2018, 2019


San Francisco, CA

Imagine H2O

Urban Water Challenge

The United Nations has predicted a 40% shortfall in global water supply by 2030, due to increasing demand, changing climate and weather patterns, and mismanaged use. While in Cape Town, South Africa, for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race, 11th Hour Racing saw first-hand how drinking water scarcity can impact the quality of life and the environment in large cities. Around the world, this problem often affects the poorest parts of the community the hardest.

The UN forecasts that 54% of the Earth’s population currently living in urban areas will rise to 66% by 2050, a mass urbanization that will exacerbate the challenge of managing living environments. The Challenge aligns with U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 6, which calls for universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030.

The Urban Water Challenge, an initiative of Imagine H2O, supported by Founding Challenge Partners 11th Hour Racing and Bluewater, deploys and invests in water solutions for tomorrow’s megacities. The Challenge is designed to create direct and scalable impact for water-scarce cities and at-risk communities, inspire community awareness and public action, promote the role of innovation and entrepreneurship, and facilitate the deployment of real solutions to a real problem. This global innovation challenge ties together issues of water scarcity as a result of climate change, equity issues surrounding drinking water, and plastic waste caused by limited access to clean reliable municipal water.

2019 Scope
  • The 2019 Urban Water Challenge unlocks up to a total of $500,000 in deployment awards to co-fund high impact pilot & scale-up projects.
  • The Challenge enables entrepreneurs to test and validate novel, planet-friendly water technology solutions in major cities to inspire their wider adoption globally.
  • The Challenge communicates a common vision for a sustainable, plastic-free water future, and globalize action through a focused call for solutions across three overarching innovation themes:
    • 1) Drinking Water
      2) Water Reuse & Recycling
      3) Ecosystem Health
  • Problem statements sourced from cities, water agencies, and other stakeholders inform the Challenge tracks, ensuring that winning solutions meet the real needs of customers in diverse markets.
  • Winning solutions receive deployment awards for validation and scale-up in urban markets, while a new Discovery Award will recognize earlier stage, breakthrough technologies.
  • Imagine H2O accepted applications on May 22, 2019, through June 27, 2019.
  • Each finalist will showcase their solutions at World Water Week in Stockholm on August 25-30, 2019. Two winners from the cohort will be announced during the Challenge’s Award Ceremony hosted by Bluewater and 11th Hour Racing on August 26 and will be eligible for additional pilot funding awards.
  • The 2019 Urban Water Challenge received entries from 226 startups across 38 countries. The three winners from India, Colombia and the United States were honored at World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden in September 2019.
2018 Scope
  • The 2018 Urban Drinking Water Scarcity Challenge is an initiative of Imagine H2O, the global water innovation accelerator. The 2018 Urban Drinking Water Challenge offers up to $1 million to deploy and invest in winning solutions.
  • The competition seeks entrepreneurs and innovators developing promising solutions related to:
    • Alternative Water Supply for cities facing shortages, such as water reuse; groundwater management/recharge; water storage/rainwater harvesting; low-energy desalination techniques; innovations in water conservation; and atmospheric water generation.
    • Distributed Access and Delivery for emergency relief, and/or through kiosks and consumer points of use that allow consumers to access water sustainably and avoid the use of single-use plastic bottles.
    • Ecosystem Health, for developing technologies used to monitor and manage the health of waterways, including wastewater, stormwater, and sewer overflow, with the detection/monitoring of contaminants, pollutants, or microplastics.
  • The 2018 Inaugural Challenge received 160 applications across 54 countries. The three winners were honored at Stockholm Water Week in August 2018.
  • The inaugural 2018 Urban Water Challenge deployed nearly $1,000,000 in pilot award funding and investments and provided mentorship from industry and policy experts, marketing and visibility support, and are eligible for investment consideration from the Challenge partners.

“This has been an absolute lifeline for us. It accelerates our path to getting our solution in the field and demonstrating for India’s water-stressed cities the impact that digital solutions can have on utility operations and service delivery.” – Gokul Krishna Govindu, CEO, SmartTerra

About Imagine H2O

Imagine H2O (IH2O) is a nonprofit organization that empowers people to develop and deploy innovation to solve water challenges globally. Since 2009, the organization’s water innovation accelerator has helped over 100 startups with the resources, insight and visibility to launch and scale their businesses. In 2017 and 2018, IH2O portfolio companies received 30% of early-stage investment in the water sector. In 2019, IH2O launched its first hub outside the United States. IH2O Asia will be a Singapore-based, regional accelerator program that bridges global innovation to cities and communities across Southeast Asia.

Watch above: Our Program Director, Todd McGuire joined each of the founders of the winning organizations, along with Anders Jacobson, CEO, and Co-founder of Bluewater, for a “sofa session” to learn about the challenges the organizations are tackling. Watch below to find out what drives these innovators.

Watch above: Minhaj Chowdhury, CEO & Co-founder of Drinkwell, a winner of the 2018 Urban Water Challenge, discusses the company’s deployment in Chittagong, Bangaldesh. Funded by the Challenge Founding Partners Bluewater and 11th Hour Racing, Drinkwell provides clean water access to hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh.

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