From The Editor | May 22, 2024

The Path To Innovation In Water: How New Technology Companies Inspire Progress


By Kevin Westerling,

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What drives the water and wastewater sector to new frontiers of innovation and capability?

While we certainly modernize as technology advances in general, it’s also true that, historically, ours is an industry that is slow to adopt the newest technologies relative to other markets. This is understandable, considering that water managers, especially drinking water suppliers, must prioritize water quality — the safety of our water — above all else, leading to a preference for “old reliable” over the “latest and greatest.” But innovate they must, in order to meet today’s environmental challenges and the regulations that necessarily follow. Further, limited resources demand that water and wastewater operations do more with less, also requiring an embrace of new technology.

The vision, drive, and leadership so essential to bringing our water and wastewater systems up to speed were at the heart of a webinar hosted by Water Online — Water Technology Roundtable: From Startup To Success. Moderated by Alex Mason of Jackson Hogg, a company with expertise in identifying talented and disruptive leaders for solving today's water challenges, the panelists included: Greg Newbloom, CEO of Membrion; Alexander Rappaport, CEO and founder of ZwitterCo; and Jonathan Jacobi, VP of Sales for ASTERRA.

These companies and the people behind them (as well as many other water technology providers) are the answer to the question posed at the outset: it is they who drive industry innovation — by scaling ideas into real-world solutions. This enables regulators to create stricter mandates, which then compels treatment providers to invest in and upgrade their systems, which ultimately improves environmental outcomes.

In the webinar, posted in full at the bottom of the page, the panelists discussed their leadership journeys in the water industry and how they have managed to grow their companies from small startups to more established businesses, while also explaining the technologies that they’ve brought to market and how they’re inspiring, finally, a new wave of innovation at water and wastewater utilities. Here's a summary of the key points discussed:

Leadership And Motivation

  • Alex Rappaport's Perspective on Leadership:
  • Leadership is not just a necessity but a rewarding endeavor.
  • Building and working with a talented team is crucial for overcoming business challenges.
  • Leadership roles constantly evolve, requiring continuous self-improvement in communication, technical skills, and vision execution.
  • The role transitions from hands-on tasks to higher-level strategic coordination and international growth.
  • Greg Newbloom's Perspective on Leadership:
  • Leadership involves continuous learning and adapting to new challenges.
  • Surrounding oneself with talented people and empowering them is vital.
  • The need to constantly develop new skills and pivot strategies as the company grows.
  • Jonathan Jacobi's Perspective on Leadership:
  • Balancing customer connection with the detachment that comes with higher leadership roles is essential.
  • Adapting to industry trends, like sustainability and energy efficiency, has been a significant part of their strategy.
  • Ensuring the business remains interesting and relevant to customers through innovative strategies and solutions.

Challenges And Adaptation

  • Early-Stage Challenges:
  • Educating the market about new concepts and products.
  • Balancing resources between current capabilities and future growth.
  • Recruiting and retaining the right talent in a resource-constrained environment.
  • Strategic Adaptation:
  • Alex mentioned focusing initially on niche industrial wastewater markets and later expanding to broader opportunities, such as drop-in replacements and new growth areas like drinking water.
  • Greg emphasized the importance of asking questions and understanding the market deeply to innovate and bring solutions to market effectively.
  • Jonathan highlighted the importance of staying agile and responding to industry trends and customer needs, especially in niche markets where their product is not a commodity.

Advice For Entrepreneurs

  • Greg's Advice:
  • Get in front of end users and channel partners early to gather insights and understand the market.
  • Be ready to adapt based on dynamic information and market feedback.
  • Build a resilient team willing to work for less in the early stages but committed to the vision.
  • Alex's Advice:
  • Solicit and absorb feedback from a wide range of sources to build a robust strategy.
  • Embrace building in plain sight to gather insights and avoid early mistakes.
  • Develop a strong network of supporters who can provide valuable insights and connections.
  • Jonathan's Advice:
  • Focus on educating the market while maintaining a respectful and non-condescending approach.
  • Build and retain a team that can manage the balance between innovation and market needs.


Leadership in the water industry requires a combination of strategic vision, adaptability, and the ability to build and empower a talented team. Successful entrepreneurs in this space emphasize the importance of continuous learning, market engagement, and staying agile to respond to industry trends and challenges.

BONUS: To close out the conversation, there was a live Q&A with the audience, which included a query on what our panelists considered to be the most exciting technology developments set to disrupt the water industry. Tune in below for those answers and for many more insights from our Water Technology Roundtable:

Visit: ASTERRA | Membrion | ZwitterCo | Jackson Hogg