P | P | P – feat. Wateraware Collective

Speaking to us about their mission leading an anti-pollution revolution, we caught up with Ryan McClure, CTO at Wateraware Collective. Wateraware Collective aims to create a living map of water quality in the UK – and beyond – ensuring the protection of our planet’s blue spaces and communities for the future.

The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Can you please introduce yourself, what your business does, what stage you are at currently and what makes your business and offering unique?

Ryan: Hi there, I’m Ryan, the co-founder and CTO of Wateraware Collective, and we are on a mission to lead an anti-pollution revolution! We are still in the early stages of development and have been working on a solution to tackle water pollution in different regions around the world.

Our core product is a unique combination of low-cost hardware, machine learning-driven software, and people power. Our sensing devices not only detect the presence of specific pollutants but also enable water hobbyists to integrate geospatial data on where people swim, kayak, surf, or paddleboard. This creates a network effect that helps to keep people safe on the water while empowering them to crowdsource critical data that will ultimately help solve the problem.

Our goal is to revolutionise the way we approach water pollution by combining technology and community engagement. By working together, we believe we can make a significant impact in protecting our planet’s water resources and improving the lives of people who depend on them.

Can you share the story behind the origin of your business and Service / Product?

Ryan: Luisa, my co-founder and CEO of Wateraware first crossed paths at university whilst completing our master’s design projects focused on water quality. Our projects earned us both Helen Hamlyn Design awards from the Royal College of Art, which Northumbrian Water had sponsored. Following our wins, Northumbrian Water approached us with an exciting proposition to create a company with their support and develop a proof of concept. Upon accepting their offer it has been full speed ahead allowing us to really develop our proposition with the best industry support.

As a company, we have also been able to expand beyond our original focus and establish an NGO program in the Amazon Rainforest in Guyana and an educational program, Design Engineering for Climate Action, at St. Pauls Girls School.

From a personal standpoint, my background in Mechatronics, Systems Design, and Environmental Activism has been instrumental in my pursuit of finding new ways to address complex environmental issues through design. I was deeply affected by the concept of ‘Solastalgia,’ the existential dread caused by climate change, and it led me to a dark and lonely place. It was then that I realised I needed to take action and make a difference.

I firmly believe that it is critical for people to have hope and feel empowered to contribute to solving environmental issues, but unfortunately, there are limited options available, and environmental activism often carries a stigma. I was determined to make it more accessible, inclusive, and offer genuine hope and empowerment through things people love. These insights have become the driving force behind Wateraware’s core product offering today.

Speaking of People, can you share some challenges you have faced, are facing or are anticipating around scaling and growing your team? Do you have any top tips you could share with those businesses faced with the same issues?

Ryan: Although we haven’t been actively looking to expand our team at the moment, we plan to do so in the coming year. As a founder, I have learned from experience and observing others that building a team can be a challenging process. It requires finding the right people who share your vision and are passionate about making it a reality.

To find that special someone or people, it’s important to understand their values, strengths, and aspirations. We look for individuals who have a fire in their belly and are driven by a sense of purpose. We also consider their long-term vision for personal and professional growth and how it aligns with the goals of the company.

Another critical factor we consider is the company culture we want to establish and cultivate. We believe that creating a supportive, inclusive, and collaborative work environment is essential for the success of our team and the company as a whole. We are committed to building a team that shares these values and is dedicated to achieving our mission.

Moving to Product, what has been your approach to understanding and implementing product market fit or sales cycles?

Ryan: One of the key factors that has contributed to our success at Wateraware is the sustained media coverage of water pollution issues, particularly in the UK. This has increased public awareness of the dangers of contaminated water and generated a demand for our product, even though it is not yet fully developed. People recognize the value of our product not only from a health and safety perspective but also as a means of promoting environmental stewardship and activism.

With pollution incidents becoming more frequent and people falling ill due to contaminated water, citizens are mobilizing to demand action. At Wateraware, we aim to support this new era of environmental activism by facilitating citizen-driven data collection and building bridges between communities and industries. We believe that collaboration and design can be powerful tools for solving complex problems and achieving our goals, without the need for protest or civil disobedience in the wake of draconian anti-protest laws hampering free speech. By empowering individuals with actionable information and fostering a sense of shared responsibility, we can create a more sustainable and equitable future for all.

And then Potential, can you share some challenges or barriers you had to overcome to create a Product / Service offering with potential?

Ryan: At Wateraware, providing accurate and reliable round-the-clock data is crucial to our mission. It’s essential that we establish ourselves as a trustworthy source of information. In addition, we need to ensure that our sensing units are regularly maintained and calibrated. To achieve this, we aim to develop a comprehensive service design strategy that reduces risk, overhead, and ensures quality and reliability throughout the deployment and upkeep of our product.

Investment can often be a challenge for start-ups & scale-ups. Do you have any piece of wisdom you could share around best approach?

Ryan: Understanding which organisations or businesses can support your mission and product development without requiring an equity stake can be a significant advantage for any company. To achieve this, it is crucial to know your customer well, identify their pain points, and understand the pressures they face.

At Wateraware, we were fortunate to receive support from Northumbrian Water through an equity-free initial R&D deal. This partnership allowed us to gain an insider’s perspective on the water industry, which we combined with external insights to establish a clear market fit and demand for our product.

Participating in competitions can also be an effective strategy for validating your offering, securing grant funding, and expanding your network. By showcasing our product at competitions, we gained valuable feedback from industry experts and established important connections that helped us to scale our business.

Overall, identifying the right partners and opportunities can help to supercharge your company’s growth and success. By leveraging these resources effectively, you can establish a competitive advantage and build a strong funding foundation for the future.

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