Innovation is creating unprecedented and practical ways to solve global water threats like water scarcity, water affordability, and infrastructure resilience to climate change. But inventing a new technology or solution is only the beginning of the journey.
Earlier this year, Xylem Innovation Labs (XIL) brought together the 2023 Xylem Commercial Accelerator cohort, water innovation partners, and Xylem leadership for the first-ever “Xylem Accelerator Symposium,” focused on how the water sector can drive innovation adoption forward through collaboration. XIL’s Commercial Accelerator program, launched in 2022, connects later-stage or mature technology companies with Xylem Innovation Managers in different countries to help explore commercial partnerships through commercial pilot programs. This work is a critical part of Xylem’s ecosystem approach to innovation, and one way the company ensures customers benefit from the best technology to address their unique challenges.
As part of the symposium, Xylem hosted a panel titled, “Beyond Borders: How Technology Adoption Differs by Geography,” moderated by Christopher Angell, Americas Strategy Director at Xylem. Panel participants, who represented a cross-section of geographies including the United States, Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, were: Karen Frost, VP Economic Development & Innovation at The Water Council; Nimesh Modak, Managing Director of Imagine H2O Asia; Alexis de Kerchove, Senior Director of Client Sustainability for Xylem in Europe; and Gassan Mutwali, Emerging Markets Strategy Director at Xylem.
Key takeaways from the discussion included:
- Know your targeted region and local markets: Water challenges are global but also very localized. How new technology gets introduced and adopted differs by geography due to many factors, including the local water challenges impacting the area, regional and local regulatory standards, and the risk tolerance of the water operator and stakeholders they serve. “Trying to launch a new product or solution in Europe can be like entering into 28 different markets, where not only language but cultures are different in regard to technology standards and risk aversion,” said de Kerchove. Likewise, the United States is often thought of as the “U.S. market” when in fact it is 50 (or more) different markets comprising 44,000 regulatory bodies including federal, state, county and municipal bodies. To navigate this complexity, it’s key to have a specific region, country or local market in mind, and understand at which level key oversight decisions are made, when developing and introducing a new solution.
- Look for partners: It’s essential to find a trusted partner or collaborator when entering a new marketplace, whether that is a sales representative, distributor or a non-governmental organization (NGO) like The Water Council to help you learn and understand the challenges facing your customers and grow your network. Collaborators can also help build connections to other essential market partners to solve business imperatives such as legal, accounting, warehousing, logistics, talent needs and more. “Having partners or collaborators is an excellent way to fast-track learning a new market and get boots on the ground,” said Frost. Another way is to participate in regional or state exhibitions, or join state or regional chapters of associations in your market segment. Finding competent, customer-centric channel partners is crucial. “Make sure to do your due diligence of potential channel partners and work with those who are aligned to your mission. Getting their attention for your solutions and mindshare is more important than the size of their business,” said Mutwali.
- Participate in local initiatives to drive technology adoption: Water management policies and decision-making are driven by different factors in different regions. In Europe, the utility market has traditionally been regulatory-driven and conservative in regards to embracing new technology, with a long history of collaboration. So accelerating commercialization and adoption of technically-ready innovation requires working with multiple stakeholders to build enthusiasm and acceptance. There are many programs that support ecosystem adoption of new technologies at the regional or national level. For example, in Sweden, Xylem is partnering with the Digital Future, an initiative that brings together four key stakeholder groups: water utilities, academics, solution suppliers and citizens, represented by the Municipality of Stockholm. The vision of Digital Future is to shape an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable society through digital transformation.
During the discussion, the panel also noted the importance of making sure that technologies originally developed in other industries are adapted for the unique needs of water operators – to help avoid the risk of adopting over-engineered, over-costly solutions. Another topic discussed was the criticality of meeting customers where they are in their adoption journey by acting as a trusted advisor on the latest technologies and developments – which could take shape as training and knowledge-sharing sessions.
“One of the unique aspects of the Commercial Accelerator program is that as a global company Xylem can bring perspective and experience from many different regions to support startups in their journey – whether they are exploring their initial beachhead markets or in growth-stage scaling to multiple different geographies,” said Angell.
Learn more about Xylem Innovations Labs’ exciting work to help shape the future of water here.