Q&A on ATI Water with Bart Bohn
Q. What is the ATI Water Incubator?
A. ATI Water will source and accelerate the development of startups with innovations that will contribute to a 50 percent reduction in the daily water consumption of the average American. It joins the other ATI incubator divisions focused on specific industries: Clean Energy (2001); IT/Wireless (2006); and Bio/Health Sciences (2009).
Q. Why are you so passionate about water technology?
A. If we don’t figure out what to do with the coming water shortage, humanity is severely screwed. That is the kind way to put it. I wish I had started working on this 20 years ago. Even in college, this was my passion — I got as close to an environmental management degree that I could at Trinity by combining degrees in chemical engineering and finance with a minor in environmental sciences. I did try this route early in my career, but Arthur Andersen’s whole environmental management practice left after I accepted my offer with them but before I could start working. My work at ATI has been focused on learning incubation, startups, and ecosystem building, and now I am ready to deploy those insights to water — finally.
Q. Can you be more specific about the water technology applications on which ATI would like to focus?
A. About 90 percent of the water we consume each day is embedded in the food, energy, and daily products that we consume. These will be the largest drives of water demand globally as the next 3 billion people move into the middle class and start eating more western diets and consuming like Americans. Therefore, ATI Water will primarily target agriculture, energy production, and certain manufacturing cases where the largest impacts to water sustainability can be achieved. For residential use cases, ATI Water will work with solutions that have a direct path to quickly impacting tens of millions of meters worth of residences.
Q. How will ATI Water do this?
A. There are two primary ways we will source innovations: 1) By building a Texas-wide network of entrepreneurs and university-based water researchers to develop significant engineering and scientific breakthroughs and 2) by partnering with national-scale programs such as the CleanTech Open and SXSW ECO. ATI Water will work with both university- and non-university-sourced innovations and teams, including corporate spin outs. We want to work with the best water innovations that have the highest potential for impact.
One of the hardest aspects of water-related innovation is the risk-averse nature of water technology purchasers — and for very good reason (looking at you Flint, MI). To address this, ATI Water will build a network of pilot facilities (e.g., reference customers), with the first in partnership with AccelerateH20 on a “net zero discharge” platform for manufacturing.
Q. What are the financial goals of ATI Water?
A. In the next five years, ATI Water plans to work with 100 companies to help them collectively raise $100 million in capital and create 500 new water technology jobs. So, five years, 500 jobs. Five years, $100M in capital.
Q. Will ATI Water place a priority on companies seeking to commercialize technology from Texas universities? Will it consider companies with private-sector technology and/or companies from outside Texas?
A. The 100 companies will be both ATI Water incubator members and non-members, as both will be able to leverage the investor networks, marketing platforms, and community platforms ATI Water is building.
Q. Where are you going to get the money to do this? Are you going to hire additional staff?
A. ATI Water is seeded by Pecan Street, Inc. in partnership with the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. Additional funding will be sought from foundations, economic development organizations, and related corporations. The funds will support two full-time staff members; interns from participating universities; programs for investors, entrepreneurs, and key ecosystem partners; and partnership development with pilot facilities.
Q. How does a company – or company-to-be – apply to join ATI Water?
A. Companies can apply to be part of ATI by visiting our website: http://ati.utexas.edu/apply/. We read all applications that are submitted.