A Year in Review at the WET Center
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
2022 was undoubtedly a year of expansion, mobilization and innovation!
Although we spent most of our year researching and chiming in on important topics surrounding water, energy and ag-tech, we wanted to take some time for our last blog of the year to reflect on our accomplishments as an organization.
This year, the WET Center ventures received a total of $26,352,499 in private and public funding from January through June 2022, bringing the total amount raised since the opening of the WET Center to $238,476,799. We also welcomed a total of nine new companies into our seventh Valley Ventures cohort. We had 41 new Technology Innovation Evaluation (TIE) inquiries, and 77 Investor’s Toolkit subscribers, expanding our efforts to reach businesses who need our help the most. Our team successfully launched three new programs in 2022 and welcomed one new full-time staff member to our team. Our community of student assistants grew, too, with four new student assistants joining our team as well. We also expanded our partner community and outreach efforts -- all of whom we are excited to collaborate with as we move forward into 2023.
We spent a lot of time in the news while our team worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the world a more sustainable place. Check out our media moments below.
The Business Journal
California Ag Today
Morning Ag Clips
Department of Energy
Fresno State News
** All media moments can be seen via our Press Room
We can’t let the numbers just speak for themselves! What better way to look toward 2023 than by chatting with experts who can help frame the future? We sat down with our team and asked them questions about their areas of expertise, and how they predict 2023 will transpire, in addition to what they are looking forward to as the year comes to a close. Take a look below!
Helle Petersen, Director of the WET Center
Question: What is one (or two) success(es) you saw in 2022, that you hope to see the WET Center carry into 2023?
Answer: In 2022, the WET Center was fortunate to be awarded two important grants that will allow us to serve even more entrepreneurs and startups, and aid in the commercialization of innovative water, energy, and agricultural technology. In 2022, we accepted a group of excellent startups into the Valley Ventures Accelerator, and they are on track to join the long list of successful alumni of the program. We are excited for each and one of them as we celebrate their successes and progress. My hope for 2023 is that we will be continuing our work with our many partners, securing more funding to grow our programs and support many more entrepreneurs and startups. We welcomed Samuel Fairbanks to the WET Center in 2022, and we are enjoying having him as a part of our team. We are hoping to repeat the success and add at least one more team member in 2023!
Samuel Fairbanks, Community Engagement and Outreach Specialist
Question: What are you looking forward to most regarding your engagement with local communities about our programs andservices in 2023? What do you think some of the challenges will be, and how can we work to overcome those challenges both individually and collectively?
Answer: I believe water, energy, and ag-tech will see its biggest year of growth and innovation yet in 2023. I also see the Central Valley firmly establishing itself as the main hub for ag-tech in the nation moving forward. We have an incredibly strong network of support for young companies and startups in the central valley and the WET Center will continue to play a large role in connecting those resources to our ag-tech entrepreneurs. One of the biggest challenges we will face moving forward is ensuring no one is left behind in this innovation. Engaging with farm workers, women, veterans, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color will be vital to ensure fair and holistic growth in the industry.
Benjamin Francis, Growth Operating Partner
Question: You orchestrated our seventh Valley Ventures cohort this year. What are three key takeaways that you would advise any/all water, energy, and ag-tech businesses to highly consider as they continue business in California in 2023? What have been the major takeaways of the program this year?
Answer: Many of the startups that come through our program are interested in accessing an industry network, but rarely take the opportunity to approach various organizations that represent their customer base. Similar to the WET Center, trade groups and commodity groups can be great resources for hearing the voice of their customers and building a network in a region. The participants in these trade groups are usually approachable and open to sharing transparently what goes on in their business, which can be invaluable information for a startup. I’d recommend founders do some research on what trade groups represent their customer base and connect with them or attend their events whenever their schedule allows. Founders in water and ag-tech specifically might find more benefit in taking a conservative approach to their growth strategies, one involving less investor capital. We sometimes see founders facing pressure from investors to perform in certain ways compared to focusing on the right decisions that fit the pace of their customers. It seems we are finding that the more conservative founders can afford to make decisions that benefit their customers overall compared to some of their more aggressive counterparts. Considering the adoption rate and intensity of adoption with ag-tech, slow and steady is starting to win these races or at least stay afloat.
