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  • Writer's pictureAlexis Ford-Duncil

2023 Rewind: A Year of Innovation and Headline-Making Moments

2023 was certainly a year to remember here at the Water, Energy and Technology (WET) Center. We saw significant organizational changes and introduced a new program, Technology Evaluation, Support and Testing (TEST). We also reported incredible numbers for our ventures and beyond, which you can view here on our home page. In this blog, we wanted to take a stroll down memory lane about how 2023 shaped our industry of sustainability and innovation in water, energy and ag, and highlight other key events in the year that made significant headlines in world news, pop culture, sports and beyond -- shaping the world we live in today!

External Drone Image of the WET Center - Photo by ROOT Creative

Beginning in January 2023 (a repeated trend we saw throughout 2023) was the Department of Energy’s launch of million-dollar programs that help communities and businesses meet their clean energy goals. Many folks, including the Innovation News Network, also saw tremendous opportunities (and challenges) surrounding water for electricity generation. Our wonderful WET Center Members and Valley Ventures Alumni stepped into the spotlight as well, with company announcements like Membrion earning $7M in Series B funding to continue expanding their ceramic desalination membranes used for water recovery, Verdi winning the Thrive Golabl Impact Challenge Award, and BioFiltro reimagining how water is processed on wineries. January 2023 also witnessed a devastating ice storm in the United States, impacting about 38 million people. California weathered a round of atmospheric river storms, including bomb cyclones, which affected most of the state. President Biden announced his intention to end the COVID-19 national and public health emergencies on May 11, 2023.

In February 2023, California recorded double-digit declines in statewide pesticide use. Three of our Valley Ventures Alumni made the news, with BovControl being featured as one of the top ten agri-tech companies to lookout for in 2023, BoxPower working to cut emissions and wildfire risk, and Renewell Energy’s highlight in The Business Journal, Fresno. Pivoting to tech news, Chat GPT and other artificial intelligence systems landed in the hot seat in February 2023, with discussions budding in educational institutions about the inaccuracies found in the system and the platform's potential to perpetuate biases.

March 2023 started off with a bang with the University of California announcing $15M in climate-focused innovation awards. Conversely, the abrupt Silicon Valley Bank closure spurred panic in the startup industry, with devastating financial impacts following its closure. But that didn’t stop innovation! The WET Center’s efforts were briefly mentioned in a Fresno City Council Meeting, and we hosted our first-ever Decarbonization Challenge, which garnered a full house! Renewell landed back in the news with their announcement of officially hitting their $3.3M target seed round. By the end of March, NATO banned TikTok on NATO-provided devices, and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continued since Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

By April 2023, California had seen the largest snowpack that it has ever seen, and almost half of all AgriFoodTech VC investment in the United States went to California startups -- A significant win for California! Another one of our Valley Ventures Alumni, Hexas Biomass, was introduced as one of the 32 new fellows in the Cartier Women’s Initiative. April was a shorter month, but we kept up the momentum in water, energy and ag-tech in the summer months of May, June and July 2023.

May 2023 is commencement season at Fresno State, a time to celebrate our senior student assistants, but we also celebrated our ventures! BioFiltro joined forces with UC Davis to Advance Climate-Smart Agriculture through $1.6 Million through a USDA Grant. Nitricity announced a project with IFDC, and Renewell landed in the news again with their acceptance into the West Gate Program. The world also witnessed the royal coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla.

June and July 2023 were hot summer months here in the Central Valley, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fresh and cool success stories about our ventures! Check out what happened in only TWO months:

June and July 2023 also spurred the “Barbenheimer” movement, where two critically acclaimed movies, Barbie and Oppenheimer, were released to theaters simultaneously and “stimulated the economy.” The world also watched the frantic search for the missing Titanic submarine Titan. Lastly, Elon Musk announced in July that Twitter would be rebranded to X and the iconic bird logo would be retired. Similarly, Threads, the Meta-owned competitor to X, launched on July 5, 2023, and garnered significant popularity among its users.

August 2023 marked the beginning of the fall academic year at Fresno State, full of Fresno State football, Homecoming and more. Our campus was undoubtedly alive and well! The WET Center collaborated with WET Center Member Stasis Energy Group on their fantastic news regarding the installation of their technology in disadvantaged communities. We also saw two pivotal fundraising efforts for our Valley Ventures Alumni, Membrion and GroGuru. Membrion raised $12.5M in funding, and GroGuru closed a $2.3M financing round to expand sales and partnerships. In the same time frame, the world watched the devastating wildfires in Lahaina in western Maui, Hawaii and on August 11, 2023, the International Energy Agency increased its 2023 forecast for global oil demand to a potential all-time annual high of $102.2M barrels per day. Lastly, on the up and up for Hawaii, RISE, or Residences for Innovative Student Entrepreneurs, is a brand-new student housing facility under construction on-campus the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa campus!

September 2023 through November 2023 was a busy time at the WET Center as we planned and executed our 7th annual AgTech Day on October 27, 2023. On October 18, 2023, DOE announced up to $3.46 billion for 58 projects across 44 states to strengthen electric grid resilience and reliability across the United States, all while improving climate resilience and creating good-paying union jobs -- the largest grid investments in history! Piggybacking off of the subject of climate resilience, take a look at how our ventures came out on top in September, October, and November 2023:

Concerning world news and pop culture, on Oct. 7, the world woke up to the devastating Israel and Hamas conflict in Gaza, and the Speaker of the House dilemma left a vacancy for weeks following the vote to remove Speaker Kevin McCarthy. In sports, Coco Gauff won the 2023 U.S. Open, becoming the first American teenager to win since Serena Williams back in 1999. Lastly, to honor the company's 100th anniversary, Disney released “Once Upon a Studio,” highlighting many beloved characters created over the years.

November 2023 flew by, with the holidays approaching quickly. Some cool things in November also flew to the top of the headlines, like how Portugal ran on 100% renewables for six days in a row! On November 6, 2023, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced that the Interior Department is advancing 15 onshore renewable energy projects across the West. In the Southwest, the Gila River Indian Community began building the country’s first solar-over-canal project to address the ongoing drought drastically affecting the area. But innovation didn’t stop there! Boomitra was named the 2023 “Fix Our Climate” Earthshot Prize Winner. You can see all of the 2023 Earthshot Prize winners here. Shortly after, Relyion celebrated the successful closure of their $4.4 million seed funding round, and Verdi was featured in Wine Industry Advisor. Lastly, BoxPower announced the commissioning of PG&E's first 100% renewable Remote Grid!

2023 was undoubtedly a year of expansion, clean energy mobilization and sustainable innovation, but it was also a year of abrupt change and pivotal moments that shaped local and world discussions and outcomes. As always, our mission never wavers in assisting and supporting water, energy and ag-tech ventures on their path to commercialization. We hope that this year was successful for our passionately innovative community. As we close out the year, we want to wish you a warm Happy Holidays from all of us at the Water, Energy and Technology Center and thank you for continuing to be part of our incredible and innovative community. We will be closed from December 22, 2023 through January 1, 2024. Our WET Members and staff wish you and your families a happy and healthy holiday season!


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