An Open Innovation Competition to Drive Water Innovation
A big breakthrough in water conservation. A new technology measures the amount of water being used by a grapevine, letting vintners know when the plant is thirsty, and when watering should stop.
Imagine H2O, United States
Water scarcity is one of the world’s biggest woes, and as the climate continues to heat up the planet's governments are latching on to anything that will improve efficiencies.
Many ideas have been explored and applied to reduce water use, but experts believe there needs to be a seismic shift in thinking if we are to save even more. And that’s where open innovation is coming to the rescue, to help the world save hundreds of billions of gallons of water.
New Open Innovation Contest
In 2009 the not-for-profit company Imagine H2O decided to explore the potential of open innovation to solve the world’s water problems, and in the process create viable business opportunities for investors, inventors, academics and entrepreneurs. The industry is worth $500 billion a year but only attracts about 0.5 percent VC funding.
So on September 1, 2009 it launched the inaugural Imagine H2O Prize competition with two aims in mind.
1) To uncover the biggest breakthroughs and most innovative ideas for the efficient use and supply of water
2) To publicize the plethora of business opportunities available in water conservation
Cash Prizes and Business Support
The open innovation competition offered $70,000 in prizes as well as business and legal support, and a host of services to help bring the most promising solutions to market. “We want to help build a Silicon Valley for water,” said Tamin Pechet, Imagine H2O’s Chairman.
To galvanize potential solvers and offer direction Imagine H2O asked them to focus their attention on ideas that would improve water efficiency in agriculture, commercial, industrial or residential applications, such as water recycling and improved water use.
“There are alternate sources of energy – but there are no alternate sources of clean water,” said Ralph Petroff, a member of the judging panel and a veteran water technology CEO.
The competition was open for three months and more than 50 submissions came in from all over the world.
The first prize went to Fruition Sciences and their web-based application that informs vintners about the current status of a vine’s water needs. It allows water to be provided only when a plant needs it. Once a vine has absorbed a sufficient amount of water the supply is turned off, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of gallons. The idea came to Fruition co-founder Sebastien Payen when he realized there were no plant-based sensors to optimize water management.
The open innovation competition also yielded many more innovative ideas. One of the runners up prizes went to Rainwater HOG’s H2OG tank which can store water horizontally or vertically and can be used by residents of cities who lack the space to collect rainwater.
More important than the prize money is Imagine H2O’s incubator program with the not-for-profit becoming a valuable link between prize winners and potential investors, as well as helping them to forge relationships with customers such as water agencies.
More Open Innovation Competitions
The contest was such a success that it will now become an annual event and will feature a different water-related prize theme each year as more businesses are encouraged to tackle the challenge of water.
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