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Taking Canada’s water innovation ecosystem to the next level

Alan Shapiro
Thursday, 27 May 2021

With a population the size of California spread across an area the size of Europe, coordinating the Canadian water innovation ecosystem is a monumental task, writes Alan Shapiro.

Punching above its weight on water

With under 40 million people, Canada has a proven track record of punching well above its weight on water innovation. Canada's water technology ecosystem extends across many of the country's largest sectors, including utilities, energy, mining, agriculture, and manufacturing. It encompasses more than 600 water technology companies, enablers, and research organisations from coast to coast to coast.

“Domestic demand for water technologies can only go so far.”

This ecosystem has given rise to several breakthrough technologies now widely used around the world. For example, Ultraviolet (UV) disinfection and membrane filtration and competitive engineering companies design and build world-class water infrastructure. These technologies and facilities have helped treat water in some of the world’s most challenging urban and industrial environments.

However, as the world's eighth-largest water market, domestic demand for water technologies can only go so far. More than three-quarters of Canadian water and wastewater technology companies have charted their path as exporters, leveraging their expertise to serve global markets. Axine Water Technologies and Greyter Water Systems are just two Canadian water tech companies reaching customers across multiple continents.

Coordinating the Ecosystem

As we look towards a net zero future and beyond, the need for sustainable, equitable water solutions will only grow. The opportunity lies in a One Water approach, coordinating water management and innovation from source to tap and across industries.

With a population the size of California spread across an area the size of Europe, coordinating the Canadian water innovation ecosystem is a monumental task.

For years, Ontario-based WaterTAP served a critical leadership role within this ecosystem, helping to build Ontario's global reputation as a water technology hub. Before ceasing operations in 2019, WaterTAP provided support to Canadian water technology companies looking to reach global audiences and international companies interested in establishing a footprint in Canada.

Recently, this mantle has been taken up by waterNEXT, a pan-Canada water technology network led by Foresight, Canada’s cleantech ecosystem accelerator.

A well-established player in the Canadian cleantech landscape, Foresight has supported 550 ventures through acceleration programs and engaged with 2,000+ stakeholders and partners domestically and internationally.

WaterNEXT’s role is to advance the Canadian water technology ecosystem across multiple sectors through:

  • Making connections among water technology companies, users, and funders
  • Coordinating conversations around water innovation challenges and priorities
  • Supporting international partnerships and export opportunities.

Collaborating to energise innovation

Canada's coordination challenge is also our greatest strength. As we work to break down regional and sectoral barriers, we already see opportunities emerge at the interface of traditionally siloed sectors.

“We need to collaborate on a massive scale to energise innovation.”

A rapidly growing aquaculture sector is just one example, bridging the divide between freshwater and ocean management through a combination of land- and sea-based operations.

With much of the innovation required to address climate change challenges not yet developed, we need to collaborate on a massive scale to energise innovation. Together, we can harness the potential of water technology to accelerate the transition to a global green economy.

- Alan Shapiro is the director of waterNEXT, Foresight’s pan-Canada water technology network.

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