United Utilities Innovation Lab attracts record number of entries

Added: 25th September 2023 by United Utilities

More than 130 businesses from across five continents have submitted their ideas for consideration to United Utilities’ industry-leading Innovation Lab.

The environment features heavily in this year’s challenge with companies invited to submit their ideas to help the water sector reduce the carbon footprint of construction projects, harness environmental technologies to enhance river quality, and help domestic and business customers become more water efficient.

The company is also looking for solutions to enhance its existing Dynamic Network Management approach to improve remote asset monitoring capabilities by using data to control assets via remote communication.       

Entries have been received across all categories and have come from 22 countries including Finland, India, Australia, Canada and Chile as well as the UK.

These range from technologies to clean plastic waste from rivers, to smart water meters that raise awareness of water consumption, through to systems for water recycling, and sonar leakage detection systems.  

The next step is to whittle the entries down to a shortlist of up to 25 who will be invited to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts from across United Utilities.

Head of Innovation Kieran Brocklebank said: “We use a range of methods to seek out new ideas and the Innovation Lab remains hugely important for us. We are always incredibly impressed at the ingenuity, creativity and inventiveness of ideas that come through to us. Whittling down the entries into a short list is never an easy task.

“As we have successfully done in previous years, we will be offering companies, some of which may be small start-ups, and others who have never worked with our industry, the opportunity to work in the water sector where we can learn from them, and they can learn from us.

“It also goes way beyond United Utilities as the ideas that we nurture through the Innovation Lab process are shared across the industry so they can have the maximum positive impact. We’ve already seen that with several of our previous alumni who have gone on to work with other companies here in the UK, as well as globally.”

Since its launch in 2017, more than 500 ideas have been submitted to the Innovation Lab which is run by L Marks. It has successfully launched a number of new suppliers into the water market and has awarded long term contracts with 10 suppliers. Collectively, all Innovation Lab applicants have received support and endorsement from United Utilities and have attracted almost £100m in external funding to support their ideas.

UK firm Datatecnics took part in the first Innovation Lab and have since developed five new products which boost the resilience of water networks by using AI software and innovative hardware to assess pipe health. After gaining backing from United Utilities, they won a place on the prestigious Imagine H20 Accelerator programme and have gone on to secure extra investment.

Another UK company, FIDO Tech, took part in Innovation Lab 2. Its leakage detection solutions are now up and running at United Utilities and also being used around the world.

United Utilities is still working with three companies from Lab 3 including ChangeMaker 3D who have gone on to produce the first 3D concrete printed wastewater chamber to be used in the UK water sector. They have now won new funding from Ofwat’s Innovation Fund to work with United Utilities and others to continue their development of low carbon 3D printing.

The company also continues to work with three companies from the fourth lab including two companies focused on enhancing river quality - Altitude Thinking from Grangemouth who have developed a series of autonomous, remotely operated vehicles to collect water quality samples and data from difficult to reach locations and ClearWater Sensors from Southampton who created portable battery-powered submersible chemical sensors which can be used for long-term and real-time water chemistry monitoring.

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