Buoy Labs at the MIT Water Innovation Prize

Being a keynote speaker is an interesting gig. The event chooses the speaker for one of many reasons: area of expertise, relationship to the institution, rising star in a growing industry, or being named George Clooney. (That guy must get asked to keynote everywhere.) Buoy Labs CEO and Co-Founder Keri Waters was honored to give the keynote address at the final pitch night of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 2017 Water Innovation Prize. As an MIT graduate with serious entrepreneurial experience who is building a company in one of the most rapidly-growing industries today, Keri fits the bill for the event’s keynote, but, more importantly, she’s been where these innovators are, and she was impressed by every team that pitched. There’s serious work being done here.

The annual Water Innovation Prize is part of the MIT Water Club, and helps emerging entrepreneurs turn a water innovation idea into a business with access to mentors, research and networks in the water industry. The winning team receives up to $30,000 in funding to help bring their innovation to market. The prize isn’t solely based on a technological innovation; winners with projects based in design, engineering, policy and data analytics have gone on to great success in other national competitions.

The mission of the Water Innovation Prize is to inspire and promote solutions to global water challenges by developing and supporting emerging student entrepreneurs, and, by all accounts, that mission is succeeding. In only its third year at MIT, the final pitch night had a sold-out crowd of more than 300 people — proof that the water sector is heating up.

On May 1, the final night of the competition, 10 teams pitched excellent patented and patent-pending innovations, including:

  • Capturing steam from power plant cooling towers and re-condensing it to save water and money
  • Filters that remove lead from household drinking water
  • Inexpensive, waterless toilet solutions for refugee camps and other non-sewered households and communities
  • Software solutions to help dam operators make better real-time decisions
  • Technology to turn agricultural waste into charcoal, an eco-friendly cooking fuel for low-income communities

Every team pitched a thoughtful potential product that offered a solution to a real problem; the breadth and depth of water innovations these people are developing is an exciting boost to a rapidly growing industry. The panel selected three winning teams to receive $10,000 each: change:WATER labs, PipeGuard, and Takachar. These teams will continue to develop and market their innovations, using both the funding and mentoring from the Water Innovation Prize.

A look around the room on the final pitch night offered further proof that the water sector is heating up: This year, there were more entrepreneurs, more investors, more people interested in the new and impactful ways we can work with water. The $30,000 prize helped bring the 10 teams of MIT innovators to the competition, but there’s growing interest in water innovation nationally. The 2017 Water Innovation Prize competitors pitched to large corporate strategic investors, venture capital representatives, and fellow entrepreneurs. Decision makers across many industries are starting to notice the huge possibilities in water innovation, and the impact that true water innovation can have on the planet.

Keri Waters and Buoy Labs are honored to have been a part of this competition, and look forward to seeing these innovators become a greater part of the exciting, limitless entrepreneurial work in water. If Clooney wants in on this, he’ll have to wait for 2018.