Summary of Jonathan Grant’s talk with AquaHacking Alumni to wrap up Imagine H2O Water Innovation Week 2020

By Mélissa Dick
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In October, AquaHacking alumni members were offered the opportunity to attend the virtual Imagine H2O Water Innovation Week 2020 conference. To wrap up the week’s activities, alumni members attended a presentation and discussion by Jonathan Grant, smart water expert. Jonathan Grant has connections with both AquaHacking and Imagine H2O, participating in the 2017 AquaHacking Challenge through his involvement with Emagin (now part of Innovyze) and in the Imagine H2O Accelerator through his involvement with SENTRY.

Jonathan has been at the forefront of Smart Water throughout his career. He led the commercial side of an award-winning AI company, proving the new concept in the market and winning contracts on multiple continents. He translated complex AI concepts to business models and client needs. Through working with multiple clients Jonathan developed tailored go-to-market strategies and local, regional, and multinational partnerships. Earlier, Jonathan oversaw research of the water sector in Ontario and supported Ontario water technology companies to grow through export. That meant working with 30-40 cutting edge technologies to find the right clients, markets, investors, and partners. In doing so, he became a one-stop shop for Smart Water and innovative technologies for utilities. He has an undergrad from Cincinnati and graduate degrees from LSE and Dundee.

In his presentation to AquaHacking alumni members on October 16, Jonathan spoke about the importance for startup founders to clearly communicate “Why did I get into the water sector?”, then finding the “How” and “What” in developing their startup company or social enterprise. He identified the potential path of least resistance for AquaHacking alumni startups, whether at the concept, startup, early growth, or steady growth stages. He also offered a number of books for AquaHacking alumni to check out to support their ongoing learning, such as:

  • Start With Why by Simon Sinek
  • Give and Take by Adam Grant (especially helpful for social enterprises)
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard P. Feynman (especially helpful if you are a research project)
  • Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne (if you are a company)

Some questions asked by AquaHacking alumni participants were:

How can I make sure my startup maintains its vision over time especially when trying to fundraise for product development? Jonathan suggested early-stage startups identify a B.H.A.G. (big hairy audacious goal) and see it as the driving force and reason for your company’s existence. When presented with opportunities, startups can ask themselves, does this side tangent or grant or program help me get toward that goal? If yes, that’s awesome. If not, it may not be the right means to help eventually reach your goal. Startups can draft a “qualification checklist” to assess opportunities with to see if it’s fits overall with that you’re doing.   

 At what point should I have a dedicated person in-house for business development? Jonathan responded that it’s key to consider your start-up’s business development needs from the beginning and to have a team member dedicated to this from the get-go, even if it’s not in a full-time capacity. It’s true that in the beginning phases of developing a product, it is not critical to have a business development or salesperson because you can’t go out and sell something that doesn’t exist yet. However, it’s important to be generating interest with potential clients during the development phase and to be ready to follow up on those leads once the product is available.

To hear directly from AquaHacking alumni about their experience at the Imagine H2O Water Innovation Week 2020 and Jonathan Grant’s talk, check out their blog posts!

On behalf of the AquaHacking Alumni network, we extend our sincere thanks to Jonathan Grant for joining us as a guest speaker and sharing his expertise and knowledge!