Jason Wuliger is co-founder and vice president of SplashLink.com. Wuliger can be reached at [email protected] or 440.497.0047.
May 31, 2016

Clustering Your Way to Success

Are you part of a water cluster? If the answer is no, why not? You are not alone. Water clusters are having an increasing impact on the industry, and joining one can offer distinct advantages, depending on where you operate.

Water clusters are, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, regional groupings of businesses, government, research institutions and other organizations focused on innovative technologies for clean water. The clusters we work with at SplashLink.com tend to see themselves as regional economic development engines with a focus on the water industry. However, each cluster is unique, and how it executes can make a difference for its membership.

An early standout among clusters is The Water Council in Milwaukee. It believes that an existing, robust water community is imperative to a cluster’s success. “Clusters cannot be ‘created’ out of desire—they must pre-exist organically as a proven industry of interconnected companies and institutions,” said Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of The Water Council, “In Milwaukee, the city's long history with water-intensive industries—including brewing, tanneries and meat-packing—established a strong concentration of water tech companies over a century-and-a-half.”

The Water Council has programs for new companies in its Brew Accelerator, support for small businesses, its Pilot Deployment Program and training for investors. “The Water Council is evidence that when done well, a cluster can create overall business growth, foster entrepreneurship, create jobs and spur academic research and development,” said Amhaus.

Another example of a cluster making a splash on the national stage and having an impact on its region is the Cleveland Water Alliance (CWA). The CWA’s Water Innovation Cluster is serving as a centralizing conduit that is directing water-enabled innovation, ideas, concepts, pilots and partnerships to the place where they have the best chance to solve today’s water quality and infrastructure challenges. With more than 200 water-related companies and technology partnerships in its cluster, the CWA saw more than 212 net new jobs created in 2015 by its portfolio cluster companies while bringing higher-value, lower-cost products to the market for both industry and consumers alike. The CWA’s innovative efforts are building the foundation for a sustainable water-centric economy in Northeast Ohio.

Bryan Stubbs, executive director of the CWA, sees its value proposition this way: “The advantage of companies joining CWA, in addition to being part of our efforts to elevate the value of clean water nationally, includes the velocity in which we are able to get their technology, product or service access into a risk-averse marketplace.”

In Akron, Ohio, the Akron Global Water Alliance (AGWA) is building on success and making some exciting things happen. Because of its close relationship with the City of Akron, the AGWA is able to offer unique access for the companies with which it works to test their systems within an operating utility. The AGWA has made outreach to international players a priority and has strong relationships in both Israel and the Netherlands.

“AGWA’s professional experience and expertise in water engineering and technologies, as well as its superb resources for development and commercialization of those technologies, make AGWA a true knowledge and innovation center for water companies and organizations both in the U.S. and overseas,” said Jeff Bronwoski, manager of the Akron Water Supply Bureau; he also helps to oversee AGWA. “Our renowned testing facilities and programs have already drawn significant interest and engagement from all over the world.”

These are just three examples of clusters making a difference around the country. If you are not already involved, teaming with a cluster could help expand your reach. To see if there is a cluster in your area, visit www.epa.gov/clusters-program/clusters-map.

Jason Wuliger is co-founder and vice president of SplashLink.com. Wuliger can be reached at [email protected] or 440.497.0047.