By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
The Wisconsin Technology Council hosted the Tech Council Innovation Network luncheon in Wauwatosa on Thursday, July 14. Sponsored by University of Milwaukee and the University of Milwaukee Research Foundation, the presentation focused on water technology innovation.
Tom Still, WTC president, introduced discussion panelists Dean Amhaus, president and chief executive officer of The Water Council, Paige Peters, founder and chief technology officer of Rapid Radicals Technology, and Rebecca Tallon, director of water treatment technologies and materials at A.O. Smith Corp.
Among the topics discussed was the difficulty of funding startup companies in the water technology field. It was noted that most investors are interested in industries that have a relatively short cycle time to achieve return on their investment. The water technology industry has a long cycle time, often 12 years or more, before investors see a profit. That is because these technologies often deal with public drinking water, which is heavily regulated and requires a level of testing similar to the testing required in the pharmaceutical industry.
Engineer Rebecca Tallon explained how A.O. Smith, founded in Milwaukee in 1874, is expanding the water treatment division of their business. Already well-known for their energy efficient water heaters, the company has acquired a number of regional water treatment businesses in the last year to strengthen their presence in the U.S. market. Tallon also noted the support A.O. Smith and other local businesses provide through The Water Equipment & Policy (WEP) Center to move the water treatment industry forward.
It was noted that the Great Lakes region has become an increasingly desirable location as other areas of the country, particularly the Southwest, grapple with water shortages. While businesses may welcome the influx of what the panel called “climate refugees,” Amhaus expressed concern that the region’s infrastructure may not be ready to deal with the population growth. He noted that schools, roadways, public utilities, and other key elements of modern life, could struggle to meet the demands of a growing population.
When asked what citizens can do to help Milwaukee’s strained water infrastructure, Peters suggested people use Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District Water Drop Alert service. Users are notified when heavy rains increase the chances of sewer overflow being released into the waterways. Alerts caution users against using large volumes of water during these times, meaning users should avoid activities like showering or using a washing machine until the threat of overflow passes.
The panel agreed that the water technology industry was rapidly growing, but still may not be able to meet the skyrocketing demand for clean, safe, and plentiful water.