Customer Engagement Insights for Water Startups

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Customer Engagement Insights for Water Startups

Introduction

Start-ups often bring fundamental innovations to the market, opening doors to enormous opportunities, but also steering into challenges. Customer engagement, a vital aspect of any business, is a realm where start-ups face distinct hurdles and promising pathways.

I wanted to share some of the main hurdles that are faced by start-ups in the water sector (based on my experience at VAPAR) and some avenues for navigating them in a hope it might be helpful to others in the industry.

Challenges:

1. Procurement:

The procurement of larger enterprises and public sector clients sometimes inadvertently favours established players, making it challenging for smaller start-ups to secure contracts. Some procurement policies call for ISO accreditations and minimum turnover requirements, which can feel like formidable hurdles

2. Brand Recognition:

Unlike seasoned giants, start-ups lack the luxury of a long history of brand building. Establishing credibility and gaining trust in the industry can take many years and consistent marketing investment. Potential clients may be hesitant to commit to a new player, preferring the safety of brands they’ve known for years. 

3. Technical Readiness Level:

Not all ground-breaking products are fully complete or at a stage where they seamlessly integrate into existing systems. This technical immaturity can be a hurdle in gaining acceptance from clients with a lower risk tolerance, who may be hesitant to adopt solutions that are not tried and tested. Understandably, customers want to see the value of your offering ahead of making a purchase. But this dynamic can quickly become a ‘chicken or egg’ scenario, as a purchase (or even commitment) will attract the focus and discipline needed to discover the value.

Pathways to Smooth Sailing:

1. Accelerators:

Joining an accelerator program provides start-ups with more than just funding. It offers mentorship, networking opportunities, and exposure to industry experts. Accelerators often have connections with corporate partners, helping start-ups bypass some of the procurement hurdles and gain a foothold in the market. Examples of a water related accelerator is Imagine H2O.

2. Lab Programs:

Participating in lab programs provides start-ups with the space and resources to refine and test their solutions. Beyond the physical facilities, lab programs often come with the credibility stamp that startups need. Having a product backed by a reputable lab can significantly boost brand recognition. An example of programs that are relevant to water start-ups are Environmental Tech Lab and United Utilities Innovation Lab. You can read more about our experience in the United Utilities Innovation Lab here.

3. Direct Procurement:

While the procurement process might be challenging, there’s a direct route that startups can take. Engaging directly with potential clients or partners can bypass some of the red tape. Establishing personal connections and showcasing the value of your innovation in a tailored manner can break down procurement barriers.

About the Author

 

As VAPAR’s CEO, Amanda co-founded the company with a vision to bring emerging technology into the Asset Management space and revolutionise the way infrastructure is tracked, repaired, and maintained.

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