In the water industry, we talk a lot about technology, innovation and digital transformation. At Xylem, these pillars are critical to our mission of solving water – a mission that’s being increasingly adopted across industries from municipal, agriculture and industrial, to commercial and residential. To illustrate, in the last year alone we have seen the pledging of Net Zero Water goals from major global corporations like Pepsi, Gap and Meta – to commitments of 100% water reuse by 2035 by the City of Los Angeles with a population of 10 million.
To reach these admirable and much-needed goals, utilities and commercial water users must leverage innovative water and wastewater technologies, which are critical to driving water, energy and cost efficiencies. Xylem is a global water technology leader with a 17,000-strong team. In addition to providing leading-edge solutions to solve challenges across the water cycle, Xylem is also at the forefront of partnering with universities, start-ups and small technology companies the world over to bring the most promising innovations to market.
The industry-leading approach of Xylem Innovation Labs
These partnerships are led by Xylem Innovation Labs, a team of talented, passionate innovation enthusiasts and an important part of Xylem’s focus to drive growth through innovation and shape the future of water. The Xylem Innovation Labs team strives to identify the technologies of highest-potential to Xylem’s customers, and to then explore partnerships through the framework of a founder-friendly Incubator and Accelerator program. These programs are commercially oriented to bring new technologies to market in the form of licensing, white labelling, distribution or other commercial arrangements.
These partnerships are a win-win situation for Xylem and for our technology partners, who are typically flexible, fast-moving and laser-focused on perfecting one technology or solution. Our in-depth industry expertise and established market channels meanwhile can ignite their business plans, giving them the tools they need to mature and scale-up.
I, personally, can speak to this industry-leading approach of Xylem Innovation Labs. As a founding member of two water tech companies, I’ve experienced the challenges of bringing new technologies to market first-hand. What’s phenomenal at Xylem is that with our global presence, resources and the support of our colleagues and leadership, we are able to advance multiple technologies forward in parallel.
Bringing new technologies to market
To provide some more granularity to how we work, Xylem Innovation Labs works with the innovation ecosystem via three distinct programs:
1. Technology Scouting & Assessment: Xylem’s open innovation program identifies the highest-potential technologies globally, leveraging a wide network of partners including non-profits, universities, governmental agencies, consultants, research firms and investors.
2. Technology Incubator: The first of its kind among large water companies, the Incubator is designed for earlier-stage technologies looking to work with Xylem to catalyze their technology development.
3. Partnerships Accelerator: This initiative is for later-stage or mature technology companies seeking to explore commercial partnership. Accelerator participants will work with Xylem to conduct a commercial pilot, and those that successfully complete the program will emerge equipped and ready to work with Xylem.
Technology and business model innovation
The Xylem Innovation Labs team is already making strides here. Through these programs, we have piloted numerous inspiring technologies that have significant implications on addressing urgent water challenges. These include everything from satellite remote sensing to augmented reality for field service teams, from membrane bioreactor technology to harnessing water from the air using various atmospheric water generation systems.
On a final note, we are not only excited about technology innovations but about business model innovation. An example is our new partnership with water consultancy Isle Utilities that aims to tackle one of the major sticking points in our industry’s transformation: the pace of technology adoption. Their industry-first approach to funding and scaling breakthrough water technologies – the “Trial Reservoir” – is a revolving loan fund. Trial Reservoir brings together all the players needed to take new technologies to market – utilities, investors, start-ups, non-profits – clearly defining the path and processes to expedite adoption.
Solving water challenges together
From droughts to flooding, we’re seeing examples of escalating water challenges driven by climate change every day, all underscoring the need to move faster in the race to solve water. The good news is that phenomenal innovation is happening across the sector that all have huge potential to move the needle.
However, no one person or entity can change the entire water industry landscape on their own. One of my favorite quotes is “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.” And so what’s exciting, and a real opportunity here, is that the Xylem Innovation Labs team is not only identifying the best-of-the-best technologies out there, but actively participating and partnering to bring them to market in collaboration with the rest of our colleagues across Xylem and the broader water industry.
Pictured here, the Xylem Innovation Labs team at Xylem’s Morton Grove, Illinois, office. From left to right: Elma Kapa, Chris Palassis, Max Storto, Sivan Zamir, Kyle Schoenheit. Not pictured: Paolo Zacchi, Narain Madhavan, Jeff Lopes, Xiangjie Kong, Flora Klise.
Listen to the podcast episode on Xylem Innovation Labs
For a more in-depth conversation on water technology start-ups and innovation, check out the episode below of Xylem's Solving Water podcast. I go deeper into why we are partnering with smaller companies to stay agile and bring cutting-edge tech to the market.
Listen on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.