Over the next couple weeks Techvibes will be highlighting a handful of the CONNECT speakers. Earlier this week we profiled Steve Wandler and today we get to know Ben Sparrow of Saltworks Technologies.
Ben will be participating in the Funding stream of the Lightning Lessons at CONNECT and will share his experience in financing and building value in Cleantech.
Techvibes conducted an email interview with Ben and here are his responses.
1) Who are you and what does your company do?
My name is Ben Sparrow, CEO of Saltworks Technologies. Saltworks developed a patented low energy desalination system that produces freshwater from saltwater at up to half the cost of conventional systems. Desalination is an $80B per year market with the sector’s key challenge being energy consumption and cost.
2) Why are you participating as a speaker in CONNECT?
I would like to learn from others as well as contribute to building a strong BC based cleantech industry.
3) What was the biggest challenge you faced as an entrepreneur?
My biggest challenge has been managing expectations so our team can focus, avoid the “noise,” and get down to work.
4) What’s the best piece of advice you can offer to a startup in today’s economic climate?
Develop a clear plan; be willing and ready to revise; focus on doing and not on talking. If you deliver a quality scaled-up technology with proven real world application, financing, partnerships, and customers will follow. If technology is at the heart of your enterprise, be sure to develop a sound intellectual property portfolio and commit resources to it. Defensible IP, proven in a real application, has been Saltworks’ strongest asset and helped us attract capital and partners in today’s economic climate.
5) How do you feel about BC's startup ecosystem? What needs work/improvement?
Vancouver is an excellent place to development cleantech. Although the city has a relatively small technology investment base, that can be managed by looking abroad. Money is a lot easier to import than talented people or receptive governments, which Vancouver has in spades.
Vancouver’s current Mayor and city council are huge supporters of cleantech. Cleantech development funding available through SDTC, ICE, NRC-IRAP, and SR&D provide the highest leverage in the world. After traveling and reviewing projects in a number of countries, including the US, I am convinced Canada’s funding system is the best. Canada’s challenge is building industries’ risk acceptance of new technology. American firms tend to be far more eager to pilot new technologies and partner with start-ups. They recognize the competitive advantage innovation brings. They also “get” that disruptive innovations tend to emerge from basements and garages, less so from corporate labs.
Back to the topic of Vancouver, I am not sure we need more networking events or coffee meetings. I think we need more opportunities for people and companies to get down to work. Programs similar to NVBC, or its continued expansion with additional prizes, will surely nudge entrepreneurs and spur development. I believe the City of Vancouver is considering some form of a pilot program for new technologies. Opportunities to pilot with an accepting municipality could be a tremendous boost for companies and the region.
If you're interested in hearing more of Ben's story, be sure to select the Funding session when registering for CONNECT online. Early-bird tickets are available now and a steal at $40.