By LAURA LOREK
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
At Austin City Hall, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams Tuesday announced $15 million in grants for 19 states including $1.5 million earmarked for Texas with the bulk of that going to organizations in Austin and San Antonio.
“The diversity in programs and regional representation proves that innovation and entrepreneurship are igniting all corners of the country and is a recognized tool for economic growth and resilience,” Williams said during a press conference.
“If we are going to continue to be the most dynamic and prolific economy in the face of the planet, it has to be an inclusive process,” Williams said. “We have to tap into those under served, neglected and often overlooked segments of our population because innovation exists everywhere.”
The largest local grant of $500,000 went to the Austin Technology Incubator, part of the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas at Austin for its Texas Smart Water Innovation Cluster.
The three year grant will allow ATI to establish the Austin H20 Cluster, foster new partnerships, build the water ecosystem and develop a network of talent locally, said Isaac Barchas, director of the IC2 Institute.
“Texas’ traditional strength in the oil and gas industry is giving us a leg up in water,” Barchas said. Every barrel of oil extracted from the ground in Texas, generates eight barrels of water, he said.
The American Society of Civilian Engineers estimates the U.S. needs $3.6 trillion worth of existing water infrastructure work with the primary focus on fixing leaky pipes and preventing contamination like the Flint, Michigan water crisis in which high levels of lead infiltrated the city’s water system, Barchas said. Austin’s ATI water incubator plans to work on solving those big problems, he said.
“What we’re going to need to do as a community is apply technology to an existing infrastructure,” he said.
Austin won two awards which highlights the city’s entrepreneurial spirit and focus on innovation, said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
The ATI award will help Austin create a digital water cluster, which is going to lead to at least 100 new innovative water technologies, Adler said. It will generate millions of dollars of economic activity for the city and create jobs, he said.
Austin is the perfect location for this cluster, Adler said. The city has been the fastest growing city in the nation for the last five years and projections are that it will continue to be the fastest growing city for the next 25 years, he said.
“We are ground zero for urban areas that are dealing with urban growth,” Adler said.
The challenges cities like Austin face will be solved by small businesses and entrepreneurs, he said.
This grant strengths the partnership Austin has with the Austin Technology Incubator, which has been one of the most successful civic partnerships in the country since 1989. The partnership has resulted in more than $900 million worth of capital being raised for startups in the community, $2.5 billion in value created in companies and more than 7,000 jobs being created.
ATI has already created a clean energy cluster, wireless and IT cluster, biotechnology cluster and “now it’s time for water, let’s add a little water,” Adler said.
The University of Texas at San Antonio’s South-Texas Innovation Partnership Program, known as S-TIPP, received $499,997.
The plan for the grant is to build out regional innovation nodes to foster local entrepreneurship and they will be networked for tech transfer, said Bijo Mathew, principal investigator on the grant and director of the Small Business Development Center Technology Commercialization Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“It’s a focus on building capacity for innovation in South Texas and it’s going to include Austin, Corpus Christi and the valley,” Mathew said. “It’s a way to diffuse knowledge across all these communities.”
And the Gender Lens Impact Fund at the University of Texas at Austin, led by True Wealth Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in women-led startups, received $250,000.
The only other Texas recipient was the WERX Foundation of McKinney, Texas. It received $345,895.
Overall, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced 35 organizations in 19 states will receive nearly $15 million focused on startups, early-stage seed capital funds and commercialization programs through the Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies Program.The $250,000 Seed Fund Support grant over two years for True Wealth Ventures will go to marketing the fund to potential investors, sourcing deals and connecting with women entrepreneurs as well as doing due diligence on deals, said Kerry Rupp, partner in the $20 million venture fund focused on investing in consumer health and sustainable consumer women-led ventures in Texas. The grant is not for money to put into the startups. The fund is raising that separately, she said. True Wealth Ventures has closed on $4.7 million of its $20 million fund and made its first investment of $500,000 into UnaliWear, a smart watch maker for older adults led by Jean Anne Booth.
True Wealth Ventures’ fund intends to invest in approximately 12 early-stage women-led companies over the next several years.