By Beverley Ferrara, European Representative
In the last few years, digital technologies have become integral to smarter water management for water and wastewater utilities around the globe. The trend is reflected in The Water Council’s overseas membership, where a growing number of companies from Europe are working in the digital space.
One of these firms, APX10, is a fast-growing Nordic company that helps utilities make more informed decisions with big data analytics. Remarkably, it took only two years for APX10 to go from proof-of-concept to supporting almost 20% of the Danish water utilities with an asset management data-driven decision-making tool.
I spoke recently with APX10 CEO Ulrich Borup Hansen and Andreas Pedersen, head of projects and communications, about their growth, the importance of personal relationships in new market entry strategy and the value of The Water Council.
What was considered a conservative industry is now changing. Utilities are finding new partners to adapt to the reality of digitalization. We see it as a moving market. Our strategy is to influence the early adopters, to show people how the right use of data can help break down silos and help people collaborate and make clever decisions when it comes to infrastructure investments and improved water and wastewater operations in all the areas within the utility.
As a spin-off from an engineering firm, we had a lot of knowledge about the key challenges in the industry. Having defined the mid-sized water utility segment as our target audience, we just stayed focused on solving problems with a platform and user interface that would support their decision making.
We focused on their three to four key challenges and didn’t deviate from them. In fact, we turned clients down that wanted us to customize our platform, as that would not allow us to scale, nor would it create value for the majority of the market.
To accelerate our growth and to meet our global ambitions, we also found it important to have the right partnership and ownership. In the autumn of 2019, we started a dialogue with private equity firm Cimbria Capital [also a member of The Water Council], and they acquired APX10 in the spring of 2020. They recognized the need for more digitalization in the water space and found our customer segment and business model was one that could scale. With Cimbria’s dedicated water investment focus and U.S. base, they were a great match for APX10.
As a newcomer in a new market with a new type of solution, in-person meetings are as important as anything can possibly be, because no matter how good your online market research is, you can’t get an understanding of what is really going on unless you talk with people directly.
There’s a different quality to the dialogue and feedback when you meet customers and stakeholders face-to-face rather than in front of screens. We can gauge interest and get better feedback to see if we are positioned correctly.
We see our solution simply as a smart evolution of our clients’ own know-how and experience, but it adds the value of data and fact in a new intuitive platform. It is still a change though, and new things can be difficult to absorb. So, meeting in person while demonstrating our solution is really important. In fact, meeting people and relationship-building is actually key to defining the pace of our growth.
We are exploring entering multiple countries at the same time so focus will be key to success. The United States is super interesting and hyper attractive from a scalability perspective, but we know that it will take time. Having conducted the initial ramp-up phase with in-person meetings means we can do a lot of follow-up and onboarding online.
We grew during Covid by focusing on Nordic countries, where cultural similarities help lower barriers. If people are from Sweden, Norway or Finland they understand the way we operate. So, it’s possible to establish credibility online. We succeeded in getting new clients and onboarding them without meeting face-to-face.
But the United States, Germany, Italy, France and the U.K. – they’re very different compared to navigating in the Nordics. We have to be there in person, for sure.
The Water Council has opened up its entire ecosystem to us. And having access to local organizations and companies provides us with an understanding of local market conditions.
We can only speak positively about The Water Council and its ability to broker meetings. The team has really been helpful in enabling us to accomplish something that we couldn’t do ourselves at this point in time.
“I’ve been working for 20 years with global market entry and I think fast-tracking is key today. That’s where the ecosystem is important, because entering new markets is a really hard process and will always take more time and resources. Having that type of support can fast-track things considerably.
Moreover, being a larger tech hub is extremely valuable from a branding and general awareness perspective. We are planning to set up shop in Wisconsin, one of the top three states when it comes to water, and the association with TWC can only be helpful. It’s hard to find a similar set-up internationally.”
-Ulrich Borup Hansen, APX10 CEO