Blog29 August 2019
The Dutch water technology sector largely consists of small and medium-sized enterprises. Their innovative power is indispensable for the international ambitions of the sector and must be linked to commercial expertise. Enter the innovation brokers. They operate from the Business Counter where Water Alliance, ENVAQUA and NWP have joined forces to provide better support to water technology SMEs. Michiel Pols is one of those innovation brokers. In his blog he explains what he has to offer. "From innovation to checkout, that's the big step ahead."
"I have the best job in the world as I get the chance to help innovative businesses become commercially successful. Many innovators act from the heart, but sometimes forget that they must and can earn a living. And they don't always know how to handle this. We see that the Gyro Gearlooses of this world often struggle to bring their smart technology to the market. That is unfortunate for the inventors and it is certainly unfortunate if you look at the enormous water challenges the world is facing. Innovations are essential to meeting those challenges. The objective is to apply new inventions in practice. No innovation without implementation.
I don’t work alone. I work from NWP and work with Jantienne van der Meij from Water Alliance. Our support can take various forms. We can connect innovators to the research world and support their entrepreneurship. We know the path to financing instruments, development partners, knowledge institutes and ultimately to customers. And we can add the necessary knowledge and experience from our network.
Societies’ demand for innovations is only increasing. We do not accept medicine residues in waste water; we want to be a circular society; we want to use surface water for energy transition. New technology is essential for all of these. Furthermore, the rest of the world is certainly not twiddling its thumbs and we must ensure that we do not fall behind. I therefore not only look at the innovation itself, but also at the added value for the sector as a whole and whether it deserves to be showcased in the Dutch shop window. Innovations to remove phosphate from surface water are a good example.
The conditions for innovation are better than ever, but SMEs have to know who to call, and for what. There is a lot of funding available, but once again, SMEs need to be able to navigate the funding world and complicated procedures. It is sometimes hard to see the wood for the trees. Small starters cannot be expected to oversee it all.
And being successful is not just about money and knowledge, it's often a matter of structure, the way you shape and build your business. Certainly, if you want to work internationally, business partnerships can be valuable. Valuable for the partners too as partnerships have the potential to enable them to offer complete packages. A bit of a black and white analogy: large companies are sometimes the container ships, innovators the tugs.
We strive to support a few dozen cases a year. Sometimes an hour of brainstorming is enough to help someone continue for several months. A critical conversation can help enormously in taking a different approach. Others are already doing well and just need a little push. And sometimes more time is needed to get a promising initiative on the road. Every case is different. It is important that SMEs know how to maintain their own identity and continue to feel good about their business.
We can also help establish a direct connection with the end customer to make a proposition stronger. It is all about demand articulation, clarity about the situation and customer expectations. Innovation must match these. And at the same time it is important to include the end customer or development partner in innovation projects. This is often quite different to how regular processes work. Many innovators and customers like running pilots, but then have difficulty scaling up. I often say that selling the second is much harder than selling the first.
In one example, I helped a few students who had developed a drone mounted sensor with which to visualise agricultural damage caused by water shortages. This technology can ensure better and more efficient management and it attracted some water boards that were willing to act as development partners. The technology is now being used in practice. The students found the fast lane to entrepreneurship.
I cordially call on innovative water technology entrepreneurs to contact us. Together, we can look at what is needed and possible, and how we can best support you. This is our outstretched hand. Strong and successful innovators make the entire Dutch water sector stronger!”
Water Alliance, ENVAQUA and NWP have joined forces. They have created a Business Counter to better support innovative small and medium-sized companies in the field of water technology. The main task is to help entrepreneurs navigate the Dutch water technology sector and the Water Top Sector’s knowledge and innovation infrastructure. The Business Counter’s innovation brokers also put entrepreneurs in contact with potential end users. The support focuses on three specific target groups of innovative water technology companies.
1. Agriculture, Water & Food – Companies offering solutions for the agricultural, food and horticultural sectors concerning water quantity (such as efficiency and irrigation), water quality (such as plant protection products, nutrients and microbial contaminants, drainage treatment) and the recovery of valuable resources from waste water.
2. Energy transition & sustainability (including resource recovery) – Companies in the field of energy generation from: flowing water (tidal energy, wave energy, decay energy); temperature differences (OTEC); and fresh-salt water differences. Other companies include circular companies that add value by recovering valuable components from waste water and by reusing water.
3. Health & healthcare – Companies in the area of clean and healthy water (water quality), and companies that can detect pathogens and medicine residues in, and remove them from, water and waste water.