Tag: Water Lens

How Texas Startups Are Spurring Innovation in the Most Entrenched Industries

Keith Cole, photo courtesy of Water Lens

Keith Cole, photo courtesy of Water Lens

Founder and CEO of Water Lens in Austin
Special Editorial Contribution to Silicon Hills News

Being a startup isn’t easy to begin with, but working in a highly-regulated industry like oil and gas can be even harder, especially when it’s also slow to adopt new technologies. We all know the challenges—navigating bureaucratic red tape, getting your product in front of the right people in an extremely competitive industry, and making sure you have the financial runway needed to stay in business over the long-term. These kinds of deals don’t happen overnight, and being in a position to keep the lights on—let alone try to grow—is sometimes the biggest challenge.

When people hear the word “startup,” they typically think of the next social media, dating or food delivery app. But here in Texas, there’s a growing community of entrepreneurs focused on disrupting major industries, tackling big, previously intractable problems, and developing inventive solutions that can spur innovation for the 21st Century.

It wasn’t until the startup incubator 1776 partnered with Austin’s Capital Factory for last year’s Challenge Cup that I realized exactly how many of us there are—and how important it is for us to have resources like 1776 to help us navigate regulations and red tape.

As a veteran of the Texas oil and gas industry, I’ve always looked for opportunities to utilize the benefits of technology and work to make our efforts more efficient.

In 2011, as fracking became increasingly widespread—and yes, controversial—there was an opportunity in the market to develop a new technology that would help oil and gas companies operate more efficiently, improve their bottom line, reduce the amount of unnecessary chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and begin to cost-effectively recycle the water used and produced in the oil and gas industry. In short, it was a win-win proposition.

In 2012, I started a company called Water Lens and developed a state-of-the-art, portable, and easy-to-use water testing system that provides accurate, immediate onsite testing results for drilling fluids and frac water in a matter of minutes. This helps oil and gas companies save costs and improve production, but it can also offer consumers additional peace of mind to know that the industry is doing its best to reduce the amount of chemicals used in the process, and is now able to cost-effectively recycle our most precious resource: water.

By 2014, Water Lens was ready to go to market, but in order to penetrate the various state markets, we needed to navigate complex thickets of regulation to grow and scale.

That’s when I heard about 1776, a global incubator and seed fund in Washington D.C. that gives problem-solving startups like mine—startups working to disrupt entrenched industries in sectors like energy, education, health, and transportation—the resources they need to succeed.

What makes 1776 different is that it’s not just about funding—though, like any other startup, we always need additional funding. It was about a special set of expertise and connections that can make the difference between a great idea and a successful one.

These connections proved invaluable as we sought to expand our reach, navigate regulation, cut red tape, and find new investors. Thanks to our relationship with 1776, we have been introduced to key mentors and regulators—including former White House officials, advisors to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and key oil and gas industry experts.

Every year, 1776 runs an international competition called the Challenge Cup, which spans 16 cities in 11 countries to identify and bring together the world’s most promising startups working to develop innovative solutions to really difficult challenges.

While Water Lens was honored to win top American honors in the energy category at last year’s Global Finals, we also gained significant exposure to mentors, policymakers, and potential investors just by participating in the Austin and D.C. events.

Last year, seven Austin startups across all four categories made it to the Global Finals of the Challenge Cup, proving that there’s clearly something special going on in Austin’s tech scene. This year, Challenge Cup 2015 is coming back to Austin on February 5th.

The competition is a great reminder that Austin and Texas are producing some of the world’s most promising, problem-solving entrepreneurs—and when we give startups the tools they need to cut red tape and succeed, we can solve really important problems. This year’s Challenge Cup could be the key that unlocks a host of opportunities for Texas’ next world-changing startup.

Keith Cole is founder and CEO of Water Lens, LLC

Four Austin Startups Win the Regional 1776 Challenge Cup

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Aceable, Water Lens, Spot On Sciences and Reaction Housing were the four winners of the 1776 Challenge Cup Competition held at Capital Factory Friday night. The four will be flown to Washington D.C. to compete against the winners from 15 other global cities for a chance at a $150,000 prize.
1776, a new incubator in Washington D.C., began with the idea of supporting the most promising startups in highly regulated industries, said Melissa Steffan, a 1776 staffer. “We’re looking for companies that are doing amazing things in industries that are notoriously hard to work in,” she said. Those industries include education, health, energy and smart cities. The Challenge Cup was launched only six months after the co-working space opened.
Austin was one of 16 global startup hubs chosen by the incubator. Other cities involved in the challenge include London, Sao Paulo, Moscow and Beijing. Twenty seven local startups competed.
Evan Burfield, one of 1776’s cofounders, said that in many ways, the startup world was its own global community. “Everybody’s talking about the same things and they all speak English,” he said. “You’ll hear a guy with a thick Russian accent saying ‘We need to pivot.’” In Austin, he said, he was struck by the spirit of collaboration and support, how startups all seemed to want to help each other. By the same token, he said, “Austin’s out to win. The judges in there were all talking about who can we send who will win the championship.”
Aceable won in the education department. The company has developed native mobile gaming apps for online courses that are normally considered very dull—including driver’s ed. Mobile apps are how young people function now, said founder Blake Garrett. Aceable courses are “enjoyable, personal, attractive and fun.”
The company has submitted its first course to the state for approval. It also intends to produce courses for older drivers, defensive driving students and corporate training. Right now though, they’re going after teen drivers.
“ A lot of education companies can’t articulate: Who is your user, tell me everything about them, about who is going to buy your product,” said founder Garrett.
Spot on Sciences won in the health category. The company, which has developed a product that lets people in remote areas take, store and mail blood samples without degrading the quality of the sample, has become crucial in areas like rural Africa, especially for HIV testing in infants and new mothers and the Western Isles of Scotland where diabetes is common and access to a clinic or lab is nonexistent.
“From a quarter size splat of dried blood, you can do 30 or 40 different tests,” said Dr. Jeanette Hill, founder of Spot On Sciences.
Water Lens won in the energy category. This company has a simple, fast method for testing water that has been used in hydraulic fracturing. Many companies are reusing water from one well to the next, said founder Keith Cole. But there are certain elements the water may contain that will make water unsuitable for reuse and may even clog up wells permanently. Testing the water and waiting for results is a laborious process that requires some knowledge of chemistry.
These test strips can be dipped in the water and give the results of 12 tests in a couple of minutes.
Right now, Cole said, he doesn’t know of anyone doing anything similar, but they must be out there. In response to a question by judge Mark Murdock he answered “My scariest competitor is someone I don’t know who is doing the same thing…and we need to get there first.”
In the smart cities category, the winner was Reaction Housing. This company creates temporary housing for victims of natural disasters refugees and others who suddenly have no place to live. Typically, said founder Michael McDaniel, it takes FEMA 90 days to set up temporary housing. In the meantime, people live in church basements and gymnasiums, if they exist.
Reaction Housing systems were inspired by the stackable coffee cup. They are light enough to be moved by hand, include power and can be stacked and transported so that a whole community can be set up at once.
McDaniel said the company is not only looking at emergency housing but also temporary housing for field work—such as a new oil field opening up and many workers flooding in—and for events, like ACL and F1.
The judging panel included Josh Baer, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Capital Factory, Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet and professor of innovation at the University of Texas at Austin, and Kevin Callahan, co-founder of MapMyFitness. As for 1776, they were thrilled with the judging panel they had: “This is actually one of the most distinguished judging panels we’ve had,” said Steffan.
Capital Factory offered free coaching for the winning companies before they go to Washington in May.

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