A headline used in Wisconsin’s promotional materials at WEFTEC 2016 reads, “What’s next in water is now in Wisconsin.” With the announcement of the ICE (Innovation Commercialization Exchange) Institute at the show—the world’s largest annual water quality exhibition—The Water Council, headquartered in Milwaukee, is making good on that promise.
“Industry leaders from other parts of the world who know us said this is the next progression of The Water Council,” said Dean Amhaus, the organization’s president and CEO, in describing the commercialization initiative that will match manufacturers, utilities and agricultural entities with promising water technology-related to their industries.
“What we’re looking to do is to find the innovations that are going on, not just in our large universities across the U.S., but also in small universities that may not always get the attention. We will have scouts—retired professionals within the industry—going out, much like baseball scouts, finding these new innovations,” explained Amhaus. These innovations will be cataloged in a detailed database and clearinghouse powered by IBM Watson™.
Adding to the Institute’s value proposition is its partnership with the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC), representing 300 federal labs across the United States. “These labs are doing a lot of research on water and water-related solutions,” said Amhaus, “but it’s not getting out to the marketplace. So, what we’ll be able to do is to find those solutions, those items that are ready to move into the marketplace. Get it off the shelf and get it in front of industry.”
Tapping the FLC fulfills a commitment The Water Council made during the White House Water Summit in March to develop a channel of access to federal labs’ water and water-related technologies.
These solutions will be vetted by industry experts, according to Amhaus, much as an executive search firm vets talent. “Instead of having 200 resumes, they may bring to a company 10 resumes. They can look at all 200 of them, but these are the ones that are the most promising. That’s the same thing we’re going to do when it comes to water research.”
Amhaus believes this initiative, funded by a grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, will expand The Water Council’s reach nationwide; only members of The Water Council can utilize the services of the ICE Institute.
Formed in 2009, The Water Council has achieved widespread recognition of its successful industry cluster development strategy. The organization purposefully built a membership base with healthy representation from industry, academic, utility and private sector leaders. This coalition would help guide The Water Council in its pursuit of economic, talent and research advancement within the water industry. The organization’s model has always been centered around partnerships.
Under The Water Council’s leadership, the Global Water Center opened in Milwaukee in 2013, helping spur interest in the redevelopment of what has become known as Milwaukee’s Water Technology District. The District attracted more than $211 million worth of development between 2010 and 2015, including the Water Council’s Water Tech One and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Science’s Freshwater Plaza.
The success of Milwaukee’s water cluster caught the eye of top economic analysts at MIT and Harvard, who announced the launch of a study dedicated to understanding the cluster’s success for use in modeling in other cities. The city’s Water Technology District solidifies Wisconsin’s leadership in the water technology sector, providing a hub for more companies to collaborate to solve the world’s water issues.