This post is our second in a series about Austin-based startups that are helping to improve the quality and efficiency of our water infrastructure. Last month, we profiled FATHOM, which delivers a SaaS-based capability for integrating communications and information-sharing between customers and utilities. This week, we look at AIQUEOUS, which supports utilities in integrating the management of their customer-facing programs, thereby delivering a reduction in administration cost in excess of +50% in most cases. Targeted programs for management integration include private property lead pipe replacement, rebate management for water conservation and other incentives, backflow prevention and repair, and more.
The work of AIQUEOUS reflects the retooling of the decades-old applications and systems that our water infrastructure service providers use. These new tools provide utility companies with a platform that allows them to better serve customers, manage infrastructure, and also reduce the cost of water conservation programs. The platform, called Waterways, focuses on making data that is already available more accessible, interpretable, and manageable. Each solution of this type demands an understanding of the needs of the specific industry being serviced, and a great attention to customer needs. Austin’s entrepreneurial atmosphere inspires many of these sharply targeted solutions.
Co-founders Jonathan Kleinman and Dan Merchant were inspired to develop a program management platform after participating, as early employees, in the success of CLEAResult (also Austin-based), which focuses on the energy space. The 2011 drought caused Jonathan to reflect on the fact that the investment in new software tools that he was seeing in the energy space, was not happening in water management.
Dan and Jonathan synced up to develop the AIQUEOUS offering. They understood that a commitment to providing digestible and interpretable data was a competitive differentiator in and of itself, and undertook to learn the specific needs of the water industry in order to develop an appropriate offering. Jonathan explains, “Our decades of experience in the field helped us to understand customers, and our similar experience in back office operations helped us to understand the specific program management problems we were looking to solve.”
“Ultimately,” Dan explains, “we are trying to get people to change their behavior and to create a market transformation. I cannot overstate the excitement that our utility clients express when they find that they can use elegant, ‘state of the shelf’ solutions that easily propagate to mobile devices. Our customers are used to tools that are a couple of decades old.”
The Beta customer for AIQUEOUS was the City of Sunset Valley, who provided early user testing, feedback, and strategic input on the development of the platform. Other clients have included private and public water suppliers in Bastrop, San Antonio, and Scottsdale (AZ). The reduced administration costs AIQUEOUS offers to the water industry has also proven to be of interest to several energy providers, with whom the firm is now in initial discussions.
“Since the product is best-implemented with initial consultation and customization, our local network has been quite important. We are proud to focus on our Texas footprint and roots, as well as the fact that we can deliver at 1/10 the cost of our competitors. We are offering supplementary consulting services as we bootstrap our way forward, but are quite excited by the reception we’ve received,” Jonathan explains.
“Obviously, program management is quite a diverse and flexible field, so we’ve had to learn to adapt to our customers’ needs as we’ve progressed. Our initial integrations focused on water conservation, and we’ve implemented an integrated backflow prevention program in a major Texas city. The ability to access real-time data in field has helped drive utilities work better with contractors and their customers,” Dan explains. “More recently, we’ve had several clients express interest in our integrating more features related to ensuring water quality. That will be part of our future direction.”
In addition to water quality features and extensions to energy management programs, the product road map includes portals for contractors to submit information to comply with municipal and state regulations. “Contractors are woefully under-integrated into the collection and analysis of data related to water management,” Jonathan says, “and we see a huge opportunity there, both for our business and to improve general system-wide information flows.”
Comments on Austin
Both co-founders celebrate Austin as a “collaborative and entrepreneurial city” with an “excellent quality of life” and a “rich and vibrant community” (as almost all of our startups do!). The team also calls out, specifically, the Austin Technology Incubator and Michael Webber at the University of Texas, as great local assets. At the same time, they note some opportunities for the city: “We really expected to see more opportunities for the creation of living laboratories for new solutions in Austin, since there’s so much talent and creativity here. We certainly want to do our part to support a stronger municipal-startup partnership but there is definitely a lot of work to do in that regard.”