Spring innovation model aims to accelerate water company trials

An updated innovation accelerator has been launched by Spring as part of a multi-year effort to remove the barriers to mobilising trials at pace within the water sector. Backed by UK and Irish water and wastewater companies committed to removing duplication of innovation efforts, Spring was launched in 2021 to support delivery of the water sector 2050 Water Innovation Strategy.

The new Spring Accelerator calls for implementable innovations for water companies to trial, progress and adopt in collaboration, working to deliver ambitions set out in the strategy. Building on Spring’s original accelerator model, the new four-step, end-to-end process has been created to ensure greater cross-sector alignment and reduce trial duplication, with the aim of delivering innovation at pace.

Spring Accelerator 3, the first accelerator using the new process, begins in January 2024, focusing on the third theme of protecting and enhancing natural systems by bringing stakeholders from across academia, the supply chain and water companies, to deliver better outcomes for customers, society and the environment.

Senior innovation manager Thomas Walker explained the background to the new accelerator process during a sector update webinar on 19 Oct 2023. “Spring has carried out two accelerator programmes. We had all UK and Ireland water companies engaged [and] have supported 10 portfolio companies in either securing a multi-partner trial or creating relationships with individual water companies,” he said. “The programmes show there are still barriers to mobilising trials at pace, which is why the new model is working towards an end goal of 6 months to mobilisation.”

Thomas Walker, Spring senior innovation manager

According to Walker, the co-design process included a sprint at the Northumbrian Innovation Festival in July 2023, which allowed them to present and test the new model with a cross-section of stakeholders, including water companies, suppliers and adjacent industries. The four steps of the new accelerator process are the ambition surgery, the marketplace, the exchange and mobilisation.

The ambition surgery is said to be a challenge-setting mechanism for the industry to connect, articulate the problem and define a specific challenge, aligned with an ambition from the Water Innovation Strategy 2050. Conference-style events will bring water companies, suppliers, academia and experts from other sectors together.

The innovation marketplace, on the other hand, is a directory for innovators to submit their solutions. The application has been designed to provide a quick but thorough assessment of prospective solutions. For innovators, only one application is required, with guaranteed feedback. For water companies, suppliers will also be screened.

The innovation exchange are sessions for both water companies and selected innovators to co-design solutions and business models and scoping trials together. Exchange events will end with commitment from multiple water companies to trial a solution.

Finally, a facilitation service is offered to mobilise trials with multiple water companies. Trials will resolve sector priorities, expedite the adoption of solutions, and accelerate the transformation of the UK and Ireland water sector. Having multiple water companies involved refers to one required trial, reportedly splitting the resource requirement and saving time.

Walker added, “The new accelerator model is part of a wider project to break down barriers to mobilisation and deliver innovation at the right pace.”