Helping the world make better sense of water
Aquascope wants industry, utilities, and governments to better understand freshwater
Have you heard the one about the three-times gold-winning Olympic rower who went on to run a water tech startup?
You will today, as we introduce you to Aquascope.
As usual, paying subscribers get the full story with much more information, as well as access to ongoing updates about the 120+ startups we’ve already profiled.
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Aquascope wants to power better decisions about water
Water is fundamentally important to life on Earth, but it’s also key to a range of decisions that businesses and organisations might make.
Consider companies that rely on water from rivers and lakes. Understandably, they probably want to know how reliable that supply might be in the long term.
Or how about utility companies that need to know how polluted a reservoir is? And governments might want to understand how climate change could affect the land around a river in the coming years.
Aquascope wants to be at the heart of these decisions, providing what it calls “freshwater intelligence”.
“It's a tool to help people get data and insights on water much cheaper and much faster than the traditional routes,” explains CEO Andrew Hodge.
He says that water is one of the hardest and most expensive parts of the natural environment to model. While consultancies exist to make sense of river basins, Aquascope’s approach is to create a live digital model using a combination of satellite data, sampling, and sensors that creates an ongoing picture of what’s happening.
Customers can then extract the up-to-date insights they need at a lower price than using a consultancy that would provide a one-off snapshot.
“We collect all the data on land use, we've got all the data on the geology, and then we can understand how water hits the ground when it falls out the sky… We map how it interacts with the environment as it flows down through fields, into streams and into rivers,” explains Hodge.
This mapping is conducted with proven modelling that the startup has adapted to be used in a live context.
“We use rainfall data and temperature to effectively drive the model on a daily basis, rather than an ad hoc basis,” says Hodge.
“And then where we're going is applying machine learning to all of this. Obviously, with machine learning, you need data in huge amounts of data for it to make an impact. And data on the environment is sparse. You could say you have a bit of satellite data, which is quite good, but actually, it's only a small part of the picture.
“The real strength that Aquascope has is because we use the model, because we use satellite [data], and because we've got a huge amount of sampling data, we can apply machine learning in a much more controlled manner. “
Putting the product to use
Hodge says Aquascope’s pilot studies have included a project to build a business case and impact assessment for regenerative agriculture.
“By inputting land use changes into the system, you can see… what the impact would be of changing those land uses in those set areas. It will give a company the ability to map an expected outcome, and then we can go on and measure that.”
Hodge adds that utility companies could use Aquascope to forecast pollution levels in reservoirs.
“For instance, clean water reservoirs have to have a maximum concentration of nitrates. So if they see a nitrate pulse coming down the river, traditionally they can only respond when it starts coming in. And maybe they test once a day, and not at weekends. That could result in that reservoir breaching limits on nitrates."
“Our unique forecasting tool can actually show them what's coming down the river in five days' time.“
Similarly, businesses that rely on high-quality fresh water could use Aquascope to monitor incoming pollution.
Taking a longer term view, Hodge says Aquascope can be used for strategic planning around factors like climate change or population growth.
“If a town is going to double in size over the next 10 years, they can map that impact. They can then plug that into their strategic planning.
“We're going to develop early next year a climate tool where we incorporate the IPCC climate change models. That will then enable us to predict what's going to happen over the next decades.”
Going to market
Rather than see environmental consultancies as rivals, Aquascope initially wants to work with them in food and beverage production, and regenerative agriculture contexts.
Beyond that, the startup has a number of potential markets it can tackle. For example, it wants to integrate itself into how companies comply with regulations such as the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD).
In Asia, Hodge sees potential in helping big textiles companies monitor pollution.
Insurance is another potential market. And Hodge says asset management companies can benefit from the tech, too.
“If you're looking to buy a forest for a 50 year turnaround, you need to know if that area is going to run out of water, and if you're just going to end up with some twigs in a few years’ time.”
The story so far
Hodge comes to startup life via an unusual route. It follows his success as a professional rower, with a career that included three Olympic gold medals, in Beijing. London, and Rio.
But rowing punctuated a more conventional path to what he does now. He has an Environmental Science degree from Staffordshire University, plus a Masters in Water Science, Policy, and Management from Oxford.
After being part of the winning team in the 2005 Oxford-Cambridge boat race, he followed his dream of becoming an Olympian. Through that time he says he maintained a strong interest in water, and after retiring from rowing took a job with an organisation building a ‘super sewer’ under the River Thames.
Then while working with nonprofit London Youth Rowing, he was introduced by a friend to Aquascope’s CTO and founder, Paul Edmunds, who was looking for a CEO for his young startup.
“We had a few meetings and it just became an absolute no-brainer. I think everything I've done in my life adds value to the Aquascope project,” says Hodge.
“It's quite similar to being an elite athlete, being part of a startup in this space… [It needs] that ability to dig deep and see the bigger vision, despite all the hurdles… in some ways it’s my happy place; being tested and trying to step up to prove yourself.”
Aquascope was originally founded as part of a bid for a European Space Agency grant to prove the tech that now underpins the startup’s offering.
With a commercial product now ready, Hodge says a couple of pilot project partners are shifting to a commercial relationship, and the startup is in talks with other potential customers.
“We have to do a bit of a double sell: ‘why do you think you need this, and why do you think you need us?’,” says Hodge.
“When we talk to people about what we do, there's a moment where they just didn't think this was possible. Once they go away from a conversation with us, they've got to rethink how they can access this data, and how it fits into their business model.
“So we're working hard to take them on that journey, to convert them into paying clients, and to get them used to the idea that we're going to change how they see water.”
Go deeper on Aquascope
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