raise by Mangrove Lithium in a deal led by BMW I Ventures and $3 million received by Acuva Technologies through PacifiCan’s Business Scale-Up and Productivity program, according to Invest Vancouver.
Last year, Vancouver’s Axine Water Technologies received $6 million for the development and demonstration of a second generation, digitized wastewater treatment system.
2. The sector is developing solutions for all.
“Water tech” may sound nebulous—anything in it for a layman?
Companies in this space have many possible markets, and all are being addressed. Water treatment and water management are both priorities for different water tech firms. Others work to serve either industrial water users or you and I, the household water users. Think water in our taps, water flowing through storm drains or down toilets, etc.—it is all open to positive disruption in this ecosystem.
Each aspect of water tech innovation is a complex problem to solve, but the Vancouver region has among the best-equipped for the task.
3. Water tech innovation is supported by a range of organizations.
Across BC there are several organizations which encourage the cultivation of water tech startups and solutions.
These include the aforementioned entrepreneurship@UBC program, as well as Creative Destruction Lab’s UBC chapter, and Simon Fraser University’s Water Research Centre. Outside of the university ecosystem hails support from downtown Vancouver’s BC Research Centre, the Annacis Research Centre in Delta, and WaterNext in Alberta.
4. The sector is dealing with its own challenges separate of water.
Invest Vancouver’s report suggests there are several factors preventing more growth within the water tech sector.
For example, the region’s absurdly high cost of living deters many, thinning the potential talent pool. The area’s infamously grid-locked transportation system is hostile toward the smooth flow of business by creating friction between suppliers, manufacturers, customers, and employees. A lack of industrial space is also a limiting factor.
And of course, there’s an image problem.
“For the water tech sector to reach its potential, it needs to be more visible to the public, government officials, potential investors, water industry mavens and connectors, large water multi-national corporations, and overseas markets,” states Invest Vancouver.
The first step, according to the report, “is celebrating regional success stories in the water tech sector,” which Techcouver has proudly been doing since 2019 by covering some of the ecosystem’s technology-focused startups.