The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formed a technology transfer team, led by Sally Gutierrez and Teresa Harten, to move technology designed and developed by the National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) in Cincinnati into the commercial sector. This region was selected due to it having local organizations conducting solid water research, a strong development infrastructure, and a vast amount of local water-related businesses. As part of its efforts, the EPA encouraged the Ohio Valley region to develop a water technology cluster in Cincinnati. The cluster would include businesses, governments, academia, entrepreneurs, and investor organizations forming a “Silicon Valley” of water in the southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky, and southeast Indiana area. This led to the launch of the Confluence Water Technology Innovation Cluster in the Ohio Valley region (www.watercluster.org).
Confluence supports technology transfer by locating and encouraging regional companies with business interests that complement EPA-developed technologies to transfer the technology into the private sector. EPA and Confluence complement each other by coordinating joint activities for technology transfer events and leveraging water-related protocol efforts to ultimately expedite technology acceptance.
The NRMRL Cluster Team’s model of technology transfer already has had direct success in the Cincinnati region. For example, the EPA began collaborations with Cincinnati-based small business Urbanalta in 2012. Together, EPA researchers and Urbanalta engineers developed novel measurement methods and technology for monitoring combined sewer overflows, called the Flowing Water Scope TM (FWS). According to Michael Bolan, president of Urbanalta, “Collaboration with EPA took years off the development of the Flowing Water Scope.”
This successful collaboration received the 2014 FLC Midwest Partnership Award, and the company is currently positioning itself to be the largest producer in the combined sewer overflow sensor market segment, both in the U.S. and worldwide. The FWS is designed to be the best-in-class for real-time, high-resolution sight and sound sensor-based flow monitors linked to massive cloud computing and delivering actionable metrics. Currently, Urbanalta has licensed the technology and, thanks to EPA’s cluster team, made connections with a utility in northern Kentucky to pilot the technology.
Another successful regional company made possible through the EPA and Confluence initiative is AquiSense Technologies. AquiSense was the first supplier of UV-C disinfection systems and the first UV-C system to meet National Science Foundation/ANSI lead free-standards. When originally deciding on where to locate his business, AquiSense founder Oliver Lawal credits his experiences with the EPA Cluster Team and Confluence as the main reason he formed his new company in Cincinnati. By 2016, AquiSense had added over 30 employees with an average salary of $70,000 since its inception in 2015. In August 2016, less than 2 years after its inception, AquiSense was acquired by Nikkiso for $9.3 million, and its operations continue to be in the Cincinnati region.