Water Council accepting applications for Pilot Program

The Water Council is now accepting applications for its Pilot Program, which helps speed up the process for getting innovative water-related product ideas to market.

This is the third year in which the Milwaukee-based economic development group is taking applications from companies looking for support. The program specifically targets smaller businesses and startups, but larger ones can apply as well.

The program has gotten about $1.1 million in funding so far, including $400,000 from Wells Fargo to be used over the next four years. Companies under $5 million have to match 25 percent of the dollar amount granted by The Water Council, while companies above $5 million have to match dollar-for-dollar.

“When commercializing, it takes a long time,” said Elizabeth Thelen, director of entrepreneurship and talent at The Water Council. “And when you’re a startup vs. A.O. Smith, it’s hard… you have to have that perseverance, vision, dedication, resources — and that‘s where The Water Council comes in.”

As well as giving money in the form of grants, The Water Council assists chosen applicants with making connections in the industry, as well as helping them to set up the site or sites where the product will be tested.

“Besides money being a problem, sites are a huge problem when you’re trying to test products,” Thelen told WisBusiness.com. “Particularly in the water industry.”

Testing products at these sites lets companies obtain technical data which can make all the difference when trying to scale and commercialize a new product, or even upgrade an existing product with new technology.

PaveDrain, one of the program awardees from last year, got connected with a startup from The Water Council’s BREW accelerator program called MetaMateria. This startup specializes in phosphorus filtration, and its mechanism for doing so was integrated with PaveDrain’s permeable paving surface system, expanding its capacity for point source removal of pollutants.

By testing this hybrid product at seven different sites, PaveDrain was able to see how much phosphorus could be removed in a multitude of settings with varying factors affecting performance.

Thelen says the Pilot Program helps companies to build out “the actual data collection validation process,” as well as getting the right certifications and achieving consistent product performance.

“The Council’s platform for gathering technical data in order to scale and commercialize technologies will provide much needed enhancements to our water infrastructure and fills a critical gap in the clean-tech ecosystem,” said Mary Wenzel, head of environmental affairs at Wells Fargo, which supports the program alongside the Fund for Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

Applications to the program are being accepted in five general categories:

*Intelligent stormwater green infrastructure, covering things like cisterns, green roofs, porous paving materials and bioswales, which remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. In this category, projects must create web-based infrastructure to manage stormwater and the systems for directing it.

*Stormwater quality, which includes projects relating to finding pollution or contaminants in stormwater, with management practices for capture and treatment of dirty stormwater. Projects that can identify ways to reuse the water will be considered “high priority.”

*Stormwater quantity, including projects that control runoff, holding off the release of stormwater into sewers and other waterways.

*Plant process technology, which covers projects for nutrient removal, energy production, and cost reduction.

*Other water technology applications, which includes any projects that don’t fit neatly into another category.

“As we have seen with recent water problems in Flint and historic flooding in Houston, these challenges require new approaches and cutting-edge technologies,” said Vicki Elkin, executive director of the Fund for Lake Michigan.

Applying businesses must have a water-related product and be a member of The Water Council. The deadline for applications is Nov. 11.

Entries will be scored by a panel of judges from the Fund for Lake Michigan, Wells Fargo, MMSD and The Water Council senior staff. Those that make the cut will be notified by the end of December, and the program starts in early 2018.

Read about previous Pilot Program recipients: http://thewatercouncil.com/programs/pilot-project/

–By Alex Moe