A CNN reporter recently tweeted that CNN’s “investigation into outrageous water bills topped Charlie Sheen on CNN.com.”

Water has long been out of sight and out of mind for most Americans.  Now, however, with water needs growing increasingly acute, higher bills aren’t the only issue gaining attention.

We’re learning that the water we drink may not be as safe as we’d like, that moving and treating water and wastewater carries major environmental and economic impacts, and that even in affluent areas of America, we can no longer take water resources for granted.

For those of us in Silicon Valley, an irreplaceable resource and a half-a-trillion dollar annual global market for goods and services (Lux Research) sounds like a recipe for new businesses.  But where is the Silicon Valley for water?

We’ve relied on the startup and venture capital communities to drive innovation in many sectors of the economy.  Water, however, represents only about one percent of startup investment. How can we inspire entrepreneurial communities to deliver on our ever-pressing water needs?

Imagine H2O, a San Francisco-based organization, offers one answer.  Its annual prize acts as a magnet to attract new water startups, and its specialized accelerator program and ecosystem of industry leaders helps develop prize winners’ solutions so they reach the people who need them.

Earlier this year, Imagine H2O announced the winners of this year’s prize, over $100,000 in cash and services for water startups that save energy in their products or services.  The winner, Hydrovolts, is a Seattle startup that develops hydropower from canals and other waterways to offset the major energy requirements of transporting water. Runners-up Blackgold Biofuels, based in Philadelphia, turns sewer grease into biofuel, and FOG Busters, an Oakland company, removes the fat, oil, and grease in wastewater so that they can be recycled.

These startups pair technology innovations with viable business models.  The venture capital community has taken notice and, fortunately, so have major water agencies.  Leaders from the Southern California Metropolitan District, America’s largest water agency, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and East Bay Municipal District all attended the Imagine H2O awards ceremony, demonstrating government agencies’ increasing interest in water entrepreneurship.

The startup community responded to the energy challenge with an overwhelming groundswell of innovative companies and financing to support their development.  Imagine H2O aims to catalyze a similar response to our water challenges, turning those challenges over time into entrepreneurial opportunities.

This blog was originally posted on SmartPlanet

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