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Viewpoint: Hein Molenkamp on locating launching customers

Monday, 10 April 2023

Hein Molenkamp, director of Water Alliance, a group formed to accelerate water technology innovations, speaks about why locating launching customers is a vitial challenge that needs to be made easier.  

In search of launching customers!

I think it’s safe to say that the world is in need of innovative solutions to tackle the rapidly growing shortage of clean water. 

Processes need to be more efficient and, in particular, more circular.

Fortunately, the world is bursting with innovative inventors who are often already far along in developing these solutions. 

Inventors are not always entrepreneurs however, clever innovations get caught in congestion along the road from idea to market. 

What can be done about that?

Let me start with an analysis of the global water market. 

The urgency for solving water problems through innovation is not felt the same worldwide; it depends on the situation. 

Nevertheless, even where the climate is right for this kind of innovation, it is safe to say that the water market is not easy. 

It is tough, especially for innovative start-ups and scale-ups. 

Dutchman Frans Nauta of the Faculty of Impact aptly described it in our magazine WaterProof: “The customer experiences clean water as something that always works. The only time it is noticed is when an outage temporarily shuts down power or water supplies. To enter a market as a start-up, your customer must be eager for what you have to offer, which is often not the case.”

I recognise this and accept that the situation cannot be changed overnight. 

Developing an innovation is an enormous challenge, but the search for a suitable launching customer is even harder.

Water Alliance supports companies in both of those areas. 

We achieve the greatest acceleration through the innovation ecosystem of WaterCampus Leeuwarden, where scientific research, applied research and experimentation in various laboratories is made easy with the involvement of science, government, and industry. 

That system also requires test setups where full-scale demonstrations can eventually be carried out. Potential customers can be invited to attend the demo phase, which has already helped convince numerous end users.

This is good news, but the world is still begging for solutions. We need to accelerate the innovation process. 

The only question is: who is the ‘problem owner’? Is it the water entrepreneur or cluster organisations like Water Alliance?

The answer: we are all responsible. However, the social interest is at stake and will require proactivity from governments worldwide.

Frans Nauta also touched on that, stating: “The customer's incentive mostly lies in government regulation. If regulation doesn't move in the right direction, you are basically dead in the water as a start-up.”

In short, the government can make a huge difference with subsidies, favourable tax terms or other incentive schemes. 

As such, I am also extremely pleased that the Dutch government announced in late February that it is working with other parties to allocate €342 million for the ‘Nationaal Groeiplan Watertechnologie’. 

This is a Dutch plan in which Water Alliance, WaterCampus Leeuwarden and a national consortium of around 600 partners are investing in developing innovations to enable smarter and more efficient use of water in numerous areas.

An additional goal is to support Dutch small and medium-sized enterprises in exporting their unique knowledge to other parts of the world. We are joining forces in the search for launching customers!

Hein Molenkamp is the director of Water Alliance (The Netherlands).