• Will Sarni

Investing in water (people)

I confess, in the past I have “fallen in love” with technologies. It is just as tempting to follow company founders who have also fallen in love with their innovations.


Yet, very few innovations can be considered truly disruptive. While it is easy to view an innovative technology as “disruptive”, a term we often use interchangeably with innovative, it is difficult to identify any water technology that has truly been disruptive.

I often remark that our water infrastructure would not be unfamiliar to the Romans. While we have made significant advances in water treatment and deliver technologies, we still fundamentally extract water from surface water and groundwater, treat - transport – deliver, and then treat and discharge or just discharge (globally, about 80 percent of wastewater is discharged without treatment).

Our water technology advances have been incremental improvements and not disruptive, yet. The water industry still searches for a disruptive technology (I maintain that “air moisture capture” is one technology that is). A water sector “Uber” (we can debate if Uber was truly disruptive) has not yet scaled to disrupt the status quo of centralized water and water treatment infrastructure.

While the water sector is not quite there yet in large scale disruption, I believe we are on the cusp. Ultimately, as much as it will be about the technology, it is all about the people.

Innovative technology companies with the right team and culture have a better chance of succeeding. The right team should be agile, quick to learn and objective. These qualities are critical for a startup and companies in general. The attention to this aspect of an innovative technology company can be overlooked when dazzled by the prospect of an innovative and perhaps disruptive technology.

This value of the getting to know the team before investing was echoed by Dr. Reinhard Hübner, CEO of SKion Water, for the season three finale of The Stream. In our discussion with Reinhard, he discusses valuable lessons learned from getting to know the innovators before investing and the dangers of founders falling in love too much with their innovation. We hope you enjoy the episode.

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