We introduce founders to a variety of investors throughout the program as well and we find it interesting to see how each investor and founder gets along differently. We find this type of low-stakes, but high touchpoint conversations with investors help founders determine what type of investor they would want as a part of their business. We recommend founders also qualify their investors as well, since usually the power dynamic between the two puts founders in the only hot seat at the table.
Question: What are some of the challenges you foresee such companies experiencing considering the obstacles surrounding water, energy, and ag-tech in California? How can they help alleviate these challenges?
Answer: Venture markets have cooled down right now, so less capital is flowing into startups while the standard of performance for these startups has been simultaneously raised by investors. In instances where a founder might have been able to raise a round earlier with minimal revenue or some early traction a year ago, today that same founder may not be able to. For the founders that keep their heads down and can grow their business without requiring venture capital on a schedule to capture market share, this should be advantageous. For those raising capital, their focus should be on increasing revenue organically without investor capital alone as this is becoming a benchmark of performance for today’s venture market. Many of the solutions that are coming online in ag, water, and energy involve significant financial costs upfront. This can be a challenge for customers as they don’t have the appetite to take a risk on an unproven product or a company with a limited track record.
Founders that can navigate this with a successful piloting program, industry partnerships, and proven lab research will usually overcome this. As a bonus, founders that incorporate grant funding or other creative financing programs to alleviate the upfront costs for their customers will have a huge advantage over their peers. With the saturation of so many new technologies coming to the market claiming to save their customer's money, the startups that can convey the simplest message that has an easily attributed return on investment will come out on top. In regards to Series A and prior-stage startups, I believe those that simplify their offerings to only focus on what delivers the most value to their customers, compared to being an all-in-one solution, will be more successful. This goes back to there being a lot of noise in the ag industry, specifically early-stage companies vying for that all-in-one solution offering, even if they don’t fully deliver to expectations.
Grace Manly, Pipeline and Membership Manager
Question: You facilitate our Technology Innovation Evaluation meetings and witness firsthand the new technologies/innovative ideas on the market. What are some of those new technologies on the horizon and how do you feel they are addressing issues surrounding water and energy in California?
Answer: Through our Technology Innovation Evaluation program, we are always seeing new technologies that strive to make a difference not only in California but globally. On the water side, California has the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and we see a lot of technologies that have goals and solutions to help manage SGMA. This includes technologies that help track water usage to make SGMA reporting easier on farmers and growers and also water technologies to help save and conserve water. Many of these technologies that are designed to save water, also help save energy. There is never a shortage of new technologies and I love getting to hear about new ideas from great minds!
Alexis Duncil, Public Relations and Communications Coordinator
Question: How has social media shifted in 2022 and what social media goals do you have that align with the WET Center’s mission going forward?
Answer: Social media is constantly shifting. With that said, we try our very best to move with the times! This year, I‘d say that streaming and the overall use of video on social media platforms has skyrocketed in popularity and overall use by both casual users and businesses alike. I believe this shift from photos to videos is due to the popularity of platforms like TikTok and Instagram (Reels) to name a few. Pairing videos and social media together allows for powerful storytelling abilities that are “easily digestible” to consumers as they swipe through their timelines or FYPs. I’d recommend that every business/organization highly consider using videos in their social media strategies for 2023.
At the WET Center, we have an extensive video library on our YouTube channel that we have built out over the years, but more recently, we have adopted using more videos on other platforms like Instagram and Facebook in 2022 wherever we can! I think video is certainly a helpful tool to use for our outreach and marketing efforts, and so my hope is that we continue creating and using video(s) on our social media moving into 2023.
Happy Holidays from all of us at the Water, Energy, and Technology Center! We will be closed from December 26, 2022 until January 3, 2023. Our WET Members and staff wish you and your families a happy and healthy holiday season.
Funding & Other Opportunities
Deadline: January 2023
Deadline: March 6
Deadline: Until December 2023
Check out the California State Grants Portal for more funding opportunities!
Members in the News
Have a great story to share with our team?
In the News
Biden-Harris Administration Announces Nearly $350 Million For Long-Duration Energy Storage Demonstration Projects
High-Tech Farming Could Slash Water Use up to 70 Percent Amid Historic Droughts. How Mud May be the Key!
WET Center and Partner Events
Dec 5th - Dec 9th
Feb 28th - March 2nd