One of our obsessions at BlueTech, shared by many in the business world, is in analysing the secret of what makes companies succeed or fail. When the stall rate for early stage companies is so high, with so many falling into the so-called “Valley of Death” stage, how can we predict which water technology companies will follow the path blazed by rising stars such Ostara, spun out the University of British Columbia, or NanoH2O from UCLA? This is a pressing question for investors as well as the companies themselves. Between 2006 – 2016 a combined cumulative total of $1.75Bn was invested in approximately 121 early stage companies. You can imagine the value in a predictive model here.
At BlueTech we may not have a crystal ball, but we believe we do have part of the answer – we proudly present to you BlueTech’s Water Technology Adoption Model (WaTA), now published as a peer-reviewed paper in Water Environment Research.
Our model uses case studies and data on water technologies developed over the last 30 years, examining how they have moved through the various stages of water technology commercialisation. From this, BlueTech has built a set of criteria and benchmarks, against which a company and its innovation can be compared – its rate of progress, or velocity, can then be measured.
We find that technologies tend be either “crisis-driven” (propelled by a new regulation, or an environmental issue for example), or “value-driven”, i.e., with a cost or operational advantage over existing solutions.
The innovation type affects the velocity. For example, while on average it can take 11-16 years for a technology to move from pilot testing through to full commercialization and maturity, this process can be significantly faster for technologies in the right place and time to address a crisis. This is true in the case of Zenon and the adoption of its UF membranes following the cryptosporidium outbreak in the 1990s, as well as Trojan UV following the discovery of shellfish toxicity in Chesapeake Bay. Both these technologies were developed and bought to market in 7 years – double the time it took sludge thermal hydrolysis, a value-driven innovation, to commercialize.
However, truth be told, this speed can be a double-edged sword. Value-driven innovation may take longer to become established, but is lower-risk; with crisis-driven innovation, external factors outside the company’s control such as the timing and implementation of regulations determine events. It is important that companies know which category their technology offering will fall into.
BlueTech will be continuing its research in this area, alongside other upcoming projects – look out for our updated referenceson MABR and granular activated sludge, which are key value-driven innovations. We will also be closely tracking developments in crisis-driven innovation such as emerging contaminants.
We will also continue to develop the WaTa model – for now, the timelines are foundational and will be the basis for future research into the success and failure rates for different types of water technologies.