What does it take to grow a new technology sector from its infancy into a global powerhouse? Great startups? Buy in from large corporates? What about government?
What does it look like when enthusiasm from all these groups comes together behind a nascent industry? It looks like a lot of executives in suits sitting in a law firm eating lunch and listening to panels and powerpoint presentations. That’s what happened today at the Symposium on Water Innovation in Massachusetts, held at Goodwin Procter, and it’s how you start to build an innovation cluster in a tricky industry like water.
We had a couple of articles this week at BostInno, one by Chase Garbarino and one by me, on the tension between building competition and community in the startup world, but as was clear from the portion of the conference that I attended, in an industry like water things only work if everyone pulls together.
Mitch Tyson, co-founder and co-chair of the New England Clean Energy Council, my former employer, shared his experience helping to build Massachusetts’ world class cleantech cluster.
“These things always start with a conversation, they go to a small group, then they go to a large group,” he said. And the group in attendance was impressive. Many of those who expressed interest were turned away, I’m told, and the room was filled with lots of C-level executives. GE, Veolia, and Intel were all represented on panels, as were a number of VC’s, universities, and government officials.
The day included a keynote by Richard Sullivan, Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs in Massachusetts, as well as panels and working sessions with names like “Connecting Research to Industry” and “Marrying Innovation to Service Delivery.”
Those with whom I spoke insisted that Boston was already well on its way to a strong water technology cluster.
Assaf Barnea, CEO of the Israel-based Kinrot Ventures, the world’s largest seed investor in water technology, shared his perspective on how Israel’s water cluster emerged. Water is a $500 billion market, one quarter of which is in technology (as opposed to service), said Barnea. But, much like cleantech, success in water will not come easily.
“This is not the internet game,” he said. “This is a tough, conservative industry. A lot of capital is needed.”
It’s unclear what the output of the day will be, but expect to hear more about Boston and water technology in the near future.