The water sector’s innovation centre of excellence – Spring – is collaborating with Microsoft and Impact X on a new initiative to make tools and funding available for start-ups to accelerate their companies.
The Impact X-Venture Studio has been launched by Microsoft and Impact X, a venture capital firm founded to support underrepresented entrepreneurs across Europe. Sustainability is a key focus, which is why the initiative is teaming up with Spring, whose mission is to accelerate transformation across the water industry.
By connecting the expertise and skills of Impact X, Microsoft and Spring, Impact X-Venture Studio hopes to achieve three core things: unlock the potential of tech start-ups, at scale; help tackle the most pressing challenges the water sector is facing; and ensure fairer representation of minority groups in the start-up space.
Carly Perry, Spring managing director, said: “Spring is excited to be representing the UK and Ireland water sector in this exciting collaboration with Microsoft Venture and Impact X. We hope that the Impact X-Venture Studio in partnership with Microsoft illustrates the water companies’ commitment to engaging and supporting start-up innovators and will drive increased representation of start-up innovations into the sector.”
Eric Collins, Impact X chief executive, said: “Water safety, security and availability are foundational with regards to sustainability. Partnering with Microsoft to address this area of opportunity brings together one of the great tech companies with Impact X’s innovator sourcing talent. The impact on sustainable solutions is potentially huge.”
Jimmy Cockerton, Microsoft UK innovation and start-ups lead, said: “It’s been a real privilege leading Microsoft, Impact X and Spring Innovation to help drive innovation in the water industry, and diversity in the start-up community.
“Through the Impact X-Venture Studio in partnership with Microsoft, I’m excited to see how we can rapidly innovate with our enterprise customers whilst accelerating start-up growth through revenue creation. This is an amazing opportunity bringing corporates and start-ups together to deliver greater impact for people and planet.”
The initiative comes at a critical time. Climate change and water scarcity are forcing water companies and the wider sector to adapt and invest significantly in water supply and wastewater treatment. The UK 2050 Water Innovation Strategy, which Spring is helping deliver, was launched in 2020 by all UK water and wastewater companies and outlines the importance of finding sustainable solutions.
These challenges will range from how the water industry might become net positive through opportunities in natural capital, to minimising adverse impacts from wastewater, and how the industry can improve affordability of water for all.
Musidora Jorgensen, Microsoft’s chief sustainability officer, said: “Sustainable solutions are an important focus for Microsoft. To deliver real progress against our biggest societal challenges we need innovative solutions, a diversity of ideas, and equal access to entrepreneurial opportunity that can turn ideas into action.
“Through industry partnerships we can provide both opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs and tackle critical sustainability challenges around water availability and security head on.”
The initiative also hopes to rebalance investment for unpresented groups. Research shows that in recent years more than 90% of the total amount of venture capital raised went to white entrepreneurs, while only 0.24% went to black entrepreneurs and only 0.02% of investment going to black female founders.
Collins said: “There are many great start-up ideas out there and plenty of great founders – but often we see that the biggest challenge facing founders is getting those initial enterprise trials and contracts that really change the game when it comes to fundraising and long-term success.
“A venture builder like the one we are creating with Microsoft can really bring together those threads and short-circuit the long arduous process that is getting those initial contracts in place.”
Research has revealed that venture builders that match entrepreneurs directly with industry challenges are starting to outperform classic accelerators. Recent data shows that 72% of start-ups from venture builders going from Seed to Series A funding were successful — compared to only 42% of traditional start-ups. Overall, the venture builder approach achieves 44% better results compared to traditional start-ups.
Collins said: “A venture builder like the one we are creating with Microsoft can short-circuit the long arduous process in getting initial contracts in place.
“Impact X exists to discover extraordinary founders and to empower them to generate a double bottom-line return. We believe that the Impact X-Venture Studio with Microsoft not only increases the likelihood of that outcome but also drastically reduces the timeframe.”
Microsoft is looking for the first entrepreneurs and start-ups to kickstart these industry challenges, providing support including US$150,000 in free Azure credits, expert guidance from technical advisors and Azure specialists, free working space in Shoreditch, and tailored mentoring.
To learn more about the Impact X-Venture Studio in partnership with Microsoft, you can visit the Venture Studio section on their homepage.
To find out more about the Spring platform, visit spring-innovation.co.uk/