2024 is off to a great start as we excitedly welcome our new Water, Energy and Technology Center Director, Eric D. Hadden, to the team! Armed with an MBA from the Craig School of Business and a career in the water technology sector, Eric brings a unique perspective to the
challenges of environmental sustainability. As the new director, Eric envisions the WET Center as a catalyst for early-stage agriculture, energy, and water entrepreneurs. His focus on collaboration with industry stakeholders, government bodies, and academic institutions underscores the center's commitment to addressing complex issues collectively.
We sat down with Eric to learn more about his history in the industry, what he envisions for the future and more. Check out our interview below!
Q: Tell us about yourself!
Eric: "I am a lifelong Fresnan, proud to call the Central Valley home. While I went to undergrad out of the area, I returned to Fresno to attend business school. After graduating with my MBA from the Craig School of Business in 2014, I started my private sector career in the water technology space. Those professional experiences have given me a unique insight into some of the environmental and water scarcity challenges we will face in the decades ahead.
When I examined the next phase of my career, I wanted the opportunity to combine my passion for business with my desire to tackle issues related to water, agriculture, and sustainability. Fortunately, the WET Center is one of the organizations best positioned to make such an impact.
Having previously attended Fresno State, this feels very much like a homecoming and I could not be more excited to be leading such a talented team. In my free time, I am pretty active with family and community service. I have two children, a 7-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy, and between their various activities and my work with the Fowler Lions Club, my wife and I stay pretty busy."
Q: How do you envision integrating water, energy, and technology to address current and future challenges? Secondly, as the new director of the WET Center, how do you plan to balance innovation, sustainability, and practical application within the center's programs and initiatives?
Eric: "With agricultural output in this region exceeding 8 billion dollars annually, it is clear that the business of the Central Valley is agricultural and food production. With that in mind, I view the WET Center as one of the best mechanisms we have to provide early-stage entrepreneurs in the ag, energy, and water spaces with the resources and physical space they need to gain a competitive advantage and accelerate their growth in the region that we call home.
From job creation to increased economic investment and tax revenue, our entire area benefits if these companies can find early-stage success and make the Central Valley their long-term home. It truly has the potential to be a 'rising tide that lifts all boats.'"
Q: Are you looking forward to collaborating with industry stakeholders, governmental bodies, and academic institutions to drive advancements in this field?
Eric: "Absolutely. In my experience, cross-collaboration is essential for driving innovation and growth. The types of problems our entrepreneurs are solving require buy-in from all parties, whether governmental agencies, academia, or the private sector. If the WET Center is going to continue to be successful, we cannot afford to be siloed."
Q: What personally drives you to work in the water and technology sectors, especially within the realm of energy? Can you share a pivotal moment or experience that solidified your commitment to this field?
Eric: "In my previous roles, I would travel to various water conferences across the country to hear from policy experts and industry thought leaders, and very quickly, I began to understand that there exists an entire set of experts who are actively discussing what living in a world with fewer natural resources will look like.
The global population recently eclipsed 8 billion and demands on our water, energy, and food supplies are only increasing at a time when the climate is becoming more unpredictable.
With these variables in mind, I believe this becomes one of the great questions of our time: 'how do we continue to elevate our global standard of living, serving the needs of more people than ever before while simultaneously using fewer resources?' As one of the world’s top agricultural regions, the long-term economic viability of our area depends on our ability to answer this question.
You asked what has committed me to this field - I have two young children and as cliche as it might sound, I want to do what I can to leave them a more sustainable and secure world. The positive news is that there are groups of entrepreneurs here at the WET Center working every day to create a brighter future for us all!"
Q: What emerging technologies (in your opinion) will significantly impact the water and energy sectors in the next five years? How do you plan to leverage these technologies within the center's initiatives?
Eric: "One technology that is garnering a significant amount of attention at the moment is artificial intelligence. I recently met with a team of entrepreneurs who were walking me through how they plan to use A.I. to solve two significant yet fundamentally different problems.
While A.I. is still in its early days, the use cases beyond applications like ChatGPT are huge. I predict that it will significantly impact all elements of society, including water, energy, and agriculture. I am very interested in putting together an informational session with a thought leader in the A.I. space who can provide insight to our entrepreneurs about the potential for this disruptive technology and how they might leverage it within their own companies.
How do you plan to foster a collaborative and inclusive environment within the center?
One of the things I enjoy most about entrepreneurship is my belief that the next great idea can come from anyone. That being said, not all groups have historically had equal access to the same types of resources - many of which can have a profound impact on determining the success or failure of a business in its earliest stages."
"The WET Center has a long history of involvement with programs that assist underrepresented entrepreneurs. To further our commitment, this year we are participating in the Accelerate California grant funded by the California Office of the Small Business Advocate. We will be partnering with several other local and regional partners, such as the Fresno Metro Black Chamber, the Hispanic Business Foundation, and the Asian Business Institute and Resource Center as we all work together to provide these entrepreneurs with the resources they will need to be best positioned for success."
"The future challenges we face will require new and innovative ideas from all groups within our community, which is why we are so excited to be working to empower this next generation of entrepreneurs."
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with our campus community and the greater water, energy and ag-technology community?
Eric: "I cannot overstate my excitement to lead the WET Center. We have a beautiful facility and a great team, but we also have a real opportunity to make a difference in the trajectory of the place we call home.
I have called Fresno my home for most of my life and have enough life experience to have watched so many projects and 'great promises' about the future of my community not come to pass. Most recently, there was an organization that positioned itself as the hub of technical innovation and entrepreneurship in the Central Valley for the better part of a decade. They told us that we needed to focus on becoming the home to the next billion-dollar unicorn, and if we could do that, all of our social and economic issues would be solved. Sadly, we know how that story ended.
Fortunately, the WET Center exists to provide an alternative narrative.
"Our story involves entrepreneurs who share our space, leverage our training resources and professional networks, and are putting in the work every single day to build their companies. While none of them may ultimately become a billion-dollar firm, there exists a significant potential for us to see companies graduate from the WET Center to become the next $5-25 million dollar success story."
Companies that make continued economic investments in our community. Companies that generate tax revenue. Companies that provide economic security for the next generation of Fresnans. This is our story, and I am so excited about the chapters yet to come!"
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