A plentiful and resilient clean water supply is critical to our continued survival. But modern environmental and economic challenges threaten our continued access to inexpensive and safe water.
Luckily, thousands of companies and people around the world have devoted themselves to securing our existing access to clean water and expanding that privilege to every person on the planet. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most innovative, fascinating, and fast-growing companies operating in the clean water space, as well as a few of the trends driving change in this sector.
Why Water? Why Now?
In case you’re wondering why we decided to write about water – of all things – we were inspired by World Water Day, which is on March 22. It’s a day dedicated to increasing awareness and action in the area of water. In addition to dozens of other events around the world, World Water Day coincides with the UN Water Conference, an occasion bringing together governmental actors, charities, for-profit companies, and academics to create new solutions to the problem of delivering clean water to every last human being in the world.
Unfortunately, that task remains woefully incomplete in some parts of the world. And it’s not helped by the fact that water is distributed very unevenly around the world, with 60% of the globe’s total fresh surface water found in just nine countries (U.S., Canada, Brazil, Russia, China, Indonesia, India, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). To add to that, some countries consume far more than others on a per capita basis. The North America region has 8% of the world’s population and 15% of the global water supply. In contrast, China has 21% of the world’s population but only 7% of the global water supply.
The Water Industry
The clean water industry is made up of a huge variety of companies pursuing a broad range of technologies and solutions. While water purification and treatment is one common area of focus for these firms, other organizations are focused on everything from AI and analytics to pollutant and contaminant detection, water use efficiency, water transport, and agriculture.
This diversity makes it an especially ideal sector for economic development agencies since they can target those sub-sectors that match well with the features and benefits of their regions. Many of the companies are also part of what’s sometimes called the “Blue Economy.” (We’ve written about it before.) It’s best to think of these industry sectors as overlapping, rather than as watertight compartments since many firms will qualify as members of more than one subsector.
Accelerating Investment in the Water Market
Two major indexes track the performance of water purification, treatment, and conservation companies, in the US and worldwide respectively: The GRNWATUSLX index and the GRNWATERLX index.
With a momentary decline caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic in the early months of 2020, the index has seen a steady and accelerating increase in the value of the companies in this sector.
However, it’s not all sunshine on the horizon. Investment in clean water ventures still lags well behind investments in clean energy and other green tech sectors. For example, according to WeForum data, while investments in clean energy topped $1.4 trillion in 2022, water innovation attracted only about $100 to $200 million in investments in the same year.
More investment is needed and, in our view, is likely to be forthcoming as the need for resilient and fresh water supplies becomes more apparent and acute.
A Regional Water Powerhouse: Canada
Unsurprisingly, those countries that combine large pools of skilled labor, attractive public incentives, business-friendly environments, and access to the resources required by water tech startups will have a huge advantage when it comes to attracting them to their regions. That’s why Canada, with an abundance of lakes and bordered by ocean in three directions, is a natural destination for all sorts of clean water startups.
Ontario, Canada’s economically most active province, is particularly active in the clean water space. The province is assisted by the Southern Ontario Water Consortium and the Ontario Clean Water Agency in its mission to make Ontario a global leader in this sector.
Here are just a few of the companies making a splash in Ontario:
Lystek International is developing a low temperature, low pressure Thermal Hydrolysis Processing unit called the Lystek Mobile THP®. Their mission is to meet the demand from smaller-scale, sustainable biosolids management.
Trojan Technologies is developing UV tech to make the water treatment process more sustainable, affordable, and effective.
Based in Hamilton, Ontario, Fibracast manufactures state-of-the-art membranes used in wastewater treatment.
Water Leaders Around The World
Innovation isn’t limited to Canada, though. Companies across the globe are doing amazing things with water. From inexpensive solutions for drinking water filtration and purification in low-income areas to aqua-farm monitoring, these organizations are stepping up to the plate and giving it their all in the fight for clean water.
Majik Water uses condensation technologies in a turnkey package to offer communities without reliable access to clean water. Majik Water is based in Kenya.
Manufacturing a locally-assembled and managed membrane filter, Openversum removes heavy metals from water. What’s cool about Openversum is that they’re trying to scale their operations via a microfranchising model, allowing people around the world to take advantage of their new tech.
Kilimo, headquartered in Argentina, operates a SaaS-powered marketplace for farmers seeking to become water neutral. The app allows farmers to buy and sell water offsets and optimize their irrigation techniques.
The Future of Clean Water Startups
As an internationally leading water tech accelerator, Imagine H20 has hosted some of the industry’s most exciting and innovative startups. They just announced their 2023 cohort last month, and the list includes a number of firms you’ll want to keep your eye on as they build and scale their solutions around the world:
Bluemethane, headquartered in London, UK, is developing new technology to capture and permanently remove methane from freshwater.
OmniVis is developing an easy-to-use handheld sensor to detect waterborne and foodborne pathogens.
Canadian Rainstick is developing a water-efficient shower that saves 80% of the water typically used in an average shower while maintaining 2x the flow rate of an average shower.
An Ocean of FDI Opportunity
Even a quick glance at the clean water industry demonstrates that it’s still in its infancy. An equally quick look at the global water situation reveals that we desperately need it to grow and thrive to ensure that future generations can enjoy a world in which every person has access to clean, sustainable, and cheap drinking water.
Happily, for economic developers everywhere, the level of innovation and growth in this sector leaves plenty of room for opportunity for regions looking to capture and support early-stage and established companies making a difference. Additionally, the sheer variety of companies in this industry means that, regardless of what your region has to offer, you’re likely to find a good match somewhere in the clean water sector. We also encourage everybody to take action in any way they can, on World Water Day and beyond. Here’s a great resource to raise awareness and get started.