Ontario, Canada, currently has more than 900 water industry companies, supported research centers, incubators, accelerators, and programs that encourage innovative water and w astewater technologies and services. Dr. Brian Mergelas is chief executive offer of the Water Technology Acceleration Project (WaterTAP), a non-profit organization that supports Ontario’s status as a world water technology hub. WaterTAP brings private sector experience to the challenge of helping water technology entrepreneurs, utilities, and investors make the connections and find the resources they need to keep our water sector prospering. For more information, visit www.watertapontario.com. Dr. Mergelas recently sat with Modern Pumping Today to discuss Ontario’s leading role in the global water industry.
Modern Pumping Today: Ontario ranks as the top water patent jurisdiction in the world. How can other areas learn from Ontario’s example?
Dr. Brian Mergelas: While much of Ontario’s success in the water technology sector has happened organically, a great deal of it is due to a supportive environment for innovation. Investments from the provincial and federal governments have helped build demonstration facilities that allows full-scale testing of new technologies, for instance, and general support for start-ups, as well as pre-commercial applied research, has encouraged homegrown talent to pursue entrepreneurial activities and tackle new challenges.
Ontario has brought more focus to the sector with WaterTAP. The Province’s decision to create WaterTAP in 2010 recognized that dedicated support and knowledge base is required to grow the sector and strengthen SMEs that are providing solutions for the world’s water challenges. In partnership with many of the province’s related resources and assets, such as the Southern Ontario Water Consortium, MaRS Discovery District, and the Ontario Clean Water Agency, WaterTAP is connecting those businesses to opportunities for growth.
MPT: How do you see the role of municipal and private sector partnerships?
Dr. Brian Mergelas: End markets are critical to water technology acceleration. A strong group of water users, such as utilities and industrial customers, can make or break the success of any solution. We recognize that technologies can’t be pushed to the market—there needs to be a pull. By creating a healthy and productive dialogue between end users, solution providers, and researchers, we reduce perceived risk of adoption and shorten the innovation cycle. We also increase the ability for solutions to meet real-world challenges, rather than filling a market with solutions looking for needs.
With regard to financing and procurement, we believe that innovative technologies can require new approaches and ways of thinking. Traditional procurement approaches favour incumbent technologies and public-private partnerships lean towards big new systems rather than taking advantage of innovation to extend the lives of existing systems. Through WaterTAP’s Invest to Save working group of industry experts, we are exploring ways that different approaches to financing and procurement—approaches that favour long-term savings and help meet asset management goals—can help accelerate innovation.
MPT: WaterTAP has pointed to the city of Burlington on the shores of Lake Ontario as a success story of supporting water-related businesses. What lessons can the water industry learn from Burlington?
Dr. Brian Mergelas: In Burlington and other successful regions, particularly ones that belong to the Ontario Clean Technology Alliance, water technology companies have experienced success due to local resources such as manufacturing bases, supply chains, and academic and research facilities. There are opportunities to tap into clusters of talent and expertise. These collective resources are vital to fuelling a healthy cluster—and, in Burlington in particular, success is breeding success. Alumni from major companies, such as Zenon (now owned by GE), have gone on to develop exciting new companies.
MPT: Where are the emerging opportunities in today’s water industry?
Dr. Brian Mergelas: WaterTAP’s mandate is to increase adoption of Ontario-based water technologies in the marketplace. We believe Ontario has a great deal of expertise in nine core clusters. Mature clusters include membranes, ultraviolet disinfection, and pipe inspection and rehabilitation. Clusters with high growth potential include biogas and resource recovery, stormwater management, and smart systems, such as monitoring, sensors, and big data. Ontario companies also have measurable success in water and wastewater treatment, as well as technologies that promote energy and water efficiency.
MPT: How vital is the role of research and development in today’s water sector?
Dr. Brian Mergelas: Research and development is vital, and both Ontario and Canada do a good job of supporting it. At WaterTAP, we work closely with organizations that support R&D and demonstration, such as Ontario Centres of Excellence and the Southern Ontario Water Consortium. Our focus is to strengthen the commercial uptake of those proven technologies. Part of that job is enriching the relationship between technology developers, researchers, regulators, and end-user markets. ■

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