When Big Data and Cleanweb Collide: An Interview With WatrHub
The rapid adoption of sensors into our electric and water distribution systems has created a wealth of new data. Start-ups in the Cleanweb sector attempt to digest these vast quantities of data and identify areas for improving efficiency. The recent IPO of Opower and increasing attention paid to companies like Bidgely and C3 Energy has served to further demonstrate that this sector is here to stay. WatrHub is a Cleanweb startup focused on the aggregation of water-industry data. Last week Cleantech Group had the pleasure of interviewing Sunit Mohindroo, WatrHub Inc’s Chief Product Officer to learn more about the company’s platform and challenges they are focused on solving.
Q: Could you explain the problem which you set out to solve and what initially got you interested in the water space?
The essence of WatrHub is we are a data and analytics company focused on providing equipment manufacturers within the water industry with timely and actionable sales leads through our data. Myself and my co-founder, Ahmed Badruddin, having previously worked at Apple and Microsoft, wanted to do something with more of a social and environmental impact. We looked at opportunities in the water space and we found that there was a difference in the water industry compared to others when it comes to data, data transparency and using data to recognize what the current challenges are. After having hundreds of conversations with thought leaders in the space a pattern began to emerge: integrating disruptive,highly efficient, newer technologies into the existing infrastructure was a major challenge. We thought about this and came to the conclusion that there had to be a way to use data to help drive the adoption and inform the decision making around these new technologies for water stakeholders. Our goal is to not only collect data but filter it and extract the information we think is highly valuable and actionable which we in turn provide to our customers.
Q: Where do you see innovation in the water industry coming from and why do you feel the adoption of these new technologies has been stagnant?
With entrepreneurs and new types of technology there can definitely be some stakeholder resistance. Municipalities want to properly vet a new treatment process or equipment before they incorporate them into a plant focused on protecting and cleaning our drinking water and wastewater. A lot of these companies emerge from academia as well as from water entrepreneurs who have seen things over the past 20-30 years and understand that there are better ways to do certain things. A lot of those companies are startups but there is also a surprising amount of innovation happening on the Fortune 500 level. The bulk of our customers are focusing on disruptive technologies which are much more efficient in regards to energy use, have smaller footprints, lower maintenance costs…things of that nature. We’ve seen that many of these technology companies are very proactive in how they use data in the development of their products. Data from how plants are currently operating, what types of emerging contaminants there are in their effluents, what types of maintenance and breakdowns there are in order to improve that; all that data feeds back into their R&D on how they can continuously improve their product.
Q: What is the competitive space like and where do you see WatrHub having an advantage?
Prior to us there wasn’t a lot out there, we saw a lot of companies trying to do this sort of lead generation and site targeting in-house; and that wasn’t necessarily one of their core competencies. There is water data out there but it is pretty fragmented and does not involve full coverage. Our challenge is to bring this data together and turn it into actionable information. Our core competency is the actual software and algorithms that go out and gather this data, analyze it as a water professional would and extract the key value which our customers are interested in while displaying it in an intuitive and useful way. The response so far has been great as our services allow the companies to focus on their technology and building relationships with customers while we make sure they are focusing their energy on the right opportunities.
Q: What are your thoughts on the rapidly evolving Cleanweb sector?
It’s an exciting space for us because we see Cleanweb as a giant big data opportunity; specifically within the water space it’s exciting to see companies using more data. There are a lot more sensors, nodes and internet of things devices being integrated into wastewater and treatment infrastructure. Currently, there’s a lot of data that utilities and municipalities don’t necessarily know what to do with or how that data will be valuable to them; we view that as a great opportunity for us and in general other Cleanweb companies as well. We feel that this as a trend which will only accelerate in the future and want to remain right in the center of it.
Gannon is a Junior Analyst at Cleantech Group, providing the research staff with support across multiple cleantech industry groups specializing in the agriculture and food industries. Gannon is a recent graduate of Michigan State University where he majored in Finance and Environmental Economics & Policy. He has previous research and policy experience through interning at a green consulting group in Bethesda, MD as well as interning for a state senator back in Michigan.