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Cleveland Water Alliance launches initiative to fund, promote innovative water technology

View of Lake Erie
Jeff St. Clair
A view of Lake Erie and the Cleveland sky line.

The Cleveland Water Alliance announced the launch of the Freshwater Innovation Fund in an effort to promote new water technology in the city.

The fund was created to address water stress in the region, which can include drought caused by climate change, aging infrastructure and water contaminants, according to the press release.

“Water stress is here. Water stress is accelerating,” Cleveland Water Alliance President and Executive Director Bryan Stubbs said. “So, the Cleveland Water Alliance, we on one hand, really take a look at how do we accelerate new technologies in the water market, and what's lacking in order to accelerate those new technologies.

Stubbs manages the fund alongside Case Western Reserve University Chief Innovation Officer Joseph Jankowski and Oatey Company Vice President, International Development, Blake Oatey. The Alliance is currently fundraising for the initiative, Stubbs said, and intends to raise $5 million for its first round of funding.

“These are seed investments that we'll be investing between 250,000 and $500,000 into these early-stage innovation,” Stubbs said. “Our expectations are to deploy those funds fairly quickly, and we'll move on to a $10 million fund in a similar fashion. And then from there, move on to a $25 million fund.”

The funds are available to companies around the world so long as their projects are water-focused and innovative, Stubbs said.

“It doesn't have to be a mechanical innovation, it doesn't have to be a digital innovation, it can even be a financial innovation,” he said. “Anytime you take that new approach to solving problems, and there's more and more problems around water stress, that's when we get into innovative technologies.”

Projects should be applied first to Lake Erie before being implemented elsewhere, Stubbs said.

“Lake Erie has stresses and we need to protect it, and often our innovations are meant to be applied directly to the challenges that we have here locally,” he said. “However, we believe by solving our local problem, we can then export those solutions globally.”

Two years ago, Clean Water Alliance launched water accelerator testbeds on Lake Erie that allow water tech companies to test their products in real-world conditions before they hit the market, Stubbs said. But not all funded projects are required to undergo the testing period.

“If somebody had that technology, they can come in and trial it -- we'd have an interest in helping them trial it,” he said. “And we alternatively, from a fund standpoint, something may already have been trialed in some other way, shape or form, and we may want to invest in that company anyway.”

A good portion of the funding will allow companies to hire more employees, which will continue to bring about 300 new, equitable jobs to the region each year while establish Cleveland as the hub for innovative water technology.

“These jobs pay extremely well, way above the average and require everything from a high school diploma to a Ph.D.,” Stubbs said. “It's something that excites me personally and that we're really adding jobs, and then, ultimately we're adding inclusive wealth into our region.”

Interested companies can apply online through the innovator intake form, or can contact the Cleveland Water Alliance by email or phone.

Corrected: February 22, 2023 at 10:13 AM EST
This story has been updated to correct the name of the Alliance in the final paragraph of the story.
Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.