What Jerusalem can teach cities about partnering with startup companies

Fri, 2015-12-11 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

Many cities face a conundrum. On the one hand, they realize they need innovative, high-tech solutions to their civic challenges, the kind of breakthroughs that come from startups. On the other hand, they need the stability and peace of mind that comes from dealing with large, established vendors.

That's why we thought you would like to hear about Jerusalem's municipal water utility. To get the innovations it badly required, it has been partnering with startups. The program has been such a success that it now receives visitors from around the world eager to see the results.

Are there tech startups in your city that might help you invent better solutions to your problems? -- Jesse Berst

Israel is generally thought of as an innovative country, and the water utility serving Jerusalem is no exception. In its efforts to build a smart water network, Hagihon Company has taken on a number of vendors as partners -- and created some as a byproduct of its innovation strategies.

The company provides water and wastewater treatment services for almost one million people in and around the capital city. The challenges the company face are, with a few exceptions, much the same as those any long-established city will encounter on its way to becoming a smart city. Aging leaky pipes combine with recently installed lines in relatively new neighborhoods. There are also ancient buildings and other structures to contend with, as well as extreme humidity during summer and freezing temperatures in winter, as an article in Geektime explained.

Add to that, the utility's investment budget is often uncertain although it has received a number of grants from the Israeli government. However, Hagihon manages to maintain about $140 million in annual revenue and its innovations frequently draw representatives from foreign governments and water utilities. The company also is collaborating with several water industry groups and companies on technology and preventing water contamination.

As is almost always the case for water utilities with old pipes, leaks occupy a lot of staff time. But how they deal with them is changing. "The old way of doing things was you'd have a water burst, then someone would call a 24/7 hotline and quick-response crews would have to repair the leak ASPA. Now we're eliminating that," said Hagihon CTO Aharon Rosenberg.

One of its startup partners, Aquarius Spectrum installed 2,700 acoustic sensors in Hagihon's system that can hear leaks and monitoring company TaKaDu provides daily reports to network management. The company also is piloting an online bacterial detection system.

Rather than shut down water delivery and remove and replace leaky pipes, the company expects to sign a contract with Curapipe, a company that makes a sealant that is applied inside broken pipes to seal them. The product is said to have a 20-year life span.

Hagihon also works with two other water sensor companies, a microturbine producer and others. While the company has no R&D budget to speak of, it is working with the government's development agency to come up with a form of compensation for the water tech companies it works with.

Related articles:
Proven way to stretch your water supply (it's working in the UK)
Tools your city can use to make the most of your water (and manage drought)
How cities are making every drop of water count

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